Behind the flag of Dunant : secrecy and the compliance mission of the International Committee of the Red Cross
Steven R. Ratner
Transparency in international law
Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2013
Much of the ICRC's work consists of hundreds of confidential visits and authorship of numerous secret reports to monitor compliance by armies, security forces and non-State armed groups with IHL. In doing so, it is deliberately opaque: it rarely identifies violators publicly; it leaves its legal position on many key issues ambiguous, sometimes even from the target of its discussions; and at times it avoids legal discourse entirely when persuading parties to follow legal rules. This aversion to transparency is not only at odds with the assumptions of the naming and shaming strategy regarding the most effective means to induce compliance. It also makes it almost impossible for outsiders to know the ICRC's legal characterization of specific cases. As a result, its approach to protection of victims, even if successful in individual cases, seems to undermine its self-professed role as the guardian of - the authoritative interpreter of and voice for - international humanitarian, law. This tension between the role of the ICRC, and the ICRC's approach to it, should interest scholars and those concerned with the proper role for transparency in encouraging compliance with law generally. It also calls into question the assumption that transparency is necessarily beneficial for the promotion of international law.