ICRC: The Geneva Conventions – one of humanity’s most important accomplishments of the last century – are turning 70 on 12 August 2019. It’s a moment to celebrate all the lives the conventions have helped save, note the further work that needs to be done and to remind the world of the importance of protecting people from the worst of warfare.
The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols are international treaties that contain the most important rules limiting the barbarity of war. They protect people who do not take part in the fighting (civilians, medics, aid workers) and those who can no longer fight (wounded, sick and shipwrecked troops, prisoners of war).
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. They specifically protect people who are not taking part in the hostilities (civilians, health workers and aid workers) and those who are no longer participating in the hostilities, such as wounded, sick and shipwrecked soldiers and prisoners of war. The Conventions and their Protocols call for measures to be taken to prevent or put an end to all breaches. They contain stringent rules to deal with what are known as “grave breaches“. Those responsible for grave breaches must be sought, tried or extradited, whatever nationality they may hold.
In 1949, in the aftermath of World War II, the Conventions were universally agreed upon by States because they reflect universal values of moral and ethical behavior. 70 years on, they remain as necessary and life-saving as they were intended to be.
The Conventions embody a pragmatic balance between military necessity and humanitarian considerations. These laws of war set down the fundamental obligation that people, even in times of armed conflict, must be treated with humanity. Enemies must see each other as human beings. Our collective challenge today is to find ways to ensure greater respect within the changing dynamics of conflict.