Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
  • Print page
Commentary of 1987 
[p.1487] Article 19 -- Dissemination

4903 Dissemination is a legal obligation under the Conventions, (1) reaffirmed and developed in the Protocols. It is based on the obligation undertaken by States when ratifying or acceding to the Conventions to "respect and to ensure respect [...] in all circumstances", which also applies to common Article 3 . (2)

4904 However, we are concerned here with the first express mention of this obligation in the regulation of non-international armed conflicts. Protocol II develops and supplements common Article 3 , (3) so that dissemination of the one is inextricably bound up with dissemination of the other.

[p.1488] 4905 The ICRC draft (4) laid down more detailed measures by making a distinction between dissemination which should be implemented in time of peace and that required in time of armed conflict, and also according to whether it was intended for the armed forces or for civilians. Similar indications are given in the corresponding Article 83 of Protocol I ' (Dissemination). ' Only the brief wording of the article under consideration here was retained. It merely lays down an obligation in general, without specifying what it entails.

4906 Dissemination should be carried out as widely as possible. The choice of means is left to the Contracting Party or to the parties to the conflict. Some delegations argued that an unduly detailed provision could produce difficulties for States, (5) particularly as regards implementation in time of armed conflict.

4907 Dissemination plays two important roles which are emphasized in Resolution 21 relating to this subject, adopted at the end of the Diplomatic Conference; on the one hand, knowledge of the law is a factor for the effective application of the law, on the other, it is a factor for engendering a spirit of peace.

4908 There is no mechanism in Protocol II designed to guarantee its application such as that of Protecting Powers or their substitute. (6) Therefore dissemination is a fortiori an essential measure of application. (7) In fact, the ICRC had included it in Part VII of its draft on measures for execution of the Protocol. (8)

4909 It is self-evidend that in time of peace the obligation falls on the Contracting Party. In case of an armed conflict which meets the criteria of Article 1 of the Protocol ' (Material field of application), ' it will be up to both the government authorities and those responsible in the insurgent party, to take all necessary measures for disseminating the contents of the instrument to those carrying responsibility under their authority, military personnel as well as civilians.

4910 A law that is not known cannot be applied, but a knowledge of the law should not be restricted to situations of conflict, for over and above rules of law, it is a matter of inculcating moral principles with a view to limiting violence and preserving peace. Thus dissemination should properly be seen in its context; it is fully recognized by the United Nations as an integral part of education aimed at preserving world peace by promoting "understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations", in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (9)

4911 At a practical level, it may at first sight seem difficult for a State to disseminate rules applicable in a potential situation of non-international armed conflict. However, hope of getting protection under Protocol II cannot in itself prompt a Party to initiate such a conflict; the deep-rooted reasons that could give rise to such conflicts are of quite a different nature. (10)

[p.1489] 4912 However, it should especially be recalled that the philosophy and principles of humanitarian law remain the same whatever the nature of the conflict. The same is true for instruction. For example, in military training programmes the behaviour which soldiers should be taught such as respect for and protection of enemies ' hors de combat, ' the wounded and civilians, are exactly the same. In academic fields, instruction in the law of armed conflict, as urged by the United Nations, (11) follows naturally from the teaching of human rights, both being systems of law protecting human beings in specific circumstances. These two bodies of law are already being taught in certain institutions under a single integrated programme. (12)

4913 Brief though Article 19 is, its adoption represents a significant development. It intimates that the purely humanitarian quality of the rules governing non-international armed conflicts is recognized, and that disseminating them contributes to creating a spirit of peace without in any way acting as an incitement to rebellion. (13)

' S.J. '

* (1) [(1) p.1487] Art. 47/48/127/144 of the Conventions;

(2) [(2) p.1487] Common Article 1 of the Conventions;

(3) [(3) p.1488] See Art. 1, para. 1, Protocol II, and the commentary thereon, supra, p. 1350;

(4) [(4) p.1488] Draft Art. 37;

(5) [(5) p.1488] O.R. IX, p. 243. CDDH/I/SR.59, para. 39;

(6) [(6) p.1488] However, it should be recalled that an impartial humanitarian organization such as the ICRC may assist in supervising the application of common Article 3 (under the terms of its paragraph 2) and of the Protocol. See introduction to Part I, supra, p. 1343;

(7) [(7) p.1488] See O.R. IX, p. 241, CDDH/I/SR.59, para. 30;

(8) [(8) p.1488] In the end the Part "Execution of the present Protocol" (Arts. 36-39 of the draft) was not adopted as such. On this point, see introduction to Part V, supra, p. 1483;

(9) [(9) p.1488] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 26, para. 2;

(10) [(10) p.1488] O.R. IX, p. 242, CDDH/I/SR.59, para. 33;

(11) [(11) p.1489] Resolutions 2852 (XXVI), 3032 (XXVII), 3500 (XXX) and 32/34 of the United Nations General Assembly;

(12) [(12) p.1489] For example, the International Institute of Human Rights (Strasbourg); Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (San José, Costa Rica);

(13) [(13) p.1489] See also commentary Art. 83, Protocol I, supra, p. 959;