The Geneva Conventions comprise four treaties, and three additional protocols, that establish the standards of international law for the humanitarian treatment of war. The singular term Geneva Convention denotes the agreements of 1949, negotiated in the aftermath of the Second World War (1939–45), which updated the terms of the first three treaties (1864, 1906, 1929), and added a fourth treaty. The articles of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) extensively defined the basic, wartime rights of prisoners (civil and military); established protections for the wounded; and established protections for the civilians in and around a war zone. The treaties of 1949 were ratified, in whole or with reservations, by 194 countries. Moreover, the Geneva Convention also defines the rights and protections afforded to non-combatants, yet, because the Geneva Conventions are about people in war, the articles do not address warfare proper — the use of weapons of war — which is the subject of the Hague Conventions (First Hague Conference, 1899; Second Hague Conference 1907), and the bio–chemical warfare Geneva Protocol (Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, 1929).
The conventions and their agreements
The Geneva Conventions are rules that apply in times of armed conflict and seek to protect people who are not or are no longer taking part in hostilities, these include the sick and wounded of armed forces on the field, wounded, sick, and shipwrecked members of armed forces at sea, prisoners of war, and civilians.The first convention dealt with the treatment of wounded and sick and occurred largely because of the motivations of Henri Dunant, after he saw and published a book about the inadequate treatment of wounded and sick men at the battlefield of Solferino. The second convention was proposed to add aid to sick, wounded, and shipwrecked members of armed forces at sea. The third convention dealt with the treatment of prisoners of war during times of conflict; the conflict in Vietnam greatly contributed to this revision of the Geneva Convention. The fourth Geneva convention dealt with the treatment of civilians and their protection during wartime.
In diplomacy, the term convention does not have its common meaning as an assembly of people. Rather, it is used in diplomacy to mean an international agreement, or treaty. The first three Geneva Conventions were revised and expanded in 1949, and the fourth was added at that time.
- First Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field, 1864
- Second Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea, 1906
- Third Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, 1929
- Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, 1949
The 1949 conventions have been modified with three amendment protocols:
- Protocol I (1977) relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts
- Protocol II (1977) relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts
- Protocol III (2005) relating to the Adoption of an Additional Distinctive Emblem.
The Geneva Conventions today
Although warfare has changed dramatically since the Geneva Conventions of 1949, they are still considered the cornerstone of contemporary International Humanitarian Law. They protect combatants who find themselves hors de combat, and they protect civilians caught up in the zone of war. These treaties came into play for all recent international armed conflicts, including the War in Afghanistan (2001–present), the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the invasion of Chechnya (1994–present), and the 2008 War in Georgia. The Geneva Conventions also protect those affected by non-international armed conflicts such as the Syrian Civil War.
Modern warfare continues to evolve, and the lines between combatants and civilians have blurred. (for instance, the Sri Lankan Civil War, the Sudanese Civil War, and the Colombian Armed Conflict). Common Article 3 deals with these situations, supplemented by Protocol II (1977). These set out minimum legal standards that must be followed for internal conflicts. International tribunals, particularly the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, have helped to clarify international law in this area. In the 1999 Prosecutor v. Dusko Tadic judgement, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia ruled that grave breaches apply not only to international conflicts, but also to internal armed conflict. Further, those provisions are considered customary international law, allowing war crimes prosecution by the United Nations and its International Court of Justice over groups that have signed and have not signed the Geneva Conventions.