Page 3184 - Week 09 - Tuesday, 18 August 2009

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is to provide criminal sanctions for grave breaches of the conventions and to endow Australian courts with jurisdiction to try them.

There are 194 states that are parties to the conventions; so they can truly be described as universal. In the two decades after the commencement of the conventions, the world witnessed a significant increase in the number of non-international armed conflicts. In response, two protocols additional to the four conventions were adopted in 1977. Protocol I strengthens the protection of victims of international armed conflicts, and protocol II, the victims of non-international conflicts. Protocol II was the first-ever international treaty devoted exclusively to situations of non-international armed conflicts. Australia ratified these protocols on 21 June 1991.

The Geneva conventions, the additional protocols and the statutes of the International Red Cross and the Red Crescent Movement charge the International Committee of the Red Cross with protecting and assisting victims of war, promoting and developing international humanitarian law and encouraging states to implement their international humanitarian law obligations.

Many people all over the world clearly regard the conventions as rules that are at least as essential as when they became law shortly after the Second World War. Since then, violent intra and interstate conflicts have claimed the lives of many millions of civilians and left tens of millions permanently displaced. These conflicts have featured grave violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. And often, the warring parties have made non-combatants their primary victims of rape and massacre.

The International Committee of the Red Cross recently commissioned research on what people think about the conventions and acceptable behaviour during hostilities. The findings of this research resoundingly affirm the broad support for the principles enshrined in the conventions. Approximately 4,000 people were surveyed in eight countries affected by war, namely, Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Georgia, Haiti, Lebanon, Liberia and the Philippines. The questions put to these people focused on their experience of violent conflict. They overwhelmingly agreed that some behaviour is unacceptable even in times of conflict, including killing civilians, kidnapping, torture, looting and sexual violence.

The conventions are also of tremendous importance to people throughout Australia, including in the ACT. Most Australians have a sense of how imperative it is for all to abide by the conventions, from the experiences of Australian prisoners of war during World War II and other international conflicts, due to the stories passed down by family members, neighbours, historians and community leaders. The Australian Red Cross volunteers and staff members have contributed enormously to the implementation of the conventions and protocols. Praise is due to them and the current chief executive officer of the Australian Red Cross, Robert Tickner.

The Geneva conventions are also important to Australians because many of them find themselves in the midst of armed conflict overseas. These Australians are providing assistance in countries when bloody conflict breaks out or are helping in countries where there are ongoing armed hostilities. And there are many members of the Canberra community who have devoted themselves to serving communities and

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