Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 12 Mar 1998

Vol. 488 No. 6

Geneva Conventions (Amendment) Bill, 1997: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time." I am pleased to have the opportunity to open the debate on the Second Stage of this Bill. Its purpose is to make the necessary changes in Irish law to enable Ireland ratify the two protocols which were concluded at Geneva on 10 June 1977, and which are additional to the four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949. Protocol I is concerned with the protection of victims of international armed conflicts while Protocol II relates to the protection of victims of non-international armed conflicts. They are the most recent efforts at a multilateral level to augment and reinforce the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Deputies will be given an opportunity to express their views on the manner in which Ireland is implementing the obligations laid down in Additional Protocols I and II.

The community of states has made many attempts to prohibit the use of force as a means to solve international disputes. It has tried to eliminate it from the scope of legally admissible conduct of states. It should be noted that there has been some success in regulating the circumstances in which the use of force may be resorted to.

Nevertheless, we cannot deny that the community of states has failed in the attempt to exclude completely the use of force from international relations. Unfortunately, states have resorted time and again to this method of solving their conflicts. This regrettable fact led to the elaboration of rules governing the means and methods of warfare as well as the protection of the victims of armed conflicts. These rules are variously called "the laws and customs of war" or "the law of armed conflict" or "international humanitarian law". The Geneva Conventions of 1949, which have found almost universal acceptance, and the 1977 Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, are of fundamental importance in this respect. It is the unenviable task of these laws to promote the welfare of humanity in the most inhumane and appalling circumstances. In the absence of these rules and standards, the barbarism and brutality of armed conflicts would be unmitigated.

It is highly desirable that Ireland should be seen by other states to be adding to the momentum required for the universal respect of the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions. As a State that is firmly committed to the equitable treatment of all human beings the ratification of Additional Protocols I and II is a logical and necessary step in this direction.

Protocols I and II follow a long line in Geneva Conventions to which, for the most part, this State has adhered. In 1949, four Geneva Conventions were concluded. These conventions dealt with the amelioration of the condition of the wounded and sick in armed forces in the field; the amelioration of the condition of wounded, sick and shipwrecked members of armed forces at sea; the treatment of prisoners of war; and the protection of civilian persons in time of war.

The State is a party to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and effect was given to them in Irish law in 1954 when we enacted the Red Cross Act, and similarly in 1956 and 1962 with the enactment of the Prisoners of War and Enemy Aliens Act, and the Geneva Conventions Act. To enable effect to be given to Additional Protocols I and II, it is now necessary to amend the Principal Act. It is also necessary to amend the legislation dealing with other related areas. These include the Prisoners of War and Enemy Aliens Act, 1956, and the Red Cross Act, 1954. The Bill amends or extends existing sections of these Acts to give effect to certain articles of the First Additional Protocol 1977. As an illustration, the Bill will extend the category of "grave breach" under the Geneva Conventions Act, 1962 — the Principal Act — to include "grave breaches" of Additional Protocol 1. In addition, the Bill will regulate the use of certain symbols and signals used for identification purposes by civil defence and medical units and transports. Thus the Bill is only the latest in the line of legislation necessary to enable Ireland become a party to the update of the four Geneva Conventions, namely, the two Additional Protocols of 1977.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

Our Constitution of 1937 commits us to the ideal of peaceful and friendly co-operation among nations founded on international justice and morality. We are dedicated to the principle of pacific settlement of international disputes by international arbitration or judicial determination. The policy of such a position argues for neutrality and non-belligerency in the case of war and armed conflict. Such issues and their attendant rights especially arise in time of armed conflict between other states. Put simply it requires that the state adopt impartiality towards the participants of the conflict.

Neutrality should, however, never be equated with neglect or ambivalence regarding the suffering and devastating effects of armed conflict. Armed conflicts have yet to show themselves capable of affecting only those directly participating in them. Unfortunately, innocent people are affected. By way of a long-term and overall commitment to peace and security it is incumbent upon all states to attempt to limit the brutality of armed conflict. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Additional Protocols of 1977 and their observance and respect are an indispensable mechanism in achieving this goal.

