Voluntary reports on the domestic implementation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL)

What are voluntary reports? What States have published such a report? Where can a State, a national committee or similar entity on IHL, a Red Cross or Red Crescent Society find support to embark on this journey?

In this page, you will find all voluntary reports that have been made public by States today, supporting materials to help interested authorities in their task, as well as some answers to frequently asked questions.

What is a voluntary report on the domestic implementation of IHL?

For the ICRC, a voluntary report is any document drafted under the lead or with the strong involvement of a State entity, very often with the support of National IHL Committees and sometimes with the support of the Red Cross or Red Crescent National Society, with the purpose of describing the state of IHL implementation within its domestic legal system, including law, policy and practice. The purpose of the report is usually to outline the harmony between international legal obligations and the domestic system, and to identify potential areas requiring further action. Voluntary reports are often made public once finalized, as one of their aims is to contribute to sharing good practices among the international community on IHL implementation.

Why would a State wish to publish such a report?

The effective national implementation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) is a continuous process and there is always room to strengthen domestic legal frameworks.

To showcase all the work done in this area, several States have issued voluntary reports on the domestic implementation of IHL, highlighting the relevant parts of their legal frameworks where IHL and its rules are adequately reflected and proposing areas for further consideration.

In the expert meeting co-organized by the ICRC in June 2021 entitled ‘Voluntary reports on national implementation of international humanitarian law: sharing practical experiences and perspectives’, several States shared what, for them, are some of the benefits of drafting voluntary reports.

>The drafting and dissemination of voluntary reports aid the promotion, better understanding and implementation of IHL. They assist governments in reviewing compliance of national legislation with IHL norms which in turn helps them identify areas requiring further action. In this way, they constitute a common reference point on the state of IHL implementation in each country. They also enable engagement amongst States thereby promoting international cooperation through the exchange of best practices.

Is there an obligation to draft voluntary reports?

No, as the name indicates, the process of drafting such reports is entirely voluntary. States are free to decide if, when and how to draft them.

There is no legal definition of a voluntary report and it is not envisaged as part of the Geneva Conventions or its Additional Protocols. It simply constitutes one of the ways in which States can demonstrate all the actions taken to fulfill their obligation to implement IHL domestically.

Such voluntary reports are grounded in Resolution 1 adopted at the 33rd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent and entitled ‘Bringing IHL Home: a roadmap for better national implementation of IHL’. The resolution invites ‘States to carry out, with the support of the Red Cross or Red Crescent National Society where possible, an analysis of the areas requiring further domestic implementation’. It also invites ‘States to share examples of and exchange of good practices of national implementation measures taken in accordance with IHL obligations as well as other measures that may go well beyond States’ obligations’.

The resolution is complemented by the open pledge submitted by the United Kingdom, the British Red Cross and signed by 15 States and National Societies, which encourages States and National Societies of the Red Cross and Red Crescent to voluntarily publish reports on the domestic implementation of IHL.

Who is best placed to draft a voluntary report?

Any State entity tasked with the implementation of IHL can draft a voluntary report however National IHL Committees will often be instrumental to the process as they already offer the advantage of bringing around the same table the different stakeholders involved in the implementation of IHL. National Societies of the Red Cross and Red Crescent can often play a strong supporting role to ensure the success of the process.

What are key considerations when starting a voluntary report?

States interested in drafting voluntary reports may consider the following in their planning process: the identification of content for the report, the collection of data, the decision to make the report public or private, the adoption process and budgetary considerations.

In identifying content to cover in the report, States may either take a broad approach by examining several themes or by focusing on one theme.

It would be helpful for the collection of data to be preceded by an action plan that maps out strategies, solutions and approaches to be taken. Different stakeholders who are experts in their fields can then collect the data to be analyzed.

Although there is no requirement to make the report public, some of the benefits of publication, such as the dissemination of IHL and engagement with other States, will be missed if it is marked as confidential.

The adoption process should be determined from the start, ideally through a workplan. After the report’s adoption, the promotion exercise will follow during which States can cooperate with various stakeholders. In this regard, the ICRC publishes voluntary reports on this webpage.

Regarding the financial resources needed to undertake a voluntary report, the following may guide States in their budgetary planning exercise: hiring a consultant familiar with IHL and the national legal context to research and draft the report; hiring an independent practitioner or academic to review this draft report for accuracy and quality; holding one or more meetings with relevant stakeholders, for example on an initial workplan, to launch the finalized report; translating the report into other languages in multi-lingual countries.

Source : Icrc