United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Practice Relating to Rule 144. Ensuring Respect for International Humanitarian Law Erga Omnes
The UK LOAC Manual (2004) states:
16.1. Enforcement of the law of armed conflict can involve a wide variety of measures. “Enforcement” is taken here to mean action to ensure observance of the law and also action that may be taken following alleged or actual violations. Action aimed at effective enforcement of the law can include, but is not limited to:
c. High-level formal inquiries into alleged violations. These inquir[i]es may be conducted by commissions established by individual states, by international commissions established by the United Nations (UN) Security Council or other bodies or by the International Fact-Finding Commission, which has been established for the purpose. The reports of such inquiries often propose specific legal action to deal with violations or to prevent their recurrence.
d. International legal adjudication of disputes between states concerning the meaning and implementation of the law, for example by the International Court of Justice.
e. Monitoring of the conduct of parties to an agreement, for example by aerial surveillance by a third party, or by an international presence on the ground, to verify, among other things, that violations of the law do not take place.
f. Good offices and mediation, for example, by neutral states and intermediaries, including protecting powers and independent humanitarian bodies, with a view to ensuring that belligerents comply with the law of armed conflict.
g. Administrative controls over the careers of individuals.
h. Penal and disciplinary measures, such as trials before civil courts or courts-martial or appropriate disciplinary action by commanding officers. Trials may be either within a single state or organized on an international basis.
i. Measures, which may include economic sanctions, arms embargoes and various types of military action, taken under the authority of international bodies, including the UN Security Council, against offending states or armed groups.
j. Demands for compensation in respect of violations.
k. Reprisals by an aggrieved state.
16.1.2. Complaints of unlawful acts and omissions alleged to have been committed by individuals or by commanders are an almost inevitable feature of warfare. All sides will be striving to win the battle for public and world opinion and no state can afford to ignore this. Hostile opinion can lead to loss of political goodwill and public support and damage morale amongst the forces concerned. Failure by belligerent governments to investigate and, where appropriate, punish the alleged unlawful acts of members of their armed forces can contribute to the loss of public and world support, leading to isolation for the state involved.
16.1.3. In earlier times, hostages were often taken, given or exchanged to ensure observance of treaties, armistices and other agreements. The taking of hostages, whether civilian or military, is now prohibited.
16.1.4. On a practical basis, the compliance with the law by one party can, in itself, be a strong inducement to the adverse party to comply with the law. If one party treats prisoners properly and conducts its operations within legal constraints, the adverse party will have less incentive to breach the law and indeed could be severely disadvantaged, not least through world opinion, by so doing.
The manual also states:
16.6. In view of the lack of diplomatic relations between states involved in an armed conflict, complaints cannot normally be made through the usual diplomatic channels. However, other methods are available, depending on the degree of publicity required. The traditional method of complaining under the protection of a flag of truce remains although modern communications have meant that the message is more likely now to be transmitted by radio or television. Complaints may be made also through neutral states whether or not the complainant also seeks their good offices to mediate with a view to making the adverse party observe the law of armed conflict.
16.7. Good offices and mediation by neutral states for the purpose of settling differences are friendly acts, in contradistinction to intervention, which is dictatorial interference for the purpose of making the belligerents comply with the laws of armed conflict. Specific provision is also made in the Geneva Conventions for conciliation by the protecting powers.
Role of the UN
16.8. The UN, and in particular the Security Council, has taken a wide range of measures regarding the enforcement of the law of armed conflict. These measures have included investigation of violations, urging parties to observe the law, authorizing military action to prevent or respond to violations, the establishment of criminal tribunals.
16.8.1. During the cold war, with frequent uses of the veto by the two super-powers, the Security Council was not active in taking such measures, the power was rarely used and the principal role of the UN was in acting through the “good offices” of the Secretary General. Successive Secretaries-General intervened and mediated with varying degrees of success and whilst their primary role was conflict resolution, efforts were also made in “humanitarian” missions such as those to secure the release of Western hostages in the Lebanon during the Lebanese civil conflict. The Security Council itself has raised the issue of violations of “international humanitarian law” in numerous conflicts, including the Iran-Iraq conflict 1980–88, the Gulf conflict 1990–91, the conflicts in former Yugoslavia 1991–99 and the events in Rwanda in 1994. Such violations led to the Security Council taking coercive action under Chapter VII of the UN Charter as well as using the consent provisions of Chapter VI.