Customs of war have existed as far back as the Middle Ages. It is since the 19th century that these customs have been transformed into treaties. The conclusion of the first Geneva Convention in 1864 marked the beginning of an important process of development and strengthening of international humanitarian law. Further conventions were concluded in 1906 and 1929. The conclusion of four conventions in 1949 significantly reshaped and updated international humanitarian law in the light of the experiences of World War II. The original Geneva Convention agreed in 1864 sought to improve the plight of wounded soldiers on the battlefield. Since then, the Geneva Convention has been extended to other categories of war victims — the shipwrecked, prisoners of war and civilians. Perhaps the most important innovation of the four conventions concluded in 1949 was the inclusion of civilians in Geneva Convention IV, which attempted to deal comprehensively for the first time with the treatment to be afforded to civilians in cases of war. Undoubtedly, the fourth Geneva Convention was motivated by the experience of the civilian population in World War II.

The main principles laid down in the 1864 Convention have been maintained in all subsequent Geneva Conventions. They are, first, relief to the wounded without distinction as to nationality; second, the inviolability of medical personnel and medical establishments and units; and third, the distinctive sign of the red cross on a white background, known universally as the Red Cross emblem, to be used as a symbol of protection and neutrality.

I shall briefly explain the two Additional Protocols whose texts are set out in the Schedule to this Bill. Although humanitarian law had been developed and adapted to the needs of the time in 1949, the Geneva Conventions did not cover all aspects of human suffering in armed conflict. By the early 1970s these conventions were already a quarter of a century old and that there were gaps and imperfections in the regime which they established. In addition, the law of the Hague, which is concerned with developing rules on hostilities and the use of weapons, had not undergone any significant revision since 1907. Consequently, two subjects arising from the Hague Regulations Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land were placed on the agenda for future development, the conduct of combatants and, even more important, the protection of the civilian population from the effects of hostilities. These concerns, combined with the various technological developments in armed conflict since 1949, contributed to the impetus for the convening of a diplomatic conference and the subsequent adoption by the conference of Protocols I and II. Other motivating factors ranged from the non-application of the Geneva Conventions by some parties to the difficulty of whether ‘wars of liberation' ought to be treated as proper subjects of international humanitarian law. The aim of the diplomatic conference was described as "reaffirming and developing humanitarian law". There is no doubt, however, that on certain points the 1977 instruments modify previous law and even introduce fairly bold innovations.

Protocol I, additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, concerns the protection of victims of international armed conflicts. It contains 102 articles in total and attempts to deal with a wide range of issues. Protocol I is divided up into various parts, each dealing with a different area. I do not intend to discuss the merits of each part of the Protocol. I would, however, like to emphasise certain parts which represent advances in the whole area of international humanitarian law.

Part IV of Protocol I contains the majority of provisions relating to the protection of civilians. It is divided into three sections. The first section contains 19 articles — 48-67 — and is divided into six separate chapters. Article 48 lays down the basic rule of protection and distinction concerning the civilian population. It is the foundation on which the codification of the laws and customs of war rests. The civilian population and civilian objects must be respected and protected in armed conflict, and for this purpose must be distinguished from combatants and military objectives. In the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, like the Geneva Conventions of 1929 and 1949, the principle of protection is deemed to be a developing rule of law, though at that time it was not considered necessary to formulate it word for word in the texts themselves. Due to the development of weaponry during and after World War II it was considered necessary to explicitly confirm this concept in a treaty.

Article 51 is perhaps one of the most important articles in Protocol I. It explicitly confirms the customary rule that innocent civilians must be kept outside hostilities as far as possible and enjoy general protection against danger from hostilities. The importance attached to this article is reflected in the fact that violation of several of its provisions is qualified as a grave breach of the Protocol. Paragraph 4 is of particular significance in the context of the development of international humanitarian law. This provision contains a general prohibition on indiscriminate attacks against the civilian population and also defines three types of attack covered by the general expression of "indiscriminate attacks". It confirms the unlawful character of certain regrettable practices of World War II and subsequent armed conflicts.

Paragraph 6 relates to the issue of reprisals. It is also founded upon the experiences of World War II where countless civilian lives were lost when parties to the conflict, on the pretext that their own population had been hit, went so far, by way of reprisals, as to wage war almost indiscriminately against civilians. The prohibition contained in Article 51 on the taking of armed reprisals is not subject to conditions. It, therefore, has a peremptory character; in particular it leaves out the possibility of derogating from this rule by invoking military necessity.

Providing supplies for the civilian population in times of armed conflict is a basic problem as events have cruelly shown. The Fourth Geneva Convention, 1949, contains numerous articles relating to the obligations of an occupying power with respect to the population of the occupied territory. In comparison to the conventions, section II of Part IV relating to relief actions in favour of starving civilians is characterised by numerous improvements such as enlarging the range of supplies deemed essential to the civilian population of the occupied territory, an extension of the benefit of this relief to the whole of the civilian population, and provisions relating to the personnel participating in relief actions, who had been hitherto ignored.

