August marked the 62nd anniversary of the Geneva Conventions. Regarded as the “laws of war” the Conventions and their Additional Protocols are at the heart of international humanitarian law, the body of international law that regulates the conduct of armed conflict and seeks to limit its effects. The Conventions also seek to punish those responsible for breaches of the conventions and all states are obliged to extradite or prosecute perpetrators, regardless of their nationality or where the breach is committed.
In March 1952 South Africa acceded to the Geneva Conventions namely the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field of 12 August 1949 (Convention I), the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea of 12 August 1949 (Convention II), the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War of 12 August 1949 (Convention III) and the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of 12 August 1949 (Convention IV), the Conventions.
In November 1995 South Africa also acceded to Protocols Additional to those Conventions, namely the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Additional Protocol I), 8 June 1977, and the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of Non International Armed Conflicts (Additional Protocol II), 8 June 1977.
South Africa, as a state party to the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, is legally obliged to enact their provisions into South African law by national legislation. Pursuant to this obligation, the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans published the Implementation of the Geneva Conventions Bill and, as required by the Constitution, invited interested parties to make submissions on the Bill.
In response to this invitation, SALC together with Professor Max du Plessis and the Christopher Gevers from the University of Kwazulu-Natal, made written submissions. SALC’s interest in the Bill stems from its concern to ensure that the primary objective of the Bill – the prevention and punishment of Convention breaches – is realized. The submissions therefore focus on the ability of the Bill to ensure that the offences it domesticates into South African law will be dealt with effectively.