Geneva Convention

Geneva Convention

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The Geneva Convention was a series of international diplomatic meetings that produced a number of agreements, in particular the Humanitarian Law of Armed Conflicts, a group of international laws for the humane treatment of wounded or captured military personnel, medical personnel and non-military civilians during war or armed conflicts. The agreements originated in 1864 and were significantly updated in 1949 after World War II.

Henry Dunant

For much of mankind’s history, the ground rules of warfare were hit or miss, if they existed at all. While some civilizations showed compassion for the injured, helpless or innocent civilians, others tortured or slaughtered anyone in sight, no questions asked.

In 1859, Genevan businessman Henry Dunant traveled to Emperor Napoleon III’s headquarters in northern Italy to seek land rights for a business venture. He got much more than he bargained for, however, when he found himself a witness to the aftermath of the Battle of Solferino, a gory battle in the Second War of Italian Independence.

The horrific suffering Dunant saw impacted him so greatly he wrote a first-hand account in 1862 called A Memory of Solferino. But he didn’t just write about what he’d observed, he also proposed a solution: All nations come together to create trained, volunteer relief groups to treat battlefield wounded and offer humanitarian assistance to those affected by war.

Red Cross

A committee was formed—which included Dunant and an early iteration of the Red Cross—in Geneva to explore ways to implement Dunant’s ideas.

In October 1863, delegates from 16 countries along with military medical personnel traveled to Geneva to discuss the terms of a wartime humanitarian agreement. This meeting and its resultant treaty signed by 12 nations became known as the First Geneva Convention.

Despite playing an important role in the progression of what became the International Committee of the Red Cross, continuing his work as champion for the battle-wounded and prisoners of war and winning the first Nobel Peace Prize, Dunant lived and died in near poverty.

Geneva Conventions of 1906 and 1929

In 1906, the Swiss government arranged a conference of 35 states to review and update improvements to the First Geneva Convention.

The amendments extended protections for those wounded or captured in battle as well as volunteer agencies and medical personnel tasked with treating, transporting and removing the wounded and killed.

It also made the repatriation of captured belligerents a recommendation instead of mandatory. The 1906 Convention replaced the First Geneva Convention of 1864.

After World War I, it was clear the 1906 Convention and The Hague Convention of 1907 didn’t go far enough. In 1929, updates were made to further the civilized treatment of prisoners of war.

The new updates stated all prisoners must be treated with compassion and live in humane conditions. It also laid out rules for the daily lives of prisoners and established the International Red Cross as the main neutral organization responsible for collecting and transmitting data about prisoners of war and the wounded or killed.

Geneva Conventions of 1949

Germany signed the Convention of 1929, however, that didn’t prevent them from carrying out horrific acts on and off the battlefield and within their military prison camps and civilian concentration camps during World War II. As a result, the Geneva Conventions were expanded in 1949 to protect non-combatant civilians.

According to the American Red Cross, the new articles also added provisions to protect:

  • medical personnel, facilities and equipment
  • wounded and sick civilians accompanying military forces
  • military chaplains
  • civilians who take up arms to fight invading forces

Article 9 of the Convention specified the Red Cross has the right to assist the wounded and sick and provide humanitarian aid. Article 12 stipulated the wounded and sick must not be murdered, tortured, exterminated or exposed to biological experiments.

The Geneva Conventions of 1949 also laid out rules for protecting wounded, sick or shipwrecked armed forces at sea or on hospital ships as well as medical workers and civilians accompanying or treating military personnel. Some highlights of these rules are:

  • hospital ships cannot be used for any military purpose nor captured or attacked
  • captured religious leaders must be returned immediately
  • all sides must attempt to rescue any shipwrecked personnel, even those from another side of the conflict

Male and female prisoners of war received expanded protections in the Convention of 1949 such as:

  • they must not be tortured or mistreated
  • they’re only required to give their name, rank, birth date and serial number when captured
  • they must receive suitable housing and adequate amounts of food
  • they must not be discriminated against for any reason
  • they have the right to correspond with family and receive care packages
  • the Red Cross has the right to visit them and examine their living conditions

Articles were also put in place to protect wounded, sick and pregnant civilians as well as mothers and children. It also stated civilians may not be collectively deported or made to work on behalf of an occupying force without pay. All civilians should receive adequate medical care and be allowed to go about their daily lives as much as possible.

Geneva Convention Protocols

In 1977, Protocols I and II were added to the Conventions of 1949. Protocol I increased protections for civilians, military workers and journalists during international armed conflicts. It also banned the use of “weapons that cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering,” or cause “widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment.”

