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A Word from the President
Violations of the law applicable in armed conflict occur, alas, in many conflicts throughout the world. Yet, the international community has never accepted this as a fact which cannot be changed. It has designed a number of institutions and procedures for ensuring the respect for, and faithful implementation of, international humanitarian law. The International Humanitarian Fact-finding Commission is one of these institutions. The idea behind its creation is that ascertaining controversial facts where there are mutual allegations and denials of violations constitutes a useful, even necessary tool for re-establishing respect for international humanitarian law.
The legal basis for the Commission's existence is Article 90 of the First Protocol additional to the Geneva Conventions. When the Protocol was adopted in 1977, a number of safeguards for State sovereignty were built into the text, in particular that only a State having agreed by declaration to recognise the competence of the Commission can unilaterally request an inquiry, and only against another State having made the same declaration. So far, 76 States have made that declaration: about half of the parties to Protocol I and more than a third of the parties to the Geneva Conventions. But in addition, the Commission may offer its good offices in order to re-establish a situation of respect for international humanitarian law. This gives the Commission an active role in the settlement of disputes concerning the respect of international humanitarian law - which the Commission uses.
The Commission is well positioned in the international community. It enjoys the support of the United Nations, expressed in a number of General Assembly resolutions, of the International Red Cross/Red Crescent movement as well as of intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations.
The Commission has a specific profile. It is composed of fifteen personalities elected as individuals by the States having recognised its competence. They are diplomats, military officers, medical doctors and academic specialists in international humanitarian law from four continents. It is an impartial body which has no political agenda of its own. It is not related to the Security Council with its enforcement powers (unless the Security Council decides to have recourse to the services of the Commission) nor to the International Criminal Court with its powers to initiate a criminal prosecution. Its approach to fact-finding is co-operative. It will assist the parties to a conflict to redress a situation where international humanitarian law may have been violated, and thus help to promote the rule of law in international relations and create conditions conducive to peace.
Dr. Gisela Perren - Klingler
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