Remarks at a Meeting of the Sixth Committee on Agenda Item 81: Status of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949

David Bigge
Attorney Adviser
New York, New York
October 17, 2022

Remarks at a Meeting of the Sixth Committee on Agenda Item 81:Status of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and relating to the Protection of Victims of Armed Conflicts


Thank you, Chair.

The United States has long been a strong proponent of the development and implementation of international humanitarian law, which we often also refer to as the law of war or the law of armed conflict. We recognize the vital importance of compliance with its requirements during armed conflict. Accordingly, the United States continues to ensure that all of our military operations comply with IHL, as well as all other applicable international and domestic law. We similarly call on all states and parties to armed conflicts to ensure that they comply fully with applicable IHL.

The United States is a party to the Third Additional Protocol to the 1949 Geneva Conventions relating to the adoption of an additional distinctive emblem, but it is not a party to the 1977 Additional Protocols to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Extensive U.S. Government reviews, including one completed in 2011, have found U.S. military practice to be consistent with Additional Protocol II’s provisions. Those reviews also found that any issues with ratification, which is pending before the U.S. Senate for its advice and consent, could be addressed with reservations, understandings, and declarations. These conclusions remain valid today.

Although the United States continues to have significant concerns with many aspects of Additional Protocol I, Article 75 of that Protocol sets forth fundamental guarantees for persons in the hands of opposing forces in an international armed conflict. The U.S. Government has chosen out of a sense of legal obligation to treat the principles set forth in Article 75 as applicable to any individual it detains in an international armed conflict, and we expect all other nations to adhere to these principles as well. Furthermore, some provisions of Additional Protocol I have been incorporated into later treaties to which the United States is a party. For example, Additional Protocol I’s definition of military objective in Article 51(2) is substantially similar to the definition in Article 2(6) of the Convention of Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) Amended Mines Protocol and Article 1(3) of CCW Protocol III on Incendiary Weapons. Similarly, requirements under the Child Soldiers Protocol and U.S. law are comparable to Additional Protocol I’s requirements with respect to child soldiers.

Proper implementation of IHL obligations is critical to reducing the risk to civilians and civilian objects during armed conflict. As we have seen in recent conflicts, it is crucial that all parties comply with their obligations under IHL including the principles of distinction and proportionality, as well as the obligations of both attacking and defending parties to take precautionary measures for the protection of the civilian population and other protected persons and objects. In taking precautions for the protection of civilians, the United States routinely imposes, as a matter of policy, certain heightened standards that are more protective of civilians than would otherwise be required under IHL. Moreover, the United States always seeks to adhere to applicable IHL requirements during armed conflicts and encourages all states and parties to armed conflicts to do the same.

Russia’s recent unlawful full-scale invasion of Ukraine, in which Russia’s forces have committed war crimes, is a reminder to all States of the importance of compliance with IHL and accountability for IHL violations. Those responsible for atrocities must be held accountable, and the United States continues to support a range of mechanisms to document and pursue accountability for war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine.

We encourage all states to implement their IHL obligations and look forward to continuing to work with other states, as well as the ICRC, on further strengthening the implementation of and respect for IHL.

Thank you, Chair.