According to the Red Cross, Protocol II was established because most victims of armed conflicts since the 1949 Convention were victims of vicious civil wars. The Protocol stated all people not taking up arms be treated humanely and there should never be an order by anyone in command for “no survivors.”

In addition, children should be well cared for and educated, and the following is prohibited:

  • taking hostages
  • terrorism
  • pillage
  • slavery
  • group punishment
  • humiliating or degrading treatment

In 2005, a Protocol was created to recognize the symbol of the red crystal—in addition to the red cross, the red crescent and the red shield of David—as universal emblems of identification and protection in armed conflicts.

Over 190 states follow the Geneva Conventions because of the belief that some battlefield behaviors are so heinous and damaging, they harm the entire international community. The rules help draw a line—as much as is possible within the context of wars and armed conflicts—between the humane treatment of armed forces, medical staff and civilians and unrestrained brutality against them.


Geneva Convention of 27 July 1929 relative to the treatment of prisoners of war. International Committee of the Red Cross.
Geneva Conventions. Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute.
Henry Dunant Biographical.
History of the Geneva Conventions.
Summary of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Their Additional Protocols. American Red Cross.
The Battle of Solferino. British Red Cross.
Treaties, States Parties, and Commentaries: Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armies in the Field. Geneva, 6 July 1906. International Committee of the Red Cross.
Treaties, States, Parties, and Commentaries: Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977. International Committee of the Red Cross.
Treaties, States Parties, and Commentaries: Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), 8 June 1977. International Committee of the Red Cross.

The Geneva Conventions of 1949: origins and current significance

Thank you for being here this morning to mark the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions. The task I have set myself for the next 20 minutes is to provide a brief reflection on the history of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and on their current relevance. When our President, Mr. Jakob Kellenberger, will take the floor later on, he will present the main challenges lying ahead of us, more specifically the future work in the area of humanitarian law.

The Second World War remains a conflict distinguished by violence on an unprecedented scale. And not only extreme violence by one combatant against another much of it was directed against civilians, who had not paid such a heavy price for mankind's warmongering since the Thirty Years’ War. The discovery of the Nazi concentration camps and the extent of the mass extermination carried out within their walls added yet another layer of horror to the tragedy that the world lived through from 1939 to 1945. In order to transmit the sentiment of the time, one quote by General Eisenhower while visiting a Nazi death camp in 1945 may suffice: " The world must know what happened, and never forget " .

There can therefore be no doubt that the decision to draft the Geneva Conventions of 1949 was sealed by the tragedy of the Second World War and that the conventions were intended to fill the gaps in international humanitarian law exposed by the conflict.

However, when stating the fact that this progress made in 1949 can only be explained on the background of the horrific sufferings incurred by the second world war, we should not forget that improvements in the protection of victims of war (in particular civilians) had actually been under discussion well before the outbreak of war. Since the early 1920s, the ICRC had considered various projects - one of which was designed to protect the civilian population against the effects of war, in particular aerial warfare. The Committee had also drafted a convention offering protection to civilians in enemy hands. This draft, which came to be known as the Tokyo Draft since it was presented at the International Conference of the Red Cross of 1934 in the Japanese capital, was to be the subject of a future diplomatic conference convened by Switzerland. As with the Diplomatic Conference of 1929, during which the Convention on Prisoners of War was adopted, hopes within the ICRC were high of seeing another demonstration of States'goodwill, this time towards civilians. Yet it was not to be. A lack of enthusiasm on the part of governments meant that Switzerland was not able to announce the diplomatic conference until June 1939 – and it was scheduled for early 1940. The rest is history.

During the war, the ICRC’s energies were largely taken up by its activities in the field, but as the guardian of international humanitarian law, it continued to discuss the possibility of relaunching the process of revising and extending the law of Geneva as soon as possible.

In February 1945, therefore, even before the end of hostilities, the ICRC announced to governments and National Red Cross Societies its intention to revise the existing Geneva Conventions and have new conventions adopted, all the while wondering whether there was still a place for humanitarian rules in an era of total warfare.

Overcoming its apprehension, the ICRC organised a Preliminary Conference of National Red Cross Societies in Geneva to study the conventions protecting victims of war in September 1945, followed by a Conference of Government Experts in 1947. The latter was to give a view on revising the two existing Geneva Conventions, on the " wounded and sick " and " prisoners of war " , and above all on preparing a new convention on the condition and protection of civilians in times of war. 

The government experts supported the ICRC’s proposals, including that of a new idea of applying the Conventions in all cases of armed conflict, including internal ones. Emboldened by this support, the ICRC informed the Swiss authorities of its wish to convene another diplomatic conference. Meanwhile, the participants of the 17th International Conference of the Red Cross in Stockholm in 1948 declared themselves in favour of revising and adapting the Geneva Conventions.

