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close this bookAction by the International Committee of the Red Cross in the Event of Breaches of International Humanitarian Law (International Committee of the Red Cross , 1981, 9 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the document1. Action taken by the ICRC on its own initiative
View the document2. Reception and transmission of complaints
View the document3. Requests for inquiries
View the document4. Requests to take note of violations

1. Action taken by the ICRC on its own initiative

During the missions of its delegates the ICRC remains in permanent contact with the authorities having control over the territory on which such missions are carried out. It therefore goes without saying that it will notify those authorities of any acts or omissions that in its opinion appear to be contrary to international humanitarian law. Such notifications depending on the importance of their contents may be made at various levels and may take various forms; they may range from an oral remark by a delegate to the director of a prison to a detailed report by the President of the ICRC to the government concerned.

As a rule the steps thus taken remain confidential. In the event of major repeated violations, however, the ICRC, if it considers necessary to bring the facts to the knowledge of the public, will express openly its opinion and request that such violations be brought to an end or warn the parties concerned of the dangers or of the suffering resulting from steps they might be threatening to take. Such a public statement is the more justified when, despite their gravity, the committed violations do not cause any step to be taken by a third State.

Public statements are inevitably more incriminating and the ICRC has recourse to them sparingly, when three specific conditions are fulfilled: firstly, the violations must be major breaches of international humanitarian law; secondly, the publicity given to them must be in the interest of the persons or population affected or threatened; and, thirdly, either the ICRC delegates must have witnessed them with their own eyes or the violations must be matters of common knowledge.

While remaining true to its traditional policy of discretion and to its concern for the interest of victims, and in addition to making general appeals to the parties to a conflict with a view to obtaining respect for international law and permission to carry out its assistance activities for victims, the ICRC may thus make public the specific steps taken in the event of major or repeated violations of that law.

As a rule the ICRC does not express opinions on the use of weapons or methods of warfare. Any reaction it has will be determined by the condition of the victims affected or threatened if unlawful or purportly unlawful weapons or methods are employed. It may very well, however, undertake steps or even make public statements if it considers that the mere fact of using, or threatening to use, a given weapon gives rise to an exceptionally grave situation.

The general appeals which the ICRC may launch concerning weapons outside the specific context of an armed conflict are not dealt with in this document.