16.9. Ensuring respect for the law of armed conflict is a universal responsibility. International co-operation is encouraged by Additional Protocol I, which provides for:
a. meetings to consider general problems concerning the application of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I;
b. exchange of official translations of the protocol as well as any implementing domestic legislation with similar provisions applying in relation to the conventions;
c. mutual assistance in criminal proceedings brought in respect of grave breaches of the conventions or protocol, including assistance with evidence and extradition;
d. co-operation, jointly or individually, with the UN in situations of serious violations of the conventions or protocol.
16.10. Additional Protocol I also provides for the establishment of a permanent International Fact-Finding Commission. This, now known as the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, came into existence in 1991 after twenty states party to the protocol had agreed to accept its competence. It is competent to enquire into an allegation that a grave breach or other serious violation of the conventions or protocol has occurred but only in regard to the conduct of a party that has accepted its competence whether permanently or ad hoc. With the consent of the parties concerned, the commission can also enquire into other violations of the laws of armed conflict and, in all cases, can offer its good offices to assist in helping to restore respect for the conventions and protocol.
16.10.1. There are detailed rules as to the composition and administration of the commission.
16.10.2. It [is] often said that the truth is the first victim of war. Propaganda and counter-propaganda often result in a distortion of facts and statistics. Allegations of war crimes and atrocities are often found, on investigation, to be untrue or exaggerated. An independent fact-finding mission or inquiry can play an important part in establishing the facts, so that appropriate steps to rectify the situation can be taken by an international body. The UN Security Council has been particularly active in this area and has established ad hoc commissions of experts to conduct inquiries. These UN commissions have issued reports on violations, for example, during the Iran-Iraq conflict, in 1984–88; in the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, in 1993–4; and in Rwanda in 1994. In addition, the international criminal tribunals established by the UN for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda have been heavily involved in fact-finding.
16.11. The parties to a conflict are under a duty at the beginning of the conflict or any occupation to appoint a protecting power. If this is not done, or the appointment is not accepted by the adverse party, all parties must accept mediation from the ICRC and, if that fails, accept the ICRC as a substitute. Once protecting powers have been appointed, the parties must permit them to fulfil their role. This includes facilitating to the greatest extent possible the activities of the representatives of the protective power, only restricting those activities exceptionally and temporarily for reasons of imperative military necessity.
Duties of the protecting power
16.12. The specific duties of protecting powers are laid down in various articles of the Geneva Conventions 1949 and Additional Protocol I. These are dealt with in detail in the relevant chapters of this manual. However, their general responsibilities may be summarized as follows:
a. to safeguard the interests of the parties, applying the conventions and protocol with the co-operation of the parties and under the scrutiny of the other protecting powers;
b. to lend their good offices with a view to settling disagreements between the parties to the conflict; and
c. to visit prisoners of war and civilian internees, including the conducting of interviews personally or through an interpreter. It is for the protecting power to select the places for these visits. These may be prohibited only exceptionally and temporarily for reasons of imperative military necessity. If mutually agreed and necessary, compatriots of those interned may be permitted to participate in these visits.
The International Committee of the Red Cross
16.13. The ICRC has, since its establishment, had an important humanitarian role in armed conflict. It is responsible for operating the Central Tracing Agency; maintaining records of prisoners of war, inspecting their camps and providing relief; providing humanitarian assistance to the civilian population of countries in conflict; and it also works behind the scenes to settle disputes and help states comply with the law of armed conflict. The parties to a conflict are under an obligation to give the ICRC all possible facilities to enable it to carry out its humanitarian functions. As far as possible, similar facilities should also be granted to national red cross and red crescent societies.
In 1979, in reaction to the appeal made by the ICRC to ensure respect for international humanitarian law with regard to the conflict in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, the United Kingdom stated that “we give our wholehearted support” to the ICRC Appeal.
In 2003, in a written reply to a question in the House of Lords, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
British Embassy staff in Kabul are in frequent contact with the ICRC, which monitors closely the situation and welfare of all prisoners in Afghanistan. However, the ICRC cannot provide full reports.
We are concerned about reported conditions in prisons across Afghanistan and have made clear to the Afghan Transitional Administration, which includes former Northern Alliance members, that we expect them, as the responsible authority for prisoners in Afghanistan, to respect their international obligations. This includes treating their prisoners humanely and in accordance with the Geneva Conventions and international human rights law.