The diplomatic conference opened on 21 April in the presence of representatives from 64 countries, covering almost every State in the world at that time. According to various eye-witness accounts, no conference had ever been so well prepared. Nevertheless, it took almost four months to complete its work, which surprised the public and made the conference much longer than anticipated. However, there was a positive feeling at the meetings, even perhaps a sense of camaraderie and frank discussion, even while the world had just entered the Cold War. The following four conventions were adopted as a result of these proceedings:

Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field

Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea

Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War

Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.

Overall, these four texts greatly expanded the scope of international humanitarian law. Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions proved to be a significant victory, extending the principles of the Geneva Conventions to non-international armed conflicts, and sweeping aside certain obstacles of national sovereignty. According to common Article 3, the parties to an internal armed conflict commit to respecting people’s fundamental rights. Understandably, common Article 3 was the subject of the most intense and drawn-out discussions of the whole conference.

But the greatest advance of all remains the adoption of the fourth Convention, which offers civilians a similar protection to other victims of war. Described as a “miracle” by the then ICRC president, Paul Ruegger, the fourth Convention finally closed one of the most serious gaps exposed by the Second World War and all other wars before it.

The four Geneva Conventions are dated 12 August 1949. This is the date on which the Final Act of the diplomatic conference to which they are annexed was signed. At the same moment, 18 government delegations also signed the four new Conventions.

The other delegations had asked for some time so their governments could study the texts, so a second signing ceremony was held on 8 December 1949 in Geneva. On this occasion, government representatives signed the new Conventions on the same table which had been used to sign the 1864 Geneva Convention – a highly historic and symbolic gesture.

The Geneva Conventions immediately had a huge success. They entered into force already on 21 October 1950 after the first two ratifications. They were ratified by 74 States in the 1950’s and obtained a further 48 ratifications in the 1960’s. The ratification steadily increased in the 1970’s (20 ratifications) and 1980’s (20 ratifications). A wave of 26 new ratifications occurred in the early 1990’s, resulting in particular from the break up of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and the former Yugoslavia. With the last few (7) ratifications since the year 2000 the applicability of the Geneva Convention has today become universal, with 194 States party.

Today the Geneva Conventions remain the cornerstone of contemporary international humanitarian law. They contain the essential rules protecting persons who are not or no longer taking a direct part in hostilities when they find themselves in the hands of an adverse party. These persons are, as mentioned before, the wounded and sick, the shipwrecked, the prisoners of war and civilians, including those civilians living under occupation.

The basic notion underlying the Geneva Conventions is the notion of respect for the life and dignity of the individual. Those who suffer in conflict must be aided and cared for without distinction. The Conventions also confirm and strengthen the role of the medical mission – medical personnel, medical units and transports must be respected and protected in all circumstances. This is an indispensable condition to be able to collect and care for the wound and sick. The principles on which these rules are based are as old as armed conflict itself.

Yet, the question still rises frequently: Are the Conventions still relevant today are they still relevant in contemporary wars?

The ongoing relevance of IHL is supported by the findings of an opinion poll that asked a series of questions about what people in countries affected by war consider acceptable behaviour during hostilities and on the effectiveness of the Geneva Conventions. The research, entitled Our world. Views from the field   . , was carried out by the Ipsos Agency in Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Georgia, Haiti, Lebanon, Liberia and the Philippines. This survey I am referring to was specifically commissioned by the ICRC to mark this anniversary and has been published yesterday.

Most of the roughly 4,000 people surveyed across the eight countries – 75% – say there should be limits to what combatants are allowed to do in the course of fighting. But when asked if they had ever heard of the Geneva Conventions, slightly less than half said they knew such rules existed. Among them, around 56% believe the Conventions limit the suffering of civilians in wartime.

The findings reveal broad support for the cor e ideas behind the Geneva Conventions, and IHL as a whole, by people who have actually lived in conflict- and violence-affected countries.

However, the survey has also revealed – I suppose this is less surprising - that the perceived impact of the rules on the ground is far weaker than the support for them. This appears as a strong indicator that people in war-affected countries want to see better respect for and implementation of the law.

For the purpose of analysing the question of the relevance of the Geneva Conventions, I will look separately at their relevance in international (inter-state) and non-international armed conflicts and will provide in both cases some examples to illustrate their practical relevance.

