Letter from Elias Davidsson to Dr. Corneliu Sommaruga, President of the ICCR, Geneva
25. May 1990
Dear Dr. Sommaruga
As an Icelandic citizen of Palestinian birth and principled supporter of human rights, I permit myself to address to you a letter concerning the performance of the Government of Iceland with respect to the IV. Geneva Convention, of which it is a High Contracting Party.
I am very sorry to report that my Government has not yet acted on its obligations as specificed by Article 146, paragraph 1, of the IV. Geneva Convention of 1949, namely the enactment of legislation for the prosecution of war criminals.
Although no Icelandic citizens are known to have committed or ordered to have committed war crimes, as specificed by Article 147 of the Convention, I understand from the text of the Convention, from comments to the Convention made by distinguished scholars and from communication from ICRC legal staff, that it is the obligation of High Contracting Parties, including Iceland, to enact legislation providing effective penal sanctions for war criminals. Moreover it is the obligation of High Contracting Parties to search and prosecute individuals who are alleged to have committed, or ordered to have committed war crimes, regardless of their nationality and regardless where those crimes have taken place. All High Contracting Parties are thus collectively and severally responsible for enforcing the ban on war crimes ("grave breaches"), because such breaches are considered crimes against Mankind as a whole.
I would be extremely thankful if the International Committee of the Red Cross, which plays a crucial and unique role in upholding the authority of the Geneva Conventions, would accept to remind the Goverment of Iceland, as well as other defaulting Parties, of their obligations to respect of both paragraphs of Article 146 of the IV. Geneva Convention, referred to above. In this context, it would be useful if the ICRC could indicate specific recent cases of grave breaches.
I understand that the aim of those who ratified the Geneva Conventions after World War II, was to give Mankind legal instruments which could protect a modicum of human dignity under adverse conditions of violent conflicts, thus defusing resentment, feelings of revenge and risks of escalating violence. The Geneva Conventions, if strictly adhered to, can be formidable instruments for enhacing world peace and should be consolidated with determination by all concerned parties, including the ICRC, High Contracting Parties and the public.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, with limited resources and no enforcement means, tries with great courage to uphold the Conventions, even in difficult situations. The ICRC’s efforts for the protection of human rights are one of the less known, but extremely important facets of the Committee’s wor, and deserve a wider publicity and recognition. I believe that many concerned individuals and NGO’s in the world, would willingly welcome a more assertive posture of the ICRC with respect to these Conventions and would support such endeavour in their respective countries.