How can the EU contribute to effective compliance with International Humanitarian Law?

Launch of the Fifth Report on the EU Guidelines on Promoting Compliance with International Humanitarian Law

‘How can the EU contribute to effective compliance with IHL? The need to end impunity and to ensure accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian law’

Remarks by the EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore

14 December 2022


Good morning everyone. I would like to thank the Czech Presidency and the French Republic for inviting me to this important event – the launch of the 5th annual report on the implementation of the EU Guidelines on Promoting Compliance with International Humanitarian Law.

In the last years, we have seen an avalanche of crises, from Afghanistan to Ethiopia, from Syria and Yemen to Myanmar and many more.

We are currently witnessing the highest number of violent conflicts since World War II. In such conflicts, human rights abuses add to violations of international humanitarian law. What I saw in Bucha, Ukraine earlier this year, and heard from survivors, was indeed shocking. In South Sudan three weeks ago, I met with IDPs, who have fled the violence and are in great need for protection. I also heard terrifying testimonies of sexual- and gender based violence.

It is very clear that respect for international humanitarian law is essential to save lives and uphold human dignity in armed conflicts.

It is also very clear that more has to be done at all levels in order to ensure respect for IHL. States and other actors have many tools. The EU has its Guidelines. It is our task to use these tools effectively and comprehensively.

We should leverage our political and economic weight to promote IHL compliance. We should consistently condemn violations, step up advocacy efforts in support of protection of civilians and IHL, use platforms at which we are a leading voice, and continue to provide training on IHL.

Holding individuals accountable for serious violations of IHL is essential because it may deter future violations, promote respect for the law, and above all provide avenues of redress for the victims.

In the 2021 annual report we see many examples of EU actions on accountability, for instance, resolutions in the European Parliament, Council Conclusions on contexts such as Ethiopia, EU’s work in the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council, and funding of projects on monitoring and accountability, for example in Yemen, Syria and Western Balkans.

In 2022, with the war in Ukraine, we have seen an unprecedented mobilisation for international criminal justice, and support for the ICC.

The EU has been at the forefront of supporting initiatives on accountability. We support the Ukrainian authorities as a first responder to achieve accountability. We assist the Office of the Prosecutor General by providing training, expertise and equipment through our EU Delegation and our EU Advisory Mission to Ukraine.

We provided additional financial support to strengthen the investigation capacities of the ICC, which will support ALL ICC investigations.

Collection of evidence is urgent which is why we acted immediately. But ensuring justice takes time. This is why it is equally important to collect, preserve and analyse evidence properly. This allows for the building of legal cases and the prosecution of those responsible. Therefore, the EU has changed the legal basis of Eurojust to enable Eurojust to preserve, analyse and store evidence relating to core international crimes.

Through Eurojust, the EU is also supporting a Joint Investigation Team established by Ukraine and EU Member States to facilitate the collection and sharing of evidence on international crimes to strengthen national investigations and prosecutions.

Ensuring accountability for international crimes committed in Ukraine is a responsibility which must be shared by the whole international community. By working together and coordinating our efforts we can set a new standard for the international community to respond to crisis situations and to address international crimes anywhere in the world.

This year the ICC turned 20. The ICC has had in the last 20 years an important impact on international justice. The Rome Statute brought the States Parties into a framework of international support and cooperation. They developed domestic laws and capacities to investigate and prosecute atrocity crimes in their jurisdictions. Many States have created war crimes units in their national systems because of that.

This helped dealing with atrocity crimes at home – where they actually belong – as the ICC is ultimately a court of last resort.

While we can look with pride to these achievements, there is no time for complacency. We need to do more and quicker. We need to see more measurable results in the courtroom, as accountability is in high demand these days.

The war in Ukraine only increased the practical relevance of the ICC. As the ICC Chief Prosecutor put it in one of his interventions, ‘at a time like this, the law cannot be a spectator’. I cannot agree more.

We need to capitalize on this extraordinary moment for international criminal justice and to make the ‘Ukraine momentum’ a standard for fighting impunity in other parts of the world. The credibility of the criminal justice as a whole – depends on this.

The EU will keep working with national and international partners including civil society to promote compliance with IHL, prevent violations of IHL and fight impunity, all around the world.

Let me reiterate, as I did last year, that the annual reports on the implementation of the Guidelines and the launches are central, as they strengthen visibility and coherence to the wide range of measures undertaken by the EU to promote compliance of IHL and in support of accountability. I would like to thank the organisers of today’s event, the COJUR working party, the EEAS and the Commission for all the work they have done to make EU’s action on IHL a reality.

Thank you.