When further analysing the question of the Conventions'relevance we must bear in mind that for the most part the Geneva Conventions only regulate international armed conflicts, including situations of military occupation. While it is true such conflicts and occupations are – fortunately – not as frequent as in the past, we can only observe that they have not completely disappeared either. Recent examples of conflicts where the conventions were fully applicable are the conflicts in Afghanistan (2001-2002), the Iraq war (2003-2004), the conflict in Southern Lebanon (2006) and the conflict between Russia and Georgia (2008). Hence, to the extent that international conflicts and occupations continue to exist and will occur in the future, the Conventions remain valid and relevant. It is therefore very important to preserve this precious humanitarian acquis obtained through the universal acceptance of the Conventions. Whatever developments may occur in the future, these should build upon these existing rules.

To provide just one example of this aquis : The regulation of the conditions of detent ion has been fundamental in saving the lives and ensuring the well-being of many detainees. It is on the basis of these rules in the Geneva Conventions that the ICRC can carry out its work in the field, including its visits to detainees. The purpose of these visits is to prevent enforced disappearances, extra-judicial executions, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, to monitor the material conditions of detention and to restore family links i.a. through the exchange of Red Cross messages.

A few figures from recent international armed conflicts may suffice to illustrate how the Geneva Conventions remain relevant for war victims. In the course of the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia, the ICRC visited, in the year 2000 alone, over 1,000 Ethiopian POWs and 4,300 civilian internees. In addition, we exchanged 16,326 messages between Ethiopian and Eritrean POWs and their families. The ICRC also organized safe passage across the front lines for 12,493 civilians of Ethiopian origin. In cooperation with the Eritrean Red Cross, the ICRC distributed aid to over 150,000 civilians affected by the conflict and provided surgical supplies to treat 10,000 war-wounded, in cooperation with the Ministry of Health.

In Iraq, the ICRC visited 6,100 POWs and 11,146 civilian internees and detainees held by the occupying powers between April 2003 and May 2004. In addition, over 16,000 Red Cross messages were exchanged. Even in the fairly short conflict between Russia and Georgia in 2008, a number of POWs benefited from the protection and status conferred upon them by the Third Geneva Convention. On the basis of this Convention, the ICRC was able visit the POWs in question.

But not all the positive effects of the Geneva Conventions can be reflected in concrete figures. The real value of the Conventions lies not alone in the good they help to achieve, but maybe even more so in the yet greater evil they have helped to prevent. For example, we know from experience that the distinctive emblems of the Red Cross and Red Crescent have protected countless hospitals, medical units and personnel as well as innumerable wounded and sick. In the recent years we unfortunately have witnessed far too many examples of flagrant violations of both the distinctive emblems and the medical mission, however, and this is the point I would like to make: without the rules contained in the Conventions the situation would be far worse. Worse for the victims and far more difficult for those who try to assist and protect.

I submit therefore that the Geneva Conventions have served well over the past 60 years and that they remain highly relevant – and this certainly in situations of international armed conflicts, including in situations of occupation.

Is this assertion equally true for armed conflicts of a non-international character? From a phenomenological perspective it is undoubtedly true that these types of conflicts that are pre-dominant today. It is these conflicts varying greatly in shape and form that we have to generally deal with these days. They can be traditional internal civil wars, but they can also spill-over into other States. They can pitch the government against armed groups but they can also consist of armed groups fighting among themselves. They can involve third States or multinational forces fighting side by side with the government. The situations that come to mind include, for example, the Darfur region in Sudan, Colombia, Eastern DRC or today’s Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia. The Geneva Conventions cover all of these situations. Indeed, common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions deals with any armed conflict not of an international character. That is to say that any armed conflict that it is not an inter-State conflict falls within the scope of common Article 3 of the Conventions. Although this is just one provision, it contains the essential rules in a nutshell:

1. It requires humane treatment for all persons in enemy hands, regardless of how they may be legally or politically classified or in whose custody they may be. As a result, no one may be placed or treated outside of common Article 3, bereft of all protection.

2. It requires that the wounded, sick and shipwrecked be collected and cared for.

3. It grants the ICRC the right to offer its services to the parties to the conflict. On the basis of common Article 3, the ICRC systematically requests access to persons deprived of their liberty in connection with non-international armed conflicts, and such access is generally granted.

4. Finally, it recognizes that the application of these rules in no way affects the legal status of the Parties to the conflict.

From this overview you can see that common Article 3 is not just an article like any other but indeed a mini-Convention within the Conventions. The International Court of Justice has called common Article 3 a reflection of “elementary considerations of humanity”. In the light of the prevalence of non-international armed conflicts, it remains a provision of utmost importance. As a result, with respect to non-international armed conflicts the Geneva Conventions remain extremely relevant today. Because of their universal acceptance, common Article 3 is applicable in any armed conflict not of an international character anywhere in the world.