In 2003, during a debate in the House of Lords, the UK Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
My Lords, I very much thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for his welcome remarks. I heard what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said about illegal settlements. They are illegal under international law. We believe that they are an obstacle to peace and that Israel should freeze all settlement activity.
My Lords, settlement activity and the security fence are causes of great concern to Her Majesty’s Government. Settlement activity has increased during the past year; it is important to keep that issue in the forefront of our minds. We are concerned about the 360 kilometre-long fence, to which the noble Lord referred, which takes up so much Palestinian land and separates families. Our embassy in Tel Aviv has raised with the Israeli Government our concern about the location and the impact of the security fence. We fully understand Israel’s need to take steps within the law to protect itself from terrorist attack, but that must be achieved through a negotiated peace, not by measures such as the security fence.
In 2003, in a written reply to a question in the House of Commons, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence stated: “We have made no representations to the US Government about Iraqi nationals in its detention. The US is a State Party to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. The treatment of persons in its detention is primarily a matter for the US as Detaining Power.”
In 2003, in a written reply to a question in the House of Commons, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), stated:
FCO officials and I call regularly upon the parties to the Western Sahara dispute to take action on human rights issues. In February this year, I called for the immediate release of the remaining 1,160 Moroccan prisoners of war held by the Polisario Front, some held for over 25 years and some are in poor physical and mental health.
In 2003, during a debate in the House of Commons, the UK Prime Minister stated:
On Iraq, the US Secretary of State is correct: Saddam Hussein will be treated with all the rights of a prisoner of war. The trial process should be determined by the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi people. It should be left to them. Of course we must ensure that the process is proper, independent and fair, but I am sure that the Iraqis have the capability to achieve that. We and other countries will work with them to ensure that that is correct.
In 2004, during a debate in the House of Commons, the UK Foreign Secretary stated:
We have frequently lobbied the Government of Israel since 1997 about human rights concerns and the plight of the Palestinians … [O]ur lobbying has increased since the start of the intifada in September 2000.
Among the issues raised on many occasions in 2003 were:
- civilian casualties;
- targeted assassinations;
- confiscation of land;
- prisoners held in administrative detention;
- impact of the fence and “closed zone”;
- settlements and outposts;
- inappropriate behaviour by the Israel Defense Forces and rules of engagement;
- checkpoints and other internal barriers;
- the closure and curfew regimes;
- the hindrance to the movement of humanitarian aid;
- access problems for humanitarian workers and other essential staff;
- movement restrictions of dual nationals.
In 2004, in a written answer to a question concerning, inter alia, the use of child soldiers in Uganda, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
We deeply deplore the use of child soldiers by the LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army]. We are also concerned at UN reports that the Ugandan army has been recruiting underage soldiers. We have recently raised this issue with senior army commanders.
In 2004, during a debate in the House of Commons, the UK Foreign Secretary stated regarding Israel’s policy of targeted killings:
Our position on those so-called assassinations – straightforward killings – is … The killings are unlawful, unjustified and self-defeating, and they damage the case that Israel makes in the world. The fact that the killings led to the deaths of not only those whom Israel holds responsible for terrorism, but entirely innocent bystanders, including children, simply emphasises the unlawful nature of that approach, and its counterproductive effect. We will continue to make our position clear to the Government of Israel in representations, which we continually make both bilaterally and through the European Union.
In 2004, in a written answer to a question concerning the situation in the Darfur region of Sudan, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
The reports of systematic attacks on civilians, including rape, pillage and destruction of livelihoods in Darfur are alarming. We have for some time been urging the parties to the conflict to ensure the protection of civilians and to respect the principles set down in International Humanitarian Law.
In 2004, in a written answer to a question concerning, inter alia, the application of international humanitarian law to the situation in Myanmar, the UK Minister for Trade and Investment stated:
We look to the Burmese authorities to respect and abide by the principles of international law, including international humanitarian law, and notably all the provisions of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, to which Burma is a State Party.
The UK co-sponsored a resolution which was unanimously adopted at the UN Commission on Human Rights on 21 April that condemned human rights violations suffered by ethnic groups in Burma. The Resolution called on the regime to consider as a matter of high priority becoming party to the Additional Protocols of 8 June 1977 to the Geneva Conventions, of 12 August 1949.
