24 november 2008

Vladimir Putin addressed an International Humanitarian Law Conference in St Petersburg

Vladimir Putin

International Humanitarian Law Conference in St Petersburg

"A litmus test for humanitarian law is the terrorist threat. Unfortunately, reality is that militant groups are able not only to deal pinpoint strikes, but also to engage in full-scale warfare. In doing so, they fully ignore not only laws, but also the elementary considerations of humanity. This clearly illustrates the issue: how to apply humanitarian law in the context of anti-terrorist moves, how to apply it in the struggle against those who do not recognise any law."

Conference speech by Mr Putin:

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,

I am sincerely glad to welcome participants in the International Conference on the 140th anniversary of the 1868 St Petersburg Declaration. And I want to thank the organisers of the forum - the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly and the International Red Cross Committee - for the invitation and an opportunity to address such a representative audience.

Russia played the key role in formulating the St Petersburg Declaration. The document has become one of the cornerstones of modern international humanitarian law and set the pattern of development for years ahead, stimulating a series of bans and reductions on the use of various kinds of non-selective weapons.

Today's humanitarian law is a major branch of international law and of international life. It is one of the determining factors of international life. It fills one with hope that military technology can be regulated and controlled, and that the spread of so-called "inhumane weapons" be prevented. For this purpose we propose that all nations of the world introduce the practice of specifying all armaments being developed for compliance with the provisions of humanitarian law.

A litmus test for humanitarian law is the terrorist threat. Unfortunately, reality is that militant groups are able not only to deal pinpoint strikes, but also to engage in full-scale warfare. In doing so, they fully ignore not only laws, but also the elementary considerations of humanity. This clearly illustrates the issue: how to apply humanitarian law in the context of anti-terrorist moves, how to apply it in the struggle against those who do not recognise any law. This is probably a subject for an in-depth discussion with politicians, analysts, lawyers and members of the secret services.

Another problem is the delegation by countries of their military functions to so-called private security units. In their strength and equipment, some of them are already as large as armies of entire states. We all know how active they are in fighting, and what that leads to.

That raises many questions. For example, how, in the framework of humanitarian law, do we define the status of deployed units, for example, in Iraq? Who is legally responsible for their actions? In an armed conflict, can the personnel of these military formations claim the status of civilians protected by international law? These and many other questions call for an immediate answer.

As before, observance of humanitarian law everywhere remains paramount. We naturally see two sides. The first is the legitimacy of using force as such, and the second, the lawfulness of using various means and methods of warfare and armaments. And in this case, it is obvious that the ones who violate humanitarian law are above all those who trample under foot the fundamental principles of international public law.

Recent events in South Ossetia are a telling example. Georgia's authorities found it possible to solve the issue of the country's territorial integrity on the Stalinist principle, well known at least in this country: "Death solves all problems - no man, no problem". And they bombed civilian targets and populated areas and killed peaceful civilians.

But that was a brutal, large-scale and non-selective approach. Russia had to defend both its peacekeepers and absolutely innocent civilians.

It is my firm belief that many breaches of international humanitarian law have their roots in the Cold War. True, the Cold War is history. But the world, alas, still cannot achieve a new balance. And many politicians cannot discard their prejudices and historical complexes, hence the practice of double standards and bias in international relations.

I am convinced that the key condition for safe and sustained development of civilisation can and must be the observance of international law by every - I wish to stress this - by every state in the world without exception.

* * *

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is obvious that the range of issues pertaining to humanitarian law is closely linked to the larger area of international security. I would like to say a few words about that now. What we are witnessing, unfortunately, is the alarming trend of "diluting" the existing legal framework.

What I'm referring to primarily is the US Government's unilateral decision to withdraw from the ABM treaty. Although pushed to the margin by new important developments, it remains a crucial issue today. That treaty was the cornerstone of global strategic stability. It really was a foundation because all other strategic stability agreements were based on it.

The purpose of the US Government's move becomes clear in the context of their plans to deploy their missile defence system in Central Europe. Whatever reasons our American partners cite, the project is obviously aimed against Russia's strategic potential, something we cannot leave unanswered. As to who will benefit from these plans, it certainly won't be the world or Europe.

We have said repeatedly that Russia's response will automatically become void if the new US administration drops its plans to develop radar and anti-missile bases in the Czech Republic and Poland. The president re-emphasised it at yesterday's news conference. Once again, what we are talking about is response. No bases in Europe, no response from Russia, simple as that.

This way we'll be able to reverse this dangerous and harmful trend in Europe.

We should also thoroughly analyse the use of strategic offensive weapons. The Russian-American agreement expires in December 2009, a year from now.

We proposed even in October 2005 to develop and sign a new comprehensive agreement on further restriction and controllable reduction of these weapons.

Our goal is to uphold stability and predictability in strategic relations, and to avoid a legal vacuum in the limitations of nuclear arms.

We hope that the new US administration will pursue a more constructive policy which would help us find a mutually acceptable solution.

Understandably, stability and security cannot be the privilege of a limited group of countries or specific international organisations, which aren't universal. Therefore, President Dmitry Medvedev has proposed signing a new European security agreement.

It would be a legally binding document aimed at guaranteeing real and equal security to European countries, based on clear and simple principles.

First, it should guarantee that one nation's security is not ensured at the expense of another's security.

Second, it should prevent any country, military union or coalition from taking any actions that could weaken common security and unity.

And third, it should prevent development and expansion of military unions from harming other parties in the agreement.

We also propose that the new document stipulate basic parameters of control over armaments, including the fundamental principle of reasonable sufficiency and cooperation formats to fight proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, drug trafficking, terrorism and organised crime.

We need to consider harmonising the operation of intergovernmental security organisations.

The negotiations are bound to be difficult. At the same time, there are signs that leading European nations are heeding our logic.

For example, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who holds the rotating EU presidency, has asked regional Euro-Atlantic organisations to refrain from unilateral moves before the agreement is signed - moves that could adversely affect European security. His proposal is perfectly in line with our ideas.

* * *
Ladies and gentlemen,

You are well aware that the Russian army is being reformed. This process doesn't envision rearming or reorganising the structure only.

In our view, the concept of a modern army for the 21st century suggests that military men of all ranks must operate in accordance with international law.

Therefore today international humanitarian law is taught broadly in the army, with special classes for officers. We cooperate with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and I would like to thank its President Jakob Kellenberger for this. Mr Kellenberger is present today; he plans to deliver a speech later. We have long enjoyed a fruitful cooperation in upholding the principles of international humanitarian law.

A one of the originators of the law, Russia feels responsible for its preservation and development. This country will try its best to strengthen the fundamentals and ensure the observance of its rules and regulations.

In 1868, conceiving the draft of the St Petersburg Declaration Renouncing the Use, in Time of War, of Explosive Projectiles, Russian Minister of War Dmitry Milyutin wrote to Chancellor Gorchakov: "Weapons should be applied to weaken an enemy's army only. Parties in war must not allow more evil than required to achieve this aim. All suffering and inflicted damage that do not harm the adversary are useless and should not be allowed."

Throughout the 140 years since the adoption of the Declaration, our country has been guided by these principles every time it had to use force. We are guided by them today as well.

I would like to thank you for your attention. I wish all participants in the Conference success.

Thank you.