In order to fully appreciate the relevance of the Geneva Conventions today, they have to be looked at in the proper perspective. They must not be viewed in isolation. Since their conclusion in 1949, they have been supplemented and developed by three Additional Protocols. The first two were adopted in 1977, more than 30 years ago, and the third more recently in 2005 introducing a new protective emblem, the Red Crystal.

The 1977 Additional Protocols were drawn up essentially as a response to changes in warfare, most notably the expansion of guerrilla warfare, and the increased suffering of civilians in armed conflict due in part to developments in weapons technology. They introduced essential rules relating to the conduct of hostilities and the methods and means of warfare, the aim of which was to strengthen protection for civilians. In particular, they formulated the important principle of distinction between civilians and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives. They have also expanded the list of fundamental guarantees applicable to all persons in the power of an adverse party.

The 1977 Additional Protocols were also a response to the proliferation of internal armed conflicts. Indeed, Additional Protocol II was the first treaty ever devoted exclusively to the protection of the victims of such conflicts elaborating upon the protection provided in common Article 3.

While the 1949 Geneva Conventions have been universally ratified, the Additional Protocols have not. At present, 168 States are party to Additional Protocol I and 164 States to Additional Protocol II. Although this places the 1977 Additional Protocols among the most widely accepted legal instruments in the world, we cannot be satisfied with this situation. The rules on the conduct of hostilities and the fundamental guarantees enshrined in the 1977 Additional Protocols are an absolute necessity. Their recognition and application is needed, now more than ever. Therefore, the ICRC believes that the ratification of the Additional Protocols should be a priority. We call on all States that have not yet done so, to adhere to these instruments. The universal ratification of the Geneva Co nventions, together with their Additional Protocols, would establish a firm legal framework for the protection of war victims, wherever or whoever they may be. The current situation is unsatisfactory as it creates a patchwork of treaty obligations with the Protocols applicable in some conflicts but not in others.

At the request of the international community, the ICRC has tried to remedy this situation by identifying the rules of customary humanitarian law that apply regardless of the ratification record of treaty law. Yet, customary law cannot replace the legal certainty gained by ratification of treaties. In closing, therefore, I would like to reiterate our call for worldwide adherence to existing instruments of humanitarian law, in particular the Additional Protocols of the Geneva Conventions.

The 15th to 18th century

In the 15th century the counts of Savoy rose to the status of dukes and made strenuous efforts to assert their sovereignty in Geneva at the expense of the bishops, who made correspondingly generous offers to the burghers to win their support against the dukes. But the burghers were slow to forsake the dukes, from whom they secured a contract recognizing their General Council—the public assembly to which every citizen belonged—as the central legislative body of the city.

More Comments:

Arnold Shcherban - 9/29/2006

The essense of the fuss around Geneva
Coventions, which the US is the signatory of, is that the US tries to override them by its own national laws, that by itself is a violation of the core principle of any internationally accepted law.

Vernon Clayson - 7/16/2006

Robert, if what you say is true, you might be the only one-eyed individual ever drafted into the military and you became a sharpshooter, amazing! Where do we find such men? I feel a little foolish commenting on a 2003 comment from an article from 2002, how must you have felt when you found how badly you had been used? It was a tragedy that you were not captured by someone who could have used you for an example of how desperate the US was for men, having to take one-eyed draftees. A John Kerry moment if there ever was one.

Richard Henry Morgan - 5/13/2004

"The US completely destroyed the infrastructure of Afghanistan."

I don't think this needs extended comment -- it rather speaks for itself.

Steven Alan Dickerson - 5/13/2004

It seems that Bush is a student of Adolf Hitler. As you recall, the Geneva Convention didn't apply for his army in the Soviet Union because the Soviet Union was not a signatory.

Finally, Bush says that the al Quaida members are not covered by the Geneva Convention because they don't conduct themselves according to accepted rules of warfare. In that case he must be saying that US soldiers aren't covered either. The US completely destroyed the infrastructure of Afghanistan causing the war to be a war against the people of Afghanistan more than any war against al Quaida.

Furthermore, according to Bush's argument, if the charges made in the documentary "Afghan Massacre: Convoy of Death" are true, then that is another reason that US soldiers should not be covered under the Geneva Convention. US Special Forces have been implicated in the murder of at least 2500 Taliban soldiers who surrendered in November 2001.

Mark safranski - 5/12/2004

"that the commander-in-chief was responsible as in the case of Japanese General T. Yamashita who was executed for it.. Thus US President George W. Bush as Commander-in-Chief must be tried for all atrocities committed by his trops in Iraq."

Yamashita was not the commander-in-chief, he was a theater commander whose subordinate commanders, to his misfortune, were beyond his control due to political ties to the imperial family ( I may be be misremembering my generals but I believe one of them was actually Prince Kanin, a senior prince). The architect of the bataan death march, Colonel Tsuji, escaped punuishment and went on to serve in the postwar Diet. Emperor Hirohito was not tried for either the war crimes he initiated or those simply carried out in his name.

