Statement by Gregory Nickels, U.S. Senior Advisor to the 65th General Assembly, on Agenda Item 82: Status of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Relating to the Protection of Victims of Armed Conflicts, in the 6th Committee

Gregory Nickels, U.S. Senior Advisor to the 65th General Assembly
New York, NY
October 18, 2010


Thank you, Madame Chairperson.

We welcome the opportunity to provide our views on this agenda item.

The United States is deeply committed to the advancement of international humanitarian law. Answering the call to all parties to conflict and to all states to minimize unnecessary suffering by all persons affected by armed conflict, the U.S. Armed Forces, and the U.S. civilians who serve with them, as well as contingents from many other nations, are fulfilling the letter and the spirit of the Geneva Conventions every day in some of the most dangerous places in the world. As President Obama reaffirmed in his Nobel Prize speech, “Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct… [E]ven as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules …the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war.”

It is clear that individuals detained by the United States during armed conflict must, as a matter of law, be treated humanely. The entire United States Government has worked to achieve this result, which is true to the letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions. There is a strong partnership between the U.S. Armed Forces and its civilian leadership to carry forward the United States’ absolute commitment to fulfilling and implementing the Common Article 3 prohibitions on torture, as well as on cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

The United States has signed Additional Protocols I and II to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, but has not ratified either one. While the United States continues to have significant concerns with many aspects of Additional Protocol I, this treaty contains some important provisions that the United States has historically supported -- in particular those that set forth fundamental guarantees for persons detained by opposing forces in international armed conflict who do not benefit from more favorable treatment under the 1949 Geneva Conventions. U.S. forces have followed the provisions of Additional Protocol I in certain circumstances in which Coalition partners were States Parties, and the United States determined that the provisions of Additional Protocol I were accurate reflections of the law or otherwise consistent with U.S. practice. President Reagan submitted Additional Protocol II to the U.S. Senate for advice and consent to ratification in 1987. This treaty has historically received bipartisan support and is currently pending on the calendar of the U.S. Senate.

The United States Government has recently taken an array of concrete actions to further our commitment to the Geneva Conventions and the principles underlying them, including to minimize unnecessary suffering during armed conflict. For example:

· The President directed that all interrogations of detainees by anyone in the U.S. Government be conducted in accordance with our Army Field Manual in order to ensure compliance with humane treatment standards.

· The Administration has worked with the U.S. Congress to reform the law governing our military commissions, including barring the admissibility of statements obtained through the use of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

· The U.S. Government has worked to provide more robust review procedures for detainees held by the United States in Afghanistan, including permitting them greater opportunity to challenge the accuracy of information that is the basis for their detention and having the assistance of personal representatives to help them navigate the detention review process.

· The U.S. Government has reaffirmed its commitment to the development and implementation of international humanitarian law by becoming a party to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. A long-time party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), the United States is now also Party to all its protocols upon the ratifications of Protocols III, IV, V and the amendment to Article I of the CCW. The United States remains committed to negotiating a legally binding protocol on Cluster Munitions in the CCW.

We know that we have more work to do, but we consider these to be significant accomplishments and a sign of our deep national commitment to fulfilling our duties as a State Party to the Geneva Conventions, to improving the effectiveness of those Conventions, and to furthering the goals that the Conventions were intended to advance. We very much look forward to working with the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations, and other partners around the world in that endeavor.

Thank you, Madame Chairperson.


PRN: 2010/233