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War Laws (Geneva Conventions)

Volume 941: debated on Wednesday 14 December 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if the Government have yet decided whether to sign the two additional protocols to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 which were adopted at the Humanitarian Law Conference in June of the current year; and if he will make a statement.

The two protocols were opened for signature on 12th December 1977. Protocol I relates to the protection of victims of international armed conflicts and Protocol II to the protection of victims of non-international armed conflicts. Signature of both protocols on behalf of the United Kingdom took place on 12th December.The Government consider that, overall, the two protocols mark a valuable advance in humanitarian law applicable in armed conflicts. In Protocol I we particularly welcome the increased protection for the sick and wounded and for medical aircraft the improved arrangements for information on persons reported missing; the protection of the civilian population against direct attack, and the new provisions on implementation and enforcement both of the protocol and the Geneva Conventions. Protocol II provides the minimum standards of conduct to be observed by both sides in civil wars, a field previously covered only by a single article in each of the four 1949 Geneva Conventions. We welcome the fundamental guarantees provided by Protocol II, in relation to, e.g., accused and detained persons, protection of the wounded and sick and medical personnel and protection of the civilian population.The United Kingdom's signature of the protocols was accompanied by formal declarations on various points, of which copies have been placed in the Library of the House. Almost without exception, these reflect statements made by the United Kingdom at the conference which are already part of the negotiating history. The most significant of them concern the scope of application of the protocols. First, as with several recent international conventions, the Government have considered it necessary to reserve the right not to apply the protocols in relation to Southern Rhodesia unless and until they are in a position to ensure that the obligations of the protocols in respect of that territory can be fully implemented. Secondly, we have confirmed the understanding upon which we took part in the negotiations, that the new rules introduced by Protocol I were not intended to have any effect on and did not regulate or prohibit the use of nuclear weapons. Thirdly, the provisions of Protocol I, including that on prisoner of war status for irregular fighters, apply only to international armed conflicts, which are now so defined by the protocol as to include certain self-determination conflicts. The Government have considered it desirable in this connection to place formally on record by means of an interpretative declaration their understanding of the meaning of the term "armed conflict", which implies a high level of intensity of military operations, and their understanding of the requirements to be fulfilled by any national liberation movement which sought to invoke the protocol. Neither in Northern Ireland nor in any other part of the United Kingdom is there a situation which meets the criteria laid down for the application of either protocol. Nor is there any terrorist organisation operating within the United Kingdom that fulfils the requirements which a national liberation movement must meet in order to be entitled to claim rights under Protocol I. There is, therefore, no question of any of the provisions of either protocol benefiting the IRA or any others who may carry out terrorist activities in peacetime.The protocols will not become binding upon the United Kingdom unless and until the signature is ratified. The Government intend to move towards ratification in due course. Legislation will be required to implement certain provisions of Protocol I, as it was for the Geneva Conventions themselves.