Sitting heads of state and government are immune to prosecution while in office. Even after leaving office the responsibility needs to be relatively direct in order to justify a trial - Milosevic is not being prosecuted for being Serbia's leader *when* crimes were committed but for *directly orchestrating* those crimes as a matter of state policy. If Bush directly approved a policy of torture he has liability or if he was derelict in his command responsibilities.

Generally, presidents and prime ministers are not liable for what falls in the domain of brigadiers, colonels and majors as unit commanders.

Kenneth T. Tellis - 5/12/2004

During World War II both the Germans and the Japanese were accused of and found gulity of violating the Geneva Conventions with regards to both military and civilan prisoners-of-war. But of course as usual everyone forgot to mention the orders of General Dwight D. Eisenhower at the Normandy landings, "take no prisoners! This meant only one thing. That all German army personnel who surrendered were immediately shot. That is exactly what the Geneva Convention of 1864 was all about. To protect both military and civilians from murder, and that is what the Supreme Allied Commander had ordered in Normandy. Was Eisenhower therefore ant different to the Germans and Japanese War Criminals? Not all. He was actually in the same category as they were. Under those cirumstances many of the Germans who were tried at Nuremberg, Germany and Japanese tried at Tokyo, Japan, should not have been tried at all.

As for the recent exposure of the illtreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib and other prisons in Iraq by US and British military personnel, they are in direct violation of the Geneva Convention. Since the precedent regarding who should be tried for the actions of their military personnel was already set in Nuremberg and Tokyo, that the commander-in-chief was responsible as in the case of Japanese General T. Yamashita who was executed for it.. Thus US President George W. Bush as Commander-in-Chief must be tried for all atrocities committed by his trops in Iraq. Nothing could be more clear than that. Equal justice under the law should be the norm. As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his is without question an accomplice in the War Crimes committed by Army personnel in Iraq.

George W. Bush' praise for Rumsfeld doing a good job in Iraq, actually means that the president agrees with the atrocities committed by US forces, as acceptable.

Richard Henry Morgan - 5/11/2004

Fascinating. Could you tell me what part of the Geneva Conventions was relevant to your sightlessness in one eye?

Richard Henry Morgan - 5/11/2004

Monbiot makes, apparently, two mistakes on matters of law -- unsurprising, inasmuch as he is not a lawyer, but a controversialist who writes on anything and everything, regardless of his lack of knowledge of the subject area.

"The US government claims that these men are not subject to the Geneva conventions, as they are not "prisoners of war", but "unlawful combatants". The same claim could be made, with rather more justice, by the Iraqis holding the US soldiers who illegally invaded their country."

Monbiot is ignorant of the distinction between jus in bello (the subject area of the Geneva Conventions), and jus ad bellum, which pertains to lawfulness of the war itself. There is certainly a defensible argument that the US acted wrongly in the context of jus ad bellum. Even so, its combatants are "legal combatants" for the purposes of the Geneva Conventions -- jus in bello is not dependent on jus ad bellum.

"Even if there is doubt about how such people should be classified, article 5 insists that they "shall enjoy the protection of the present convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal". But when, earlier this month, lawyers representing 16 of them demanded a court hearing, the US court of appeals ruled that as Guantanamo Bay is not sovereign US territory, the men have no constitutional rights."

The rights enjoyed by the prisoners are not dependent on constitutional rights, nor on the views of federal courts. Their status as prisoners of war are to be determined by a competent tribunal, which can be as little as a hearing before a military judge.

Jeff Moses - 5/11/2004

Thanks very much for a clear and concise description of the Geneva Convention. well done and timely as well.

Robert - 12/17/2003

In mid 1952 I was drafted into the US Army. I contested my induction on the basis that I had no sight in my right eye and I could not use the rifle, therefore, exempt. In support of my contention I referred to the Geneva Convention. The Army Court ruled the induction was proper because the US was NOT a signatory of the Geneva Convention. I ended up serving two years, used the rifle left-handed, and I got a medal as a sharpshooter.
Why did they say the US was not a signatory? I doubt it if they lied there was no reason.
Please post your response here, I'll get to it. The e-mail address is incorrect.

Robert - 12/17/2003

Yes, Iraq is a sigatory, but you'll be surprised to find out that the US was NOT a signatory as at 1952. There are many Geneva Conventions, and the US, I suppose, participated in one AFTER 1952. Go to Geneva Convention in the Internet and you'll find tons of info . and lots of surprises.
You misspelled the word Convention.

