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Ensuring respect for Geneva treaties on conduct in war still a challenge, says Ban

26 September 2009 – The landmark principles adopted in 1949 to protect individuals in time of war were a major advance in human rights, but the challenge even today is to ensure they are respected and enforced, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

Born out of the horrors of the Second World War, the body of law known as the Geneva Conventions affords protection for the wounded, the sick, the shipwrecked at sea, prisoners of war and civilians during armed conflict.

“We continue to face grave challenges in ensuring respect for this body of law,” Mr. Ban told a ministerial event, hosted by the Swiss Government, to mark the 60th anniversary of the Conventions.

Victims suffer, not because of gaps in the law, but because international humanitarian law is not respected or enforced

The Secretary-General noted that throughout the world, ordinary men, women and children are being killed, maimed, raped, starved, imprisoned and forced from their homes. At times over the years, such acts have been committed on a massive scale, with “chilling efficiency and intent.

“Victims suffer, not because of gaps in the law, but because international humanitarian law is not respected or enforced,” he said.

Mr. Ban pointed out that primary responsibility for implementing international humanitarian law lies with the parties to conflict, but added that all States have an important role to play.

The UN also has an “integral” part to play, as it is uniquely placed to assist States in ensuring respect for international humanitarian law, to intervene when violations occur, and to hold perpetrators accountable, he stated.

The Organization has made contributions through organs such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.

Mr. Ban highlighted in particular the Assembly’s recent adoption, by consensus, of its first resolution on the responsibility to protect – a major advance as the international community seeks to strengthen its efforts to protect the world’s peoples from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.

The Secretary-General said the 60th anniversary of the Conventions is a time to consider what more can be done to protect the world’s people.

“Our challenge, as ever,” he added, “is to translate those principles into real-time protection.”

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