The Role of the ICRC in the Enforcement of the Geneva Conventions

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Book Chapter

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This paper discusses the role of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the implementation of the Geneva Conventions. It begins with a background on the ICRC, covering its history and structure, international legal status, and its impartiality, neutrality, and independence. It then details the ICRC’s functions under the Geneva Conventions, its methods for fostering compliance with international humanitarian law, and its relations with international criminal courts. The ICRC has repeatedly acted beyond its very limited textual mandate in the Conventions to take on significant responsibilities in their execution. Its unique modus operandi, centered on direct interactions with warring parties, has demonstrated some effectiveness, even as the confidentiality at its centre has proved controversial. Ultimately, the major role played by this unique NGO is evidence of an unwillingness of the Conventions’ parties to create and own a robust enforcement mechanism.


This is a draft of a chapter/article that has been accepted for publication by Oxford University Press in the forthcoming book The 1949 Geneva Conventions: A Commentary edited by Andrew Clapham, Paola Gaeta, and Marco Sassoli published in 2015. This chapter is now avaiable from Oxford University Press.