Lynn Myles - 6/18/2003

I am a 4th year student who is studying the Iraq war for my dissertation. Could you please forward relevant information or sources for this topic.

Bill Heuisler - 4/6/2003

Ms. Warwick,
US signed. Iraq did not sign on 19 June 1948, but has signed the BTWC agreement. Look the BTWC Agreement up on google and become confused like everyone else.
Bill Heuisler

Elizabeth Warwick - 4/1/2003

I have a question. Has Iraq signed on to the Geneva Convention? Where can I find a list of signatories? Thanx

Gus Moner - 3/29/2003

This is indeed a relevant, factual article of information. I'd offer the following interpretation of events related to the convention’s application by the USA written by Mr. George Mombiot.

Nathan - 3/25/2003

This was a very interesting article.

Lisa Harp South - 3/25/2003

I appreciate this clear and concise information, and this is exactly what I need to share with my US history students, most of whom are military or dependents of military. It quickly answers most of their questions.

Suetonius - 3/25/2003

This is exactly what HNN should be doing--clear, factually based analysis of the current issues so that we all know what on earth we're talking about when we speak of 'The Geneva Convention.'

What Countries Signed the Geneva Conventions?

The countries that signed the Geneva Protocol at the Geneva Convention include the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Japan. Since 1925, more than 130 countries have signed the protocol.

The Geneva Protocol was an agreement between nations made after World War I that biological, bacteriological and asphyxiation could not be used against others whether or not in times of war. The treaty was written on June 17, 1925, and put into effect on Feb. 8, 1928. Most of the largest world powers signed the treaty except for Japan and the United States the United States didn't ratify the treaty until Jan. 22, 1975. The ratification document was placed with the Government of France shortly afterward and proclaimed by the U.S. President on April 29 of that same year.

France was the first country to ratify the Geneva Protocol on May 10, 1926. Liberia ratified it the next year. Austria, Belgium, Egypt, Italy, Russia and Venezuela followed in 1928. Germany, Finland, Iran, Poland and Spain signed it in 1929. The United Kingdom didn't ratify it until 1930 along with Sweden, Australia, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands. However, Canada signed with reservations that it did not remove until 1999. The United States was the only nation to ratify the protocol in 1975, although Barbados and Qatar signed it in 1976. The last country to sign as of 2015 was St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Article The Geneva Conventions

Gen Con has a long and storied history, dating back almost fifty years and running across two states—and during most of that time, Dungeons & Dragons has been central to the convention.

Origins of Gen Con: 1967-1977

Fans of D&D might be surprised to learn that Gen Con predated the first FRPG by almost a decade. It began with what’s now called Gen Con 0 (1967), a casual gathering of about a dozen gamers at Gary Gygax’s house. There were three card tables on the porch some miniatures gaming ran in the basement.

The next year, Gen Con I (1968) officially got the ball rolling under the auspices of the International Federation of Wargaming (IFW) about a hundred gamers met at the Horticulture Hall in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Miniatures battles and naval wargames dominated the con, as they’d continue to do so for several years thereafter.

Meanwhile, Dungeons & Dragons (1974) was slowly coalescing, and Gen Con was crucial to its development. Gygax was initially inspired by a medieval miniatures game called “Siege of Bodenberg” (1967) that he saw at Gen Con I. He then met Don Lowry at Gen Con III (1970), which led to the publication of Chainmail (1971), the immediate ancestor of D&D. A prototype Dungeons & Dragons game finally appeared at Gen Con VI (1973) the enthusiasm over it led Gygax and friend Don Kaye to form a company to publish the game: TSR.

The three-book boxed Dungeons & Dragons set was published early in 1974 by the time that Gen VII (1974) rolled around, Gygax had been marketing it for several months. The convention had grown since its origins in the ‘60s, and now was home to 350 or so gamers. Some found D&D weird, but others enthusiastically took to the new game. After the con, many brought it back to their own communities, which was an important step in the initial diaspora of the game.

Just two years later, the world had clearly changed, because TSR took control of the convention starting with Gen Con IX (1976). They kept the con at its Lake Geneva home through Gen Con X (1977), after which they moved it out into the wider world of Wisconsin, to accommodate crowds that were now topping 2,000 attendees.

The Early Tournaments: 1975-1981

Gen Con wasn’t just crucial for the creation and the distribution of D&D it also helped to foster the culture of the game through a series of tournaments.

Tournaments were a pillar of the D&D experience as far back as Origins I (1975) and Origins II (1976)—where Gary Gygax ran the adventures that would later become S1 The Tomb of Horrors (1978) and S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks (1980). However, it was Gen Con that became the home of D&D’s biggest tournament, the D&D Open.

