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U.S. Statement on the 60th Anniversary of the Geneva Conventions
November 9, 2009

Statement of United States Delegation

Remarks by Harold Hongju Koh
Legal Adviser, U.S. Department of State
followed by a statement by
Mr. Charles A. Allen, Deputy General Counsel
United States Department of Defense


Remarks by Harold Hongju Koh
Legal Adviser, U.S. Department of State

I am the Legal Adviser of the United States Department of State. I am honored to speak today on behalf of the United States Government, along with my colleagues Charles A. Allen and W. Hays Parks of the Office of General Counsel of the United States Department of Defense. The United States thanks the Government of Switzerland for organizing this very important conference here in Geneva to mark the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions. Today we also pay tribute to the work of an extraordinary organization, the International Committee of the Red Cross, which over 60 years has established an astonishing record of professionalism, neutrality, bravery, independence and sacrifice.

The rule of law is the cornerstone of President Obama’s approach to national security policy. As everyone here is aware, the relationship between the United States and the Geneva Conventions has been the subject of much international commentary since September 11, 2001, which ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger has called a “new challenge for IHL.” Today, it is clear that individuals taken into custody by the United States must, as a matter of law, be treated humanely. The entire United States Government has worked to achieve this result, which is true to the letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions. By the presence of the three of us here today, we symbolize the strong partnership between the U.S. military and its civilian leadership to carry forward our absolute commitment to fulfilling and implementing the Common Article 3 prohibitions on torture, as well as on cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment. As you will hear in a moment from Mr. Allen, all attorneys in the U.S. government, both civilian and military, are committed to obeying the rule of law in general, and the Geneva Conventions in particular.

As President Barack Obama declared before the United Nations General Assembly in September, the United States is determined to live its values. As our President recognized, “a new era of engagement has begun.” In that era, “living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger.” President Obama has called for the world to “stand together to demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise, and that treaties will be enforced.” If there is any doubt about our character as a nation, it is revealed in the array of concrete actions this Administration has taken to enforce our treaty commitment to the Geneva Conventions during the past nine months:

• First, on his second full day in office President Obama ordered that the detention center at Guantanamo Bay be closed. We remain firmly committed to completing that assignment.

• Second, President Obama directed an investigation to ensure that the detention center at Guantanamo Bay is in compliance with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

• Third, the President directed that all interrogations of detainees by anyone in the U.S. Government be conducted in accordance with our Army Field Manual. He subsequently accepted a consensus recommendation from the Task Force on Interrogations that this policy become permanent.

• Fourth, in August, the President’s Special Task Force on Interrogations and Transfer Policies issued a series of recommendations for changes to U.S. policy and procedures to help ensure that U.S. practices comply with U.S. law, policy and international obligations and do not result in the transfer of individuals to face torture.

• Fifth, the Administration has worked with the U.S. Congress to reform the law governing our military commissions, and in particular to bar the admissibility in evidence of any statements taken as a result of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and the President has now signed the bill enacting those changes.

• Sixth, all branches of the U.S. government have worked to provide more robust review procedures for U.S. detainees in Afghanistan, and in particular to permit them an opportunity to challenge the evidence that is the basis for their detention and to have the assistance of personal representatives to help them navigate the detention review process.

• Seventh, the United States government has modified its application of the state secrets privilege to strike a better balance between open government and the need to protect vital national security information.

• Eighth, the U.S. has reaffirmed its commitment to the development and implementation of IHL by becoming a party earlier this year to the Convention on Conventional Weapons and all its protocols upon the ratifications of Protocols III, IV, V and the amendment to Article I of the CCW. The U.S. remains committed to negotiating a legally binding protocol on Cluster Munitions in the CCW.

• Madame Chair, before this historic conference concludes, we may have additional information to report with regard to the United States’ efforts to implement the Geneva Conventions. With the indulgence of the Chair, we would ask you permission to reserve time to complete our national statement until your opening plenary session at 9 AM tomorrow morning.

We know that we have more work to do, but we consider these to be significant accomplishments for our first nine months, and a sign of our deep national commitment to fulfilling our duties as a state party to the Geneva Conventions and to improving the effectiveness of those Conventions on their Sixtieth Anniversary. We very much look forward to working with the ICRC and others to complete that work.

And now, with your indulgence, Madame Chair, Mr. Charles Allen will conclude our remarks today by making a statement on behalf of the United States Department of Defense.

Statement of Mr. Charles A. Allen, Deputy General Counsel (International Affairs)
United States Department of Defense:

On behalf of the U.S. Department of Defense and the civilian and military attorneys of the Department and the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, we expressly associate ourselves with the comments by the State Department’s Legal Adviser, Mr. Koh. We in the Department of Defense are committed to the rule of law in general, and the Geneva Conventions in particular.

Answering the call to all parties to conflict and to all states to provide real-time protection to all persons affected by armed conflict, U.S. military attorneys, and those of many other nations, are fulfilling the letter and the spirit of the Geneva Conventions every day in some of the most dangerous places in the world.

I would note the strong military-civilian partnership, where together, across departmental lines and through these strong ties, we are absolutely committed to fulfilling and implementing the Geneva Conventions in regard to ensuring humane treatment in every respect.

Thank you, Madame Chair, for making possible this important event commemorating the Geneva Conventions, indeed a cornerstone of the rule of law around the world.

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