The law of war, specifically that part of the law which relates to methods and means of warfare, merits particular attention. Part III of Protocol I outlines the rules relating to the methods and means of warfare and the status of combatants and prisoners of war. These rules of warfare are basically those contained in Articles 22 and 23 of the Hague regulations. In addition to the general principle by which the right of belligerents to adopt means of injuring the enemy is not unlimited, they contain two types of fundamental rules — on the one hand humanitarian rules and on the other hand rules on good faith. The first section of Part III — Methods and Means of Warfare — is concerned with the reaffirmation of these principles. This implies accepting the principle of limited warfare, as opposed to total warfare which discards all rules. It has a key function in relation to other provisions of the Protocol, since non-respect for the rules of combat entails non-respect for all other rules.

The purpose of this section is not only to reaffirm the Law of the Hague but also to update and supplement the existing rules. Three completely new provisions which have no equivalent in the above mentioned articles of the Hague regulations have been introduced. These are concerned with the protection of the environment — Article 35: Basic rules, paragraph 3 — with the responsibilities at the national level relating to the introduction of new weapons — Article 36: New Weapons — and with the protection of airmen in distress — Article 42: Occupants of aircraft.

One of the more remarkable additions of Protocol I is the mechanism expressly designed to promote the application of international humanitarian law, that is the International Fact-Finding Commission instituted under Article 90 of Protocol I. This provision is closely related to Article 1 common to the Conventions and Article 1 of the Protocol which enjoins the contracting parties to respect and to ensure respect for the conventions and the Protocol in all circumstances.

With regard to the Commission's competence, in principle it is only concerned with facts and essentially has no competence to proceed to a legal assessment of the facts that have been established. The allegation which is submitted to the Commission must relate to a "grave breach" or "serious violation" of the conventions or the Protocols. It should also be emphasised that the primary task of the Commission is not only that of fact-finding, but also to facilitate, through its good offices, the restoration of an attitude of respect with regard to a "grave breach" of particular provisions and for the Geneva Conventions and Protocols in general. Under Article 90 a chamber of inquiry is to be established consisting of seven members with the purpose of producing a report containing the findings of the Commission and containing "such recommendations as it may think proper for the amicable solution of the dispute".

Article 90(1)(b) of Protocol I requires the agreement of not less then 20 parties to accept the competence of the Commission before it can come into being. This occurred in 1991. In 1992 the Commission adopted its rules. By the end of 1995 the number of states accepting the jurisdiction of the Commission had risen to 46. It almost doubled in the five years and includes approximately one third of the parties to Protocol I. The Commission is made up of "fifteen members of high moral standing and acknowledged impartiality." It is also required that there must be an "equitable geographical distribution" among the members of the Commission and that its members serve in their personal capacity. Elections are to take place every five years after the convening of the first meeting.

The seat of the Commission is in Berne, Switzerland. The administrative facilities for the performance of the functions of the Commission are to be provided by the Swiss Government. The expenses are met by contributions from the states which have made declarations under the Protocol and by voluntary contributions. The regulations adopted by the states' parties are largely similar to the proportions adopted by the United Nations. The party or parties to the conflict requesting an inquiry are obliged to advance the necessary funds for the expenses incurred by a chamber and are to be reimbursed by the party or parties against which allegations are made to the extent of 50 per cent of the costs of the chamber.

To date it would appear that the Commission has concerned itself with matters of a practical nature. These have included a number of issues ranging from the availability of equipment for inquiries in loco to increasing awareness among the international community of the existence of the Commission.

The setting up of an independent fact-finding Commission to assist in respect and compliance for international humanitarian law is a most welcome development. For the first time in the law of armed conflict this Article institutes a permanent non-political and impartial international Commission of inquiry to which the parties to the conflict can resort at any time. This point must be noted, earlier attempts in 1949 had failed due to the lack of consent of the parties concerned. The task of the Commission is not to judge on the case but to assist states in achieving a situation in which basic principles of humanity are respected. In light of its restricted task and of its independence this Commission is an effective and valuable mechanism in the context of ensuring respect for international humanitarian law.

It is a great achievement of present humanitarian law that it does not only cover international conflicts, but also extends to conflicts of a non-international character. Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions which sought to regulate "the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties" has often been referred to as a "mini-convention". Undoubtedly, it has been a keystone in such matters. Prior to 1949, doctrine was opposed to any positive law interference into what was essentially considered to be a matter of sovereignty. Some of these difficulties were overcome by means of legal construction, that is the recognition of belligerency. However, Protocol II constitutes the first real legal instrument for the protection of victims of non-international armed conflict. The importance of Protocol II lies in its ability to develop, amplify and support Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Despite this laudable attempt to extend the operation of the Conventions, there were deficiencies. Among these was the sparse to non-existent protection to be afforded to medical personnel and a lack of rules on the conduct of hostilities aimed at sparing the civilian population.