In 2004, during a debate in the House of Commons, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
Let me be clear: destruction of property in the construction of the barrier in occupied territory is not justified by absolute military necessity and is therefore unlawful under the terms of the fourth Geneva Convention.
Where the barrier separates Palestinians from Palestinians, rather than Palestinians from Israelis, it does not appear to have taken a route decided solely on grounds of security, and the impact on the daily lives of Palestinian people has been dreadful. Palestinian farmers are being separated from their fields, children from their schools and the sick from hospitals. The Government believe that building a barrier on occupied land is illegal, that the humanitarian impact is unacceptable and that routing the barrier through Palestinian land is not necessary to protect Israeli security.
We continue to recognise Israel’s right to defend itself, but reiterate the need for Israel to act in accordance with international law. We call on Israel to reroute the barrier, away from the occupied territories.
In 2004, in a written answer to a question concerning, inter alia
, compliance with the 1949 Geneva Conventions in relation to prisoners detained in Afghanistan, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated: “The UK calls for prisoners’ rights to be fully respected and due process to be applied to all prisoners, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions and international human rights law.”
In 2004, in a written answer to a question concerning, inter alia, discussions with the Government of Sudan relating to the situation in Darfur, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
We are gravely concerned by the forced relocations of people in camps in Darfur. This appears to be a breach of international humanitarian law, as well as the established mechanisms on relocations. We have repeatedly made clear to the Government of Sudan that all returns must be voluntary and appropriate and carried out with full and prior consultation with the international community, as agreed in the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Sudan and the International Organisation for Migration.
In 2004, in a written answer to a question concerning representations made to the Government of Sudan, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
Our Embassy in Khartoum, both bilaterally and as part of the EU-Sudan dialogue, makes regular representations to the Sudanese Government on the need for it to abide by international humanitarian law, including UN international human rights treaties. These include, inter alia, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention Against Torture and the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. During my visit to Sudan, I pressed Sudanese Justice Minister Yassin to ratify the Convention Against Torture as soon as possible.
In 2005, in a written answer to a question concerning, inter alia, the “shooting of children in Kuta Dahil, Bertniya Sabn al-Rjoub and Ratah” by the Israel Defense Forces, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
We recognise Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism but it must act in accordance with international law. In this context we have made representations at every level to the Israeli authorities raising our concerns regarding the disproportionate use of force by the Israeli defence forces in Gaza, and the number of civilian casualties, particularly children, which have resulted from their actions.
In 2005, in a written answer to a question concerning, inter alia, representations made to the Government of Colombia on the conduct of the Colombian Army, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
We continue to urge the Colombian Government to implement all outstanding recommendations by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. We have also made it plain that the armed forces must act in accordance with human rights and international humanitarian law, and have provided funding for training in these areas. Where members of the armed forces are proven to have committed human rights abuses they must be punished in accordance with the law. Impunity must not be allowed, a message we have also reiterated to the Colombians.
In 2005, in a written answer to a question concerning attacks against humanitarian workers in Darfur, the UK Minister of State for Trade, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
We condemn the recent attacks against humanitarian workers in Darfur. Many of these attacks appear to be the result of opportunistic banditry and general lawlessness. The African Union mission in Darfur has made a positive impact on security in the areas in which it has deployed and we fully support its expansion as the best way of addressing the security situation in Darfur. We continue to make clear to the Government of Sudan that it is their responsibility to provide security for all their people, and to actively pursue those who breach the law. We have made clear to all parties that attacks against humanitarian workers are in violation of international humanitarian law and it is imperative that those responsible are brought to justice.
In 2005, in reply to a question concerning, inter alia
, the issuing of land requisition orders to facilitate the construction of a barrier in the West Bank, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated: “We deplore the destruction of Palestinian homes and the confiscation of land associated with the barrier’s construction. We have made our concerns extremely clear to the Israeli Government and will continue to do so.”
In 2005, during a debate in the House of Lords, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
There is no doubt that violations of international humanitarian and human rights law have been committed in Darfur. We have consistently made clear that the perpetrators of these terrible crimes must be brought to justice.
