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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

2. Reception and transmission of complaints

Under article 6 (4) of the Statutes of the International Red Cross the ICRC “takes cognizance of complaints regarding alleged breaches of the humanitarian Conventions”.

The complaints referred to under this article may be divided into two categories.

The first category includes complaints or communications concerning the non-application or inadequate application of one or several provisions of the Conventions by the responsible Power in respect of persons protected by those Conventions, in circumstances where the ICRC can take direct action in favour such persons. The ICRC delegates are generally able to form an opinion on the validity of the complaints, which lead them to intensify their efforts. When taking suitable steps, such as visiting prisoner-of-war camps or civilian internee camps, the ICRC approaches the authorities to prevail on them to correct any malpractices or shortcomings reported by its delegates.

The second category includes protests against grave breaches of international humanitarian law committed in circumstances where the ICRC is unable to take direct action to help the victims. Such breaches may be acts violating rules whose application the ICRC cannot appraise, such as rules relating to the conduct of hostilities, or may be violations committed on the scene of hostilities to which the ICRC has no, or only very limited, access.

The procedure established between the two world wars by the International Red Cross Conferences for this second category of complaints, and followed especially during the Second World War, consisted, for the ICRC, in simply transmitting protests to the party incriminated, requesting that an inquiry be carried out and offering to forward the reply. Complaints from a National Society were sent to the Society of the country involved. Protests raised by a government were transmitted directly to the government concerned. The ICRC did not undertake to forward complaints by individual persons.

After the Second World War the ICRC realized that this procedure had yielded hardly any tangible results. It accordingly expressed its concern in a report to the Seventeenth International Red Cross Conference held in Stockholm in 1948. The Conference requested the ICRC to continue transmitting complaints but it strongly recommended that National Societies “do all in their power to ensure that their governments make a thorough investigation, the results of which shall be communicated without delay to the International Committee of the Red Cross”.

Experience in the course of the following years, however, proved just as disappointing. The ICRC laid the matter once more before the International Conference at its Twentieth Session in Vienna in 1965. This time the Conference lightened the traditional procedure by taking note that “the ICRC will no longer transmit such protests, except in the absence of any other regular channel, where there is need of a neutral intermediary between two countries directly concerned”. From then on the ICRC had all the more reason to refuse to transmit protests from third parties.