The need for such a set of rules of conduct cannot be overstated. We are currently confronted with an increasing use of force in conflicts which fall short of the level required to include them under the heading of "international". Basic humanitarian considerations require that also in such non-international conflicts fundamental standards of humanity are respected. The very existence of such a set of rules, being representative of a desire on the part of the international community, is a welcome development, of which Ireland should be seen to be a part.

Protocol II, additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, in its title, declares itself to be directly concerned with non-international armed conflicts. Protocol II is shorter than Protocol I containing only 28 articles. It deals with areas of humane treatment in Part II, wounded, sick and shipwrecked in Part III, and the civilian population in Part IV. Article 4(2) contains a list of acts which remain prohibited at any time and place. It establishes fundamental guarantees for all persons who do not take a direct part in hostilities, bans attacks on the civilian population and forbids the forced displacement of civilians.

Protocol II lays down provisions in relation to the care of the wounded and sick. Of primary importance in this regard is the protection given in Article 12 to the distinctive emblem. Such provisions can only assist medical personnel in their attempts to administer to the sick and wounded.

Overall, Protocol II is silent on the issue of enforcement. Acts which violate the Protocol are breaches of the treaty. This fact alone does not give any other state standing to bring an action. However, events like setting up the two tribunals for the prosecution of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda stand testament to the commitment of the international community not to let gross violations of international humanitarian law go unpunished.

The State signed the additional Protocols on 12 December 1977, subject to ratification. Since then 146 states have become parties to Protocol I and 138 to Protocol II. Despite a considerable lapse in time, this Government has indicated for some time its willingness to begin the process of ratification. A statement was made on behalf of the State at the XXV International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in December 1995 underlining the Government's intention to ratify the 1977 additional Protocols. On 10 July 1996, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mr. Cornelio Sommaruga, at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, raised the issue of Ireland's non-ratification of Protocols I and II and emphasised his hope that Ireland would ratify these as soon as possible. The chairman of the joint committee assured Mr. Sommaruga that all appropriate action would be taken on this issue. Ratification of these Protocols will help complete the task of the International Committee of the Red Cross in achieving universal recognition of the 1977 Protocols, and could also be influential in encouraging the few remaining countries which are not yet parties to the Protocols to become so.

I wish to refer to the various sections of the Bill and, in doing so, I will concentrate on a number of specific measures. Section 1 of the Bill defines the Principal Act as the Geneva Conventions Act, 1962.

Section 2 of the Bill replaces section 2 of the Principal Act of 1962 with a completely new section in regard to the interpretation of certain phrases.

Section 3 of the Bill, amending section 3 of the Principal Act, extends the category of "grave breach" under the Principal Act to include "grave breaches" as defined in paragraph 4 of Article 11 and paragraphs 2, 3, or 4 of Article 85 of Protocol I and sets out maximum sentences applicable in respect of "grave breaches" which involve wilful killing and other grave breaches. In the former the sentence is to be life imprisonment or any less term and for the latter the punishment shall not exceed 14 years.

Section 4 relates to minor breaches of the Conventions and Protocol 1 by (i) adding references to the appropriate Protocol or to both Protocols where reference is made in the Principal Act to "the Scheduled Conventions", that is the four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and (ii) updating the level of certain fines provided for in the Principal Act from £50 to £1,500 and £300 to £5,000.

Section 5 facilitates the proof of application of any of the Conventions or Protocol I in court proceedings by way of a certificate from the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Section 6 provides for the insertion of the additional Protocols into the Principal Act as the Fifth and Sixth Schedules.

Section 7 enables the Minister for Foreign Affairs to publish in a statutory instrument any reservations or declarations made by the State in relation to either of the additional Protocols.

Sections 8 and 9 regulate the use of certain symbols and signals used for identification purposes by Civil Defence and medical units and transports and also make their use subject to the consent of the Minister for Defence. Furthermore, they enable the Minister for Defence to make regulations in accordance with the relevant convention or protocol in respect of miscellaneous identifying objects and identity cards and they create offences punishable by fine where such regulations or consent requirements are infringed either by individual persons or bodies corporate.

