The Commission’s role
When parties to a conflict are accused of violations of international humanitarian law, the Commission’s experts investigate the allegations. They offer their good services to further compliance with international humanitarian law. Unlike a court, the Commission restricts itself to establishing the facts: it does not deliver a verdict. The Commission informs the relevant parties of the results of its investigation and makes recommendations for improving compliance with international humanitarian law and its application.
The Commission is competent to investigate international armed conflicts but has also expressed its willingness to conduct enquiries into alleged violations of international law that arise in non-international conflicts.
Investigation is subject to the consent of the parties
The Commission can only conduct an enquiry with the consent of the parties concerned. Recognition of the Commission’s competency may be either permanent (comprehensive declaration) or temporary (ad hoc consent). By making a comprehensive declaration, a state authorises the Commission to enquire into any conflict that may arise between itself and another state that has made the same declaration. A party to an armed conflict that has not recognised the competence of the Commission may nevertheless do so on a temporary basis, limited to the specific conflict in which it is involved. In this case, the other party or parties to the conflict must also agree to the enquiry. Any declaration of recognition must be deposited with the Swiss Federal Council, which is the depositary of the Geneva Conventions.
Establishment and composition of the Fact-Finding Commission
The Fact-Finding Commission was created pursuant to Article 90 of Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, agreed by the international community in Geneva in 1977. The Commission was established in 1991, once it had been recognised by the first 20 states. To date, 77 states from five continents have deposited a declaration of recognition, Switzerland among them. The Fact-Finding Commission has observer status at the General Assembly and the Security Council of the United Nations and enjoys the support of other international bodies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, the International Criminal Court and the European Union.