Debate: Should the ICRC be the Sole Organization Responsible for the Dissemination of IHL?

Matthew Hanzel Avatar

If you mention two variables: [1] international humanitarian law (IHL) and [2] international organization, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will surely come across. As probably the organization that gave birth to the IHL, the ICRC is certainly responsible for disseminating the knowledge of IHL to everyone, especially to those who need to take the law into account, i.e. combatants.

However, today’s understanding of IHL has expanded to cover not only in times of armed conflict, but also in times of peace (i.e. post conflict situation). The responsibility to understand and uphold the IHL has also grown. However, it should be debated on whether the ICRC, the mother of IHL, should be the sole organization (sole party) responsible for the dissemination of IHL.

To begin with, I am writing this post in retrospect, since I got this motion almost three years ago during a debate competition. At that time, I was the affirmative side, yet I will build the case of both sides of the house here. The debate, of course, will not give you answer on which to believe, it may sill imply the affirmative is better, or the other way around.


The position of the affirmative side should be that the ICRC is the sole organization responsible for disseminating IHL. The affirmative side’s arguments will center on the nature of the ICRC itself.

First of all, by giving birth to the IHL, it is certain that the ICRC will best know the IHL, for certain better than anyone else. To make an analogy, when the first phones are created, for certain nobody knows phone better than the inventor, Alexander Graham Bell. Bell would have known every nuts and bolts, every joints and wires to the phone. The case is the same with ICRC, the ICRC will be most knowledgeable in talking about IHL.

Second, a discussion on the nature of the ICRC is also important. One of the greatest characteristics of the ICRC is its neutrality and impartiality: that the ICRC treats all parties equally and the ICRC will not side to any of the conflicting parties. Giving the ICRC the sole trust in dissemination will be beneficial, since the ICRC is believed by all parties to the conflict. Compromises will happen if it is given to other parties.

Third, the ICRC has the benefit of being the absolute source of information for IHL. Every primary documentations, resources, and references come from the ICRC, thus has the top authority of information. I compare the ICRC to the Roman Catholic Church, which should have the nihil obstat (zero mistakes) and imprimatur (authorization of publication). The same should apply to ICRC, in which its absolute authority can guarantee the information regarding IHL will contain zero mistakes and will be treated as an authority.


The position of the negative side should be that the ICRC is not the sole organization responsible for disseminating IHL. The affirmative side’s arguments will center not on what the ICRC lacks, but on the responsibility of those outside the ICRC.

First, it is also the responsibility of the civil society to disseminate IHL. While the IHL’s main goal is on combatants (either wounded, injured, held prisoner, or even in combat), civilians are also protected from mistreatments, both during armed conflict and during times of peace. Besides, it is the responsibility of every member of the society when the issue of human rights is at stake, including of IHL.

Second, there are other organizations which surely responsible for dissemination of the IHL. One good example would be the United Nations (UN). The UN may not be the absolute authority in terms of information source, however the organization’s nature is founded under the same principle of honoring human rights as the ICRC. The UN is founded to eliminate misery of human being, especially during armed conflict — something the ICRC wants to achieve also. Therefore, it is also the responsibility of other organizations, both national and international, to disseminate the IHL.

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