Section 10 increases the fine for offences committed under the Red Cross Act, 1938, one such offence being the unlawful use by any person of the heraldic emblem of the Red Cross from £10 to £1,500.

Section 11 extends the scope of section 1 of the Prisoners of War and Enemy Aliens Act, 1956, which provides the definition of persons as prisoners of war and enemy aliens. It is principally designed to extend and accommodate the categories of persons covered by the relevant provisions of Protocol l in regard to the classification of persons as prisoners of war. Section 12 provides for the short Title and also enables the Minister to make an order to bring the Bill into operation.

Since the publication of the Bill a number of problems, mainly of a technical and grammatical nature, have been brought to my attention which I will address by way of amendment on Committee Stage. It is believed that the minor amendments on Committee Stage will improve the Bill's overall texture and content.

As noted earlier, it is the task of such laws to promote humanity in the most inhumane circumstances. In this regard alone their objective is truly onerous and difficult. The values of humane treatment and restraint, of making a distinction between civilians and military so that the former are not attacked, as contained in both protocols, merit reaffirmation. It is my opinion that the two protocols represent a sincere commitment on the part of the international community to mitigate the brutality and suffering of armed conflicts throughout the world. It is regrettable that some parties to conflicts seem to recognise such conventions and protocols only in the breach. This fact cannot be used to undermine the utility of humanitarian law, rather it must strengthen the resolve of states to ensure universal respect for such laws.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Fine Gael supports the general thrust of the Bill which means that we can finally meet some of our international commitments. However, there are a number of technical provisions in the Bill, including a number of protocols, in respect of which I am receiving advice. I will reserve my position on amendments to the Bill until Committee Stage. However, we support the Bill's general thrust.

I am disappointed to note that it has taken 21 years for the Geneva Conventions (Amendment) Bill to be introduced in the Dáil. The Bill was presented by the previous Government but the conventions to which it refers have their origins in 1977. That is an unsatisfactory way for us to conduct our business. Since 1977 different parties have held power but that is not the point. In Government, we must ensure that there are sufficient resources available so that these conventions can be updated and introduced in a more timely fashion. When replying, will the Minister of State indicate the number of other international agreements or conventions which are outstanding and the timescale for their implementation? This is not a satisfactory way to conduct international relations.

Section lll, Article 32, of the Bill deals with missing and dead persons and the right of families to know the fate of their relatives. Article 33.3 allows for a role in this regard for the Red Cross. I take this opportunity to appeal to the leadership of Sinn Féin to prevail on the IRA to use the good offices of the Red Cross to provide information to families in continuing anguish over the fate of 14 missing persons in Northern Ireland. In any civilised society these conventions must be upheld. We are in the process of trying to bring about an agreed Ireland. Such a gesture would help bring about healing, allow families the peace of mind they deserve regarding their loved ones and restore to the victims the right of Christian burial. This information could be supplied to the Red Cross, anonymously if necessary.

The Bill gets to the heart of the need to treat people with humanity. Since we are negotiating for an agreed Ireland and given the fact that there are 14 missing persons presumed dead, the whereabouts of whom are known to the IRA, that organisation has a duty and responsibility in the interests of humanity to inform the families. The Bill states that certain decent standards must be observed in conflict. If the members of the IRA have a shred of decency, Sinn Féin should use its influence with them to ensure that this information becomes known. I am not naive enough to believe that IRA representatives will call to the houses of the relatives of the missing people. However, they can inform them of their loved ones' whereabouts through the Red Cross which is part of the machinery allowed for in respect of international conflicts. That machinery should be availed of because it would make a major contribution to the healing process.

South Africa has a commission on truth and reconciliation. In time we are going to have to address how the people living on this island can be reconciled, not merely in terms of the institutional arrangements being negotiated internally on a North-South basis but also in terms of people being reconciled to each other. This is an important step which could be taken towards that reconciliation. In the event that people believe I am not being even-handed, if there are others within the security forces or so-called loyalist terrorist organisations who fall into a similar category, I call on them to supply whatever information they have in their possession so that people can discover what happened to their loved ones.

We cannot begin to contemplate what it must be like for a person whose loved one has disappeared, has never been heard from since and whose whereabouts are unknown. That is a terrible cross for someone to bear for the remainder of their life. Something can be done about this.

The Bill provides for a number of penalties which I will deal with shortly. It seems that the legislation is short on machinery for enforcement. What happens if people do not meet the standards they agree to meet by signing these conventions? The provision of a permanent international criminal court is being considered separately. As things stand, that court, if established, would not have the independence to take up cases in its own right and would, presumably, only deal with cases referred to it by the UN Security Council or some such body. What mechanism will be put in place to ensure the enforcement of the provisions of the conventions? Will the international criminal court, which is currently under consideration and being negotiated upon, have sufficient powers of enforcement to ensure compliance with those provisions?