In 2005, in a written answer to a question concerning “discussions the Government have held with the Russian Government regarding its military involvement in Chechnya”, the UK Minister of State for Europe stated:
We remain concerned about the human rights situation in Chechnya. We are especially concerned about the culture of impunity, with continuing reports of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detention and torture. We frequently raise our concerns with the Russian Government, both bilaterally and in multilateral fora. These include concerns about the military component of Russia’s response to the problems in Chechnya. Bilaterally, we most recently discussed Chechnya in depth during the UK-Russia Human Rights dialogue on 23 May, when we expressed our belief that effective maintenance of security and actions to counter terrorism should be pursued within a framework that respects human rights and international humanitarian law.
In 2005, in a written answer to a question concerning “what measures the UK Government have taken as a state party to the fourth Geneva Convention to … ensure compliance with the Convention under the ruling of the International Court of Justice ruling of 9 July 2004”, the UK Minister of State for the Middle East, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
We supported United Nations General Assembly Resolution ES (Emergency Session) 10/15 which acknowledged the International Court of Justice (ICJ) Advisory Opinion of 9 July 2004 on the legal consequences of the construction of the barrier in the occupied Palestinian territory. We agree with the broad conclusion of the ICJ, that building a barrier on parts of the current route is unlawful. We have discussed the way forward with EU partners and others, and we continue to urge Israel to comply with international law.
In 2006, in a written answer to a question in the House of Commons concerning “representations the Government has made to the Israeli Government on Israel taking more Palestinian land for settlements”, the UK Minister of State for the Middle East, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
We will continue to raise our concerns over the settlements and the barrier with the Israeli Government at all levels.
Our ambassador in Tel Aviv last raised our concerns about settlements and impact of the barrier in East Jerusalem with the Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 19 December 2005. He also raised Palestinian access to the Jordan Valley on 2 March with the Israeli Prime Minister’s Special Adviser.
Settlements are illegal under international law and settlement construction is an obstacle to peace.
In 2006, in a written answer to a question in the House of Commons concerning “whether it is Government policy to regard the Green Line as the border of Israel”, the UK Minister of State for the Middle East, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
Settlement building on Palestinian land is illegal under international law and settlement construction is an obstacle to peace. The barrier’s route should be on or behind the Green Line, and not on occupied territory. Construction of the barrier on Palestinian land is also illegal. We continue to raise both of these issues with the Israeli Government at all levels.
In 2006, in a written answer to a question concerning, inter alia, “the implications under the Geneva Conventions of the targeting by Israel of civilian facilities and infrastructure in Gaza”, the UK Minister of State for the Middle East, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
We are opposed to the targeting of civilian facilities and call upon Israel to respect international law and, in particular, the requirement of proportionality and the duty to take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties.
In 2006, in a written ministerial statement, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
While Israel has the right to defend itself and to secure the release of Corporal Shalit, its actions should be proportionate and in accordance with international law, as we, the G8 and the EU have made clear. We call on Israel to exercise restraint and to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties.
In 2006, in a reply to a question concerning “the extent of the use of child soldiers in the conflict in Darfur”, the UK Minister of State for Trade and Investment stated:
In September 2006, a UN panel of experts reported the recruitment of child soldiers by parties to the conflict in Darfur. Recruitment of child soldiers is a breach of international humanitarian law and explicitly prohibited by article 24 of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA). We have regularly made clear to the Government of Sudan that we expect them to uphold the commitments they have made under, in particular, the convention on the rights of the child and its optional protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict. We have also told the Sudan Liberation Army and Justice and Equality Movement that the recruitment and use of child soldiers is wholly unacceptable and in contravention of its obligations under the Abuja Security protocol of 8 November 2004, which commits both movements and the Government to stop recruiting children as combatants.
In 2006, in a written answer to a question in the House of Commons concerning “what mechanisms are being used to persuade Israel to comply with international law”, the UK Minister of State for the Middle East, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
We understand that our EU partners raise their concerns directly with the Israeli government. The UK continues to make representations to the Israeli government regarding the routing of the barrier. While Israel is entitled to take measures to strengthen their security, the routing of the barrier on occupied land is contrary to international law.
We agree with the broad conclusion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), that building a barrier along the current route is unlawful. We supported UN General Assembly Resolution Emergency Session 10/15 which acknowledged the ICJ Advisory Opinion of 9 July 2004 on the legal consequences of the construction of the barrier in the occupied Palestinian territory.
