|Handbook on War and Public Health (ICRC, 1996, 470 p.)|
|Chapter 9 - PROTECTING THE VICTIMS OF ARMED CONFLICTS|
|II. SPECIFIC POINTS OF INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW USEFUL FOR HEALTH-CARE PERSONNEL|
The best way of monitoring the application of international humanitarian law is to be present in the field, out where the victims are. This is the ICRC's modus operandi. Proximity to the victims allows observers to verify on the spot whether or not the rules of international humanitarian law are actually being respected. In this respect, access to the victims is a major concern for the ICRC.
The record on the application of international humanitarian law has so far been depressing: an increasing number of conflicts, in the course of which populations are attacked indiscriminately and refused the right to humanitarian relief.
Those States which are not parties to the conflict also have a certain responsibility when it comes to violations of international humanitarian law. Article 1 common to the Geneva Conventions 27 requires of them that they make an effort to ensure respect for the law in all circumstances by taking the appropriate practical measures:
· a delegate can make oral representations to the local authorities;
· a detailed report can be submitted to the government concerned;
· a memorandum can be sent to all the governments signatory to the Geneva Conventions.
27 "The High Contracting Parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances" (Art. 1, common to all the Conventions).
The ICRC employs the last option only with the greatest caution, to preserve its effect and keep it from being seen as a political stand.
Generally speaking, the ICRC does not make its observations public. Indeed, its role is not to denounce violations of international humanitarian law, but rather to help the parties to a conflict to apply the law. This being said, the ICRC reserves the right to take a public stand if its requests are not met and if doing so is in the interest of the victims.
These measures may seem weak in relation to the seriousness of certain violations, especially because the latter show a tendency to increase. The ICRC must maneuver between two risks: being accused of doing nothing, if it does not take a public stand; or being accused of taking a political position, if it denounces the situation publicly.