With regard to the 21 years it has taken to bring these conventions before the House, I wish to place on record my concern and amazement at the fact that the Department of Equality and Law Reform was abolished and its function merged with that of the Department of Justice. If the Department of Equality and Law Reform had run its course, which is doubtful, in respect of domestic legislation on equality and law reform, surely it would have been possible to use the Department to work on the conventions and bring forward other outstanding international conventions so that we will not be obliged to wait a further 21 years for their introduction in the House. I note that the purpose of the four Geneva Red Cross conventions is to afford protection to victims of international armed conflicts, and that they were adopted on 12 August 1949. Two additional protocols to extend the scope of the conventions were concluded at Geneva on 10 June 1977. The purpose of this Bill is to make the necessary changes in law to enable Ireland to ratify these two protocols. What happened in 1977 was outstanding business from 1949, and in 1998, we are only now getting down to dealing with this Bill. Protocol I concerns itself with the protection of victims of international armed conflict, and Protocol II relates to the protection of victims of non-international armed conflict. I wonder who will do the protecting. Certainly Ireland is not doing very much protecting. We in this House have failed in our duty to debate in a sensible, reasoned and fair manner what should be Ireland's role in participation in peacemaking as distinct from peacekeeping. We have a distinguished role in peacekeeping. Our armed forces have distinguished themselves in peacekeeping, as have the Garda Síochána in more recent times in an international peacekeeping role. We cannot just forever issue all sorts of concerned statements when the former Yugoslavia falls apart and people are literally being cut to pieces and having their eyes gouged out in a horrific genocide. We are now presented with the potential for this to happen again on our doorstep in Kosovo. We know what is going on in Algeria. The situation in Albania is very shaky. I note that in the Amsterdam Treaty there are provisions to transfer from the Western European Union to the European Union St. Petersberg Task type commitments, including humanitarian aid, search and rescue, environmental protection, peacekeeping and peacemaking. I presume in those circumstances, when the European Union has that capacity on the passing of the Amsterdam Treaty, which I hope will be passed, that we will be prepared to play our role in peacemaking. We cannot send humanitarian aid, we cannot ensure that Protocols I and II of these conventions are applied if, internationally, there is not some means of enforcing the requirements of these protocols. Humanitarian aid cannot be provided where law and order does not exist. We recognised this in the past when the House approved sending Irish troops to Somalia in a peace enforcement type role. We have to address this question. We cannot ignore it. I say to the hypocrites who constantly make outrageous allegations about Irish neutrality and the fact that we are abandoning our neutrality by passing various European Union treaties, that they cannot have it both ways. These are the same people who whinge and cry, and moan and plead when the conflicts I mentioned take place. We cannot simply be part of a European Union which issues statements and démarches. We must be part of a European Union which is part of the solution, particularly in relation to conflict on our doorstep in Europe. It is time we had a mature debate on this whole issue. I welcome the moves by Deputy Desmond O'Malley, chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, to try to bring about a clearer, more reasoned debate on these issues within that committee. I certainly intend, on behalf of Fine Gael, to play a constructive role in that debate.

In relation to international humanitarian law, this Bill requires that states which have resorted to armed conflict from time to time as a method of solving their disputes must behave in a certain way. It is regrettable that these international conflicts take place. It has led to the elaboration of rules governing the means and methods of warfare as well as rules for the protection of victims of armed conflict. These rules are variously described as the law of war, the law of armed conflict, or international humanitarian law. It is regrettable that we have to set down rules and laws to govern this whole area but, nonetheless, it is important. For example, the Bill addresses the treatment of people who are hors de combat, or who are spies, or who are not spies, and how they should be treated. It addresses questions in relation to the civilian populations and civilian targets. The Minister specifically referred to Article 51 which he said is perhaps one of the most important articles in Protocol I. The Minister said: “It explicitly confirms the customary rule that innocent civilians must be kept outside hostilities as far as possible and enjoy general protection against danger from hostilities”. I notice from the Bill that there are provisions in relation to civilian targets in Chapter III; Article 52 refers to general protection of civilian objects; Article 53 refers to protection of cultural objects and places of worship; Article 55 refers to protection of the natural environment and Article 56 refers to protection of works and installations containing dangerous forces. These are examples of what are specified in the Bill for protection, but how can we say in the legislation that where there is a military target near a civilian population, or a series of military targets spread around where there is a civilian population, aerial bombing in that regard would or could be an offence under this Bill? The proposal is welcome in theory, but where does this leave atomic warfare? Surely the atomic bomb cannot be dropped on a military target, no matter how removed it is from the civilian population. Why then do these protocols not specifically prohibit atomic warfare? One could not meet the requirements of those sections I have read and engage in atomic warfare at the same time. Yet the Bill does not outlaw atomic warfare. It should. This is an international convention on warfare, the rules of war. How could atomic warfare be conducted while meeting the provisions of this Bill as I have outlined here? If some state, whether a signatory to this or not, does become involved in atomic warfare, does that mean that, irrespective of who they are, they will be prosecuted and there will be a mechanism for enforcement under this legislation? If not, these protocols are bogus. I ask the Minister to address that question. How can a state conduct atomic warfare aimed at military targets, avoiding the destruction of civilian populations and meeting the requirements of these sections? I do not see how that can be done.