In 2007, in a written answer to a question in the House of Lords concerning the UK Government’s actions to ensure that the EU implements its guidelines on international humanitarian law and human rights in respect of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated: “[W]e continue to stress to the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority the need to ensure that their actions comply with international law”.
In 2007, in a written answer to a question in the House of Lords concerning the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
We also call on Israel to route the barrier on or behind the Green Line and freeze all settlement activity and dismantle all outposts built since 2001. The routing of the barrier and the construction of settlements on occupied land is illegal. We continue to raise these issues with the Israeli Government.
In 2007, in a written answer to a question in the House of Commons concerning the United Kingdom’s compliance with the Fourth Geneva Convention, particularly with Articles 1 and 147 therein, the UK Minister of State for Trade, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, wrote:
The United Kingdom has signed and ratified the Fourth Geneva Convention and complies with its provisions. Every appropriate opportunity is taken in our bilateral relations and through appropriate international bodies to promote respect for the convention and its articles.
In 2007, in a written answer to a question in the House of Commons concerning the UK Government’s representations to the Government of Israel regarding the incursions of Israeli armed forces into the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the UK Minister of State for the Middle East, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
The impact of Israel’s military operations remains a real concern. Israel has the right to defend itself against terrorism but it must respect international humanitarian law. We regularly raise our concerns about this with the Israeli Government.
In 2007, in its response to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report on the Middle East, in which the question was raised whether the Government considered the use of cluster munitions by Israel in Lebanon proportionate, the UK Government stated:
As the UK made clear during the conflict last year, we were deeply concerned by the deaths of civilians and damage to infrastructure in both Lebanon and Israel. We consistently urged Israel to act proportionately, to conform to international law, and to do more to avoid civilian death and suffering.
In 2007, in a written answer to a question in the House of Commons concerning rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, wrote:
Over 1,000 Qassam rockets and mortar shells have been fired at Israeli targets since Hamas seized control of Gaza on 14 June 2007, wounding a number of Israelis. It has also caused damage to infrastructure. We continue to call for an immediate halt to these attacks, which target civilians.
In 2008, the UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs responded to the 2007 Annual Report on Human Rights by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons. The Secretary of State noted that the Government continues “to urge the Ethiopians to use only appropriate force, adhere to international humanitarian law and respect human rights.”
In 2008, during a debate in the House of Commons, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development stated: “The [UK] Government welcome the commitment of the Government of Sri Lanka to protect civilian populations and have continued to lobby for all parties in the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law.”
While the core challenges in the protection of civilians identified in the previous reports of the Secretary-General still need our sustained attention, the new report also identifies several protection policy priorities that need to be explored. In particular the following “emerging” issues would benefit from our attention, and the Group of Friends stands ready to act as a platform to advance them. …
First, on the arbitrary withholding of consent to relief operations: The Group recalls that international humanitarian law obliges all parties to a conflict to protect civilian populations from the effect of armed conflict. One way this can be achieved is by allowing and facilitating access for humanitarian relief operations, including by simplifying and expediting procedures for the rapid and unhindered delivery of life-saving assistance. The Group is concerned about intimidations, threats, arrests, detentions, injuries or killings of humanitarian workers.
In this regard, the Group notes the intention of the Secretary-General to examine the issue of arbitrary withholding of consent to relief operations. We note the fact that several drafting seminars among legal experts from diverse backgrounds have taken place; responding to the Secretary-General’s recommendation in this regard, the Group expresses its readiness to discuss their findings, among other inputs, with a view to elaborating guidance on how to facilitate consent in a peaceful manner. All parties to conflict must abide by international humanitarian principles and practice to protect civilians; the international community needs to take the initiative to guarantee this.
Second, on the issue of casualty tracking and recording: The Group of Friends notes that civilian casualty tracking, where practicable, plays an important role in efforts to reduce harm to civilians. The Group of Friends invites parties to a conflict, as well as UN peacekeeping missions, to recognize the potential value of such a role. With regards to casualty recording, and in light of the recent presentation of the Rights Up Front Plan of Action, the Group notes the continuation of efforts to ensure effective and credible casualty recording mechanisms, noting further that the establishment of systematic and credible records of civilian casualties in the right context could support broader efforts to monitor and report on violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, while taking into account the practical challenges in recording casualties, civilian or otherwise.