Common Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions: Scope and Content of the Obligation to 'Ensure Respect' - 'Narrow but Deep' or 'Wide and Shallow'
Robin Geiß – 2015
More than ten years after 9/11, calls for an urgent reform of the ostensibly obsolete humanitarian legal framework have faded. Yet a central and seemingly eternal dilemma of humanitarian law remains: how to ensure better compliance with international humanitarian law? Official statements of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) over the past decade(s) have consistently identified the lack of respect for existing rules as the main challenge to the humanitarian legal order. In the armed conflicts in Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and (South) Sudan, this lack of respect, albeit a seemingly endemic feature of non-international armed conflicts worldwide, has been particularly obvious. Of course, as is well known, over the past two decades, the laws of war have become increasingly prominent on the Security Council's agenda; its reactions to violations of international humanitarian law ranging from denunciations and focused demands for implementation to the creation of ad hoc institutional mechanisms. But even if the Security Council has developed into the ‘major intergovernmental institution’ acting in the field of international humanitarian law, its reactions to violations of international humanitarian law are still rather sporadic. Against this background, the ICRC has recently been invited by the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent ‘to pursue further research’ with regard to possible models for an enhanced compliance mechanism in the field of humanitarian law. Judging, however, by the history of the International Fact-Finding Commission (Article 90 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions (AP I)) and more recently, tentative attempts to turn the United Nations Human Rights Council into a central international humanitarian law monitoring body, which have met with strong resistance from various member States, it seems that prospects for a functioning central international humanitarian law monitoring body are as remote as ever. Against this background, much hope has traditionally been vested in Common Article 1 of the four Geneva Conventions (Common Article 1 GC). Common Article 1 GC, in the relevant part, provides that ‘[t]he High Contracting parties undertake…to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances’.