Geneva Conventions

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The Geneva Conventions are the core documents of the humanitarian aspects of international law, with the first passed in 1864. In modern usage, they deal with humanitarian considerations in warfare, with general issues at sea principally under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

1864 Convention

This was originally limited to the care for wounded soldiers, but was later extended to cover warfare at sea and prisoners of war. It has been superseded by the 1949 Geneva Conventions, their Additional Protocols, and other relevant international agreements.

1949 Conventions

The main set adopted in 1949 were:

Article 3 is common to all, and establishes common humanitarian criteria for "persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause". These criteria apply without consideration of "race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria." The requirements prohibit:

  • Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
  • Taking of hostages;
  • Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;
  • The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

It requires care of the wounded and sick, and allows the services of an impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.

Third Common Article

All four 1949 conventions have the same Third Article, establishing general humanitarian conventions: Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions

"In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:

(1)Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed 'hors de combat' by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
  • (a)violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
  • (b)taking of hostages;
  • (c)outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;
  • (d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

(2) The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.

An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.
The Parties to the conflict should further endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention.
The application of the preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict.

1977 Additional Protocols

Major extensions were enacted in 1977, although many nations, including major powers, have not necessarily ratified all or part:

In 2005, Geneva Conventions Additional Protocol III was adopted, covering additional distinctive emblems identifying noncombatants.

References