The four Geneva conventions of 1949 were almost universally accepted. Their purpose is to mitigate the barbarism and brutality of armed conflict. The first convention relates to the amelioration of the condition of the wounded and sick in armed forces in the field. The second relates to the amelioration of the condition of wounded, sick and shipwrecked members of the armed forces at sea. The third relates to the treatment of prisoners of war and the fourth concerns the protection of civilian persons in time of war. I am not a military expert, but in terms of conventional war those conventions have served us well. Protocol I and II update those conventions to take account of modern conflicts and warfare, but I do not know how that can be done without including a strong provision outlawing the use of atomic warfare.

The Geneva Conventions Act, 1962, enabled effect to be given in domestic law to those four conventions and I understand it is necessary to amend that Act and associated legislation to enable Ireland to become a party to the two additional protocols. Broadly speaking, the Bill amends or extends existing sections of the current legislation to give effect to certain articles of the protocol. It will extend, for example, the category of "grave breach" to include "grave breaches". The Bill will also regulate the use of certain symbols and signals for identification purposes by civil defence, medical units and transports.

Will the Minister explain why the fines specified in the Bill are so small? I presume soldiers, navel personnel or a members of the armed forces found guilty of an offence under these provisions will have their fines paid by the State. Will any State shake in its boots at fines of £1,500 or £5,000. I accept the fine has been increased from £50, but a fine of £1,500 or £5,000 is petty cash for States prepared to invest large amounts in superior armaments. I accept these fines are for minor breaches of the convention, but nobody would bat an eyelid if, say, the British, Irish or French Governments were fined £1,500. What is the thinking behind that level of fine? It has little relevance to the penalty that should apply for breaches of the convention, however minor. We are talking about the sick and wounded or clergy who are not involved in combat, but may wear a uniform. We should impose relevant fines or not include them in the Bill.

Part I deals with the general provisions of the Bill. Paragraph 4 on page nine states:

The situations referred to in the preceding paragraph include armed conflicts in which peoples are fighting against colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist regimes in the exercise of their right of self-determination, as enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and the Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

I already referred to the IRA giving information to the Red Cross on the 14 persons who have disappeared and are presumed dead in Northern Ireland. What implications will this section have for people who claim to be freedom fighters but do not have a mandate, where it is clear that the mandate runs for democratic constitutional parties and not for self-appointed swaggering public house republicans or so-called loyalists? Who will determine if a person, persons or organisation qualifies under that section? That matter needs to be addressed.

The Minister indicated that he will make a number of amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage, most of which will be of a typographical or grammatical nature. Will he submit those to the Opposition as soon as possible so that we have an opportunity to consider them?

Chapter VI deals with civil defence. Consideration should be given to reinvigorating the civil defence movement, which has served us well down through the years. I may be wrong, but I suspect very few new recruits are joining the civil defence. There is a tendency for us to become more selfish as we become more materialistic. There has been a great tradition of voluntarism in Ireland, whether through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Simon Community or other such organisations. Many people have also given their time voluntarily to political parties and fulfilled a useful public service in so doing. However, while large numbers of people will attend meetings of political parties at election time and at other interesting times, they have become bored with the regular meetings. They can get any information they require on television rather than from their local TDs. Consequently, there is a fall-off in the tradition of voluntarism.

