Commonwealth countries urged to strengthen reporting on international humanitarian law

25 May 2023
Commonwealth Rule of Law Seminar

Legal experts gathered at a seminar in London on 23 May 2023 have called on Commonwealth countries to bolster reporting on the domestic implementation of international humanitarian law.

Doing so, they emphasised, would lead to increased accountability during armed conflicts, improved governance and stronger compliance with international humanitarian law – a set of rules that regulate the conduct of wars and protect civilians.

While all 56 Commonwealth countries are parties to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and other treaties that form the basis of international humanitarian law, some nations have yet to incorporate these obligations into domestic legislation and policies.

Voluntary reporting, an important element in the effective implementation of these obligations, has been undertaken by only 16 countries globally.

To address this issue, legal experts from around the Commonwealth convened at the seminar to share and discuss good practices emerging from reporting on international humanitarian law in their respective countries.

The discussions aimed to offer tried-and-tested insights and resources to drafters in other countries, encouraging them to prepare voluntary reports tailored to their specific local circumstances.

In his opening remarks, Commonwealth Assistant Secretary-General, Professor Luis Franceschi, highlighted that the implementation of international humanitarian law aligns with the Commonwealth’s commitment to the rule of law.

He continued:

“Unfortunately, the world is currently witnessing numerous conflicts where adherence to international humanitarian law, which helps to limit human suffering, is being severely tested. It is imperative for countries to promote compliance with international humanitarian law, including through voluntary reporting, in order to demonstrate effective implementation.

“Through dialogue and sharing good practices, we hope today’s discussion will strengthen compliance with international humanitarian law, especially in countries with more limited resources.”

During the seminar, speakers highlighted that various factors, such as resource constraints, security concerns and political considerations, hinder countries from reporting on international humanitarian law.

The publication of voluntary reports, they stressed, can improve transparency, accountability, learning and humanitarian response efforts.

The seminar also highlighted several proposals to support countries with their submissions, including adopting a cross-sectoral approach to report drafting and utilising existing templates provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Following the seminar, one of the speakers, Andrew Murdoch, Legal Director at the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, said the Commonwealth is well positioned to facilitate the sharing of good practices in implementing international humanitarian law. 

He reflected on his country’s experience in preparing a voluntary report, saying:

“As a result of what the UK did, we produced a toolkit to help other countries produce their own report.”

Murdoch added that the toolkit provides countries with templates and flexibility to choose between either doing a full report or a shorter version.

The hybrid seminar also shed light on the role regional organisations can play in supporting voluntary reporting at the national level.

Speaking after the seminar, Delia Chatoor, a former Foreign Service Officer for Trinidad and Tobago, emphasised the significance of the Commonwealth’s involvement in this regard.

She said:

“The Commonwealth should engage experts and exchange them through collaboration, particularly for countries that may not have the human resources needed to prepare voluntary reporting.

“Engaging youth in this process is also critical … and this is where, the Commonwealth Secretariat, with its outreach, can ensure youth voices are heard.”

Other panellists, who spoke at the seminar, were Ms. Jane Collins, Legal Adviser, General International Law Unit, Legal Division, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade, Ms. Lulu Hayanga, Deputy Chief State Counsel, International Law Division, Office of the Attorney General and Department of Justice, Republic of Kenya, and Mr. Olatunde Olayemi, Programme Officer, Humanitarian Affairs and Human Security Division, ECOWAS Commission.

The seminar was co-hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat and the British Red Cross. It is part of the ongoing Rule of Law Seminar series that brings together wide-ranging Commonwealth experts to address various issues related to a rules-based order through dialogue and knowledge exchange.

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  • Snober Abbasi Senior Communications Officer, Communications Division, Commonwealth Secretariat
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