The Geneva Conventions
About the Geneva Convention
The Geneva Conventions and International Law
The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols are at the core of international humanitarian law, the body
of international law that regulates the conduct of armed conflict and seeks to limit its effects.
The Geneva Conventions that were adopted before 1949 were concerned with combatants only, not with civilians. However, the events
of World War II showed the disastrous consequences of the absence of a convention for the protection of civilians in wartime.
The fourth Geneva Convention however, affords protection to civilians, including in occupied territory.
Common Article 3, first adopted in 1929, but significantly updated in 1949, is common to the four Geneva Conventions and
establishes fundamental rules from which no derogation is permitted. In particular, it requires humane treatment for all persons
in enemy hands, without any adverse distinction. It specifically prohibits murder, mutilation, torture, cruel, humiliating and
degrading treatment, the taking of hostages and unfair trial.
The Geneva Conventions entered into force on 21 October 1950.
Ratification grew steadily through the decades: 74 States ratified the Conventions during the 1950s, 48 States did
so during the 1960s, 20 States signed on during the 1970s, and another 20 States did so during the 1980s. Twenty-six countries
ratified the Conventions in the early 1990s, largely in the aftermath of the break-up of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and the
Seven new ratifications since 2000 have brought the total number of States Party to 194, making the Geneva Conventions
A full text of the Geneva Convention can be found at the website of
The University of Minnesota
What is international humanitarian law?
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
International humanitarian law
is a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed
conflict. It protects persons who are not or are no longer participating in the hostilities and restricts the means and methods of
warfare. International humanitarian law is also known as the law of war or the law of armed conflict.
International humanitarian law is part of international law, which is the body of rules governing relations between
States. International law is contained in agreements between States – treaties or conventions –, in customary rules, which consist of
State practise considered by them as legally binding, and in general principles.
International humanitarian law applies to armed conflicts. It does not regulate whether a State may actually use force;
this is governed by an important, but distinct, part of international law set out in the United Nations Charter.
Brief History of Humanitarian Law.
Origin of the Geneva Conventions
Peace Pledge Union.
The Geneva conventions have their origins in the Battle of Solferino in 1859, of which the aftermath was witnessed by
a Swiss citizen named Henry Dunant. He was horrified by the sight of thousands of wounded soldiers lying helpless and abandoned with
no one to care for them. He suggested the setting up of voluntary relief societies who could be trained, during peacetime, to care
for the wounded in time of war and called for an international agreement to be drawn up to protect the wounded, and those who looked
after them, from further attack.
In 1863 Henri Dunant arranged an unofficial international conference at which it was agreed that each country should
form a relief organisation capable of assisting the Army Medical Services in wartime; the origins of the modern
International Red Cross.
In 1864 governments were invited to send representatives to a diplomatic conference. As a result 12 European nations
signed a treaty stating that in future wars they would care for all sick and wounded military personnel, regardless of nationality.
They would also recognise the neutrality of medical personnel, hospitals and ambulances identified by the emblem of a red cross on a
white background. The treaty was called the Geneva Convention.
Efforts to Avoid Provisions of the Geneva Convention
This article at
Sydney Morning Herald titled
Avoiding the Geneva Conventions: how Australia does the job explains how the Australian military, by documenting a formal
agreement, which appears to formalise Australia's Geneva Convention obligations as "Detaining Power" when Australian soldiers detain
Iraqis during the conflict, but which provides for an informal, unwritten agreement that when Australian soldiers detained an Iraqi,
they would hand him over to any American they could find and pretend the American had detained him.
This is anyhow, illegal, once it is no longer secret.
Obvious Violations of the Geneva Convention
This comment by a blogger at
The Glittering Eye titled
Why we shouldn’t be showing pictures of Saddam in his skivvies astutely points out clear violations of the Geneva Convention,
Namely: Part II Article 13 which states that "...prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts
of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity" and Article 14 which states that "Prisoners of
war are entitled in all circumstances to respect for their persons and their honour". This article refers only to the public
humiliation of Saddam Hussein by publication of photographs of him in his underware and being shaven by prison guards, it pre-dates
the televised public execution of him in a 13th Century act of barbarity viewed world wide with the aid of 21st Century
The ill-treatment of many other prisoners at Abu-Graib, forcible transfer of prisoners to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and
other countries, torture of prisoners and forcing them to reveal information (BOTH of which are illegal) and rendition to other
countries are all violations of the Geneva Convention.
The consequences of deliberately destroyed infrastructure - Hospitals, Water and Electricity supplies, Schools,
Sanitation Facilities and the disbanding of police and other government services - all contributed to dramatically degraded living
conditions and security of the Iraqi civilian population who are collectively protected persons to whom the occupying powers have legal
obligations under the Geneva convention. These are serious violations of the Convention and illegal under International Law.
The reckless murder of unarmed civilians, as for example the instance exposed by
WikiLeaks is not only a reflection of moral degradation of the people
involved but also a serious violation of the Geneva convention and International Law.
The torture and murder of an elderly woman, only one of 47 fresh claims of torture and abuse received by the
British MoD (See
UK troops 'executed Iraqi grandmother') is another serious violation of the Geneva convention.
In Afghanistan, the handcuffing of children after dragging them from their beds in a night raid on a house, then
taking them outside and executing them (See
Western troops accused of executing 10 Afghan civilians, including children) is certainly a violation of the Geneva
These are just a few examples which many argue are representative of what is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan
as a matter of routine.