We should examine the possibility of promoting voluntary participation by young people in civil defence. We are living in a society where people are well aware of their rights, but few are aware of their obligations. We must endeavour to make young people aware of their obligations as well as their rights. It is not an exaggeration to say that in biblical terms we may be going through a seven year feast, but we may have seven years of famine at some time in the future. Will the present generation which is materially better off than any previous generation be able to cope when the other day comes? They would be prepared to cope if they were made aware of the need to devote some of their time and effort to the less privileged and to serve the community in a more general way through, perhaps, a youth corps in the Civil Defence. That is only one way of dealing with it but the general principle could be applied.

If we are to make provisions for civil defence we should look at our own Civil Defence organisation and assess whether it is adequately resourced, if the relevant Minister devotes sufficient time to considering its needs and if it is marketed as a desirable project for young people in which to become involved. There is little point in making provisions regarding civil defence if we do not have an adequate Civil Defence. While I appreciate its members, some of whom live in my constituency, are committed and hard working we should examine its role and decide whether it needs to be boosted and whether there should be a youth corps.

In his reply or on Committee Stage will the Minister address the question of fundamental guarantees — in Article 75.2 which states:

The following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever, whether committed by civilian or by military agents:

(a) violence to the life, health, or physical or mental well-being of persons, in particular:

(i) murder;

(ii) torture of all kinds, whether physical or mental;

(iii) corporal punishment; and

(iv) mutilation;

As Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs I was appalled to learn of some of the outrageous sexual abuses which took place in the former Yugoslavia. Will the Minister consider making sexual abuse of prisoners, of the civilian population and of anybody in the context of warfare, an offence specified in the legislation?

I welcome Article 90 which deals with the International Fact-Finding Commission. If we could get the agreement of the Algerian Government to send an international fact-finding mission to Algeria we would be in a position to know whether the claim that more than 80,000 are dead, or the claim by the Algerian Government that the figure is nearer to 27,000, is correct and we could determine, independently, what action the international community needs to take. It appears to public representatives here that if the Algerian Government has nothing to hide, it should allow in the rapporteurs, as suggested by the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, or some acceptable international fact-finding team. In the event of this legislation being passed and this international fact-finding commission being established, what will be the scope of application for, say, Algeria and other states? Will it apply only to the states which have signed the agreement or has it implications for others?

This is technical legislation and it may be unique. It is the first legislation I can recall that has symbols and designs as well as words. I realise this is necessary if warfare is to be conducted within certain rules. None of us want warfare but where it takes place some basic rules must apply. We welcome this legislation and support it overall but will seek to improve it.

Will the Minister join me in calling on Sinn Féin to persuade the IRA to let the Red Cross know the whereabouts of the 14 missing persons in order that their families can be informed. That would help bring about an agreed Ireland and peace and reconciliation on this island. This is what the spirit of this legislation is about.

I thank Deputy Mitchell for taking part in the debate and I am grateful for his contribution. The purpose of this Bill is to make the necessary change in Irish law to enable Ireland to ratify the two protocols which were concluded at Geneva on 10 June 1977, and which are additional to the four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949. There is general agreement on this matter.

On the issue of enforcement it is important to note that this is a question of the consent of states to agree the appropriate enforcement measures. It should not be forgotten that the UN Charter and in particular the Security Council can take the necessary steps in this regard. In regard to the establishment of the international tribunal for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda for the trial of persons who have committed serious offences, enforcement steps have been taken at international level. It will only be a matter of time before other measures develop at international level.

The Deputy referred to the number of international treaties awaiting consideration. Ireland has a good track record in incorporating into domestic law the provisions and obligations and duties arising from and contained in international treaties. We will continue to ensure we do not fall behind in this process.

The Deputy asked why atomic and other weapons have not been prohibited by these protocols. The purpose of these protocols is humanitarian. They are aimed at injured and wounded soldiers, seamen, airmen and civilians. They are not concerned with weapons and their use. The issue is for another forum.

The fines set out show significant increases in the amounts prescribed in legislation passed by this House less than 40 years ago.

On the question of the IRA, I draw the Deputy's attention to Part I of the Protocol which deals with the scope of Protocol II. It is clear from that part of Protocol II that the Deputy's suggestion does not apply to Northern Ireland. It does not apply to internal disturbance and tensions. I hope that clarifies the position.

In regard to the International Humanitarian and Funding Commission, the Commission is competent to inquire into certain allegations of breaching the conventions and protocols. It must be noted that the Commission has competence if the state parties to the proceedings have deposited a declaration accepting its competence.

I sincerely thank Deputy Mitchell for contributing to this most interesting debate. I am pleased the Bill has been brought forward. It is an important Bill which reaffirms the principles of humane treatment and restraint as contained in both Protocols. I thank the Deputy for his help and co-operation.

Question put and agreed to.