Rob Kuntz ran his “Sunken City” adventure for Gen Con VIII (1975), but Bob Blake’s event for Gen Con IX (1976) is usually considered the start of the modern D&D tournament because it featured small groups running through multiple rounds of play and scoring points for killing foes and solving problems alike.

Another such event took place in 1977, but the next year really showed the power of the convention tournaments. In 1978, TSR ran a series of giant-themed adventures at Origins IV (1978) and then a series of Underdark adventures at Gen Con XI (1978), and immediately afterward published them as six of their first seven adventures: the legendary “G” series (1978) and “D” series (1978).

TSR continued to produce tournaments for a couple of years thereafter. The most notable was possibly the Gen Con XIII (1980) tournament: TSR gave five of their designers the task of creating a new linked tournament. Together, David “Zeb” Cook, Harold Johnson, Tom Moldvay, Allen Hammack, and Lawrence Schick produced the “A” series (1980), which also went on to become the classic adventure modules.

Meanwhile, TSR was expanding beyond the D&D Open. The invitational AD&D Masters Tournament, for the most hardcore players, began at Winter Fantasy 3 (1979), but reappeared at Gen Con XII (1979). The average D&D player was eventually able to see this ironman tournament when Gen Con XII’s “Doomkeep”, was published in Dragon #34 (February 1980).

Preparing those tournaments required tremendous work, so TSR may have been happy to hand the responsibility off to Frank Mentzer’s newly formed RPGA, who began running tourneys of their own at Gen Con XIV (1981). The RPGA adventures may not have been as high profile as those that TSR first created, but some were published as the “R” series (1982) and the “RPGA” series (1983). Years later, a few reappeared as official TSR products: I11 Needle (1987) and I12 Egg of the Phoenix (1987).

Across Wisconsin: 1978-1996


Following Gen Con X (1977), the convention moved to two different venues across the state. It was hosted at the University of Wisconsin Parkside from 1978-1984, then at MECCA—the major convention center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin—from 1985-1996 (and beyond). The con’s attendance slowly grew, as it transformed from a regional convention to a major national convention. About 2,000 attendees for Gen Con XI (1978) became more than 5,000 for Gen Con 20 (1987) and about 23,000 for Gen Con ’96.

These years also saw the advent of a new tradition: the publication of major new releases for Gen Con. When TSR released their “D” series of adventures for Gen Con XI (1978), it was a byproduct of the tournament being run at that convention, but in the years to come a number of publishers would purposefully target their biggest releases for the world’s biggest roleplaying convention. The AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide (1979), The World of Greyhawk Fantasy World Setting (1980), T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil (1985), and Al-Qadim: Land of Fate (1992) were just a few of the major books published for Gen Con.

TSR’s most unique rollout ever might have occurred at Gen Con 17 (1984). The first Dragonlance novel, Dragons of Autumn Twilight (1984), was not due out until November, but authors Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis wanted to provide it with some attention at the con, so they decided to run a “Dragonlance Reader’s Theater”—where TSR employees and friends dramatized the book for an audience. The Reader’s Theatre was quite successful and would continue running through 1992.

This was just one of many cultural events that enriched the convention experience. At Gen Con XVI (1983), master miniatures maker Duke Seifried and three friends performed filk songs as “Uncle Duke & the Dragons” meanwhile, publisher Chaosium began running their infamous Cthulhu for President rallies—as immortalized in their own Cthulhu for President supplements (1992, 1996, 2004).

However, the biggest event for Gen Con during its TSR years might have been its combination with the Origins Game Fair for two huge conventions: Gen Con ’88 / Origins and Gen Con ’92 / Origins—which was also Gen Con’s 25 th anniversary.

Wizards Takes Over: 1997-2001

The 1997 Gen Con Game Fair—the thirtieth anniversary of the Lake Geneva convention—almost didn’t happen. Owner TSR stopped publishing books in January of the year meanwhile, no money was being budged for Gen Con. When Wizards of the Coast purchased TSR in April 1997, the year’s biggest gaming convention was already drawing perilously close.

Wizards managed to pull the convention off, and the 1997 Gen Con Game Fair ended up being one of the industry’s biggest parties ever, as D&D was welcomed back under new ownership. The Violent Femmes filled the streets for a concert in Milwaukee, and the roleplaying industry was reborn.

Wizards of the Coast only managed Gen Con for five years, but during that time they used it to spotlight D&D more than ever before. At the 1999 Gen Con Game Fair, they announced the upcoming release of D&D third edition, and then at the 2000 Gen Con Game Fair, they published this major new release.

TSR regularly published big products at Gen Con, but they never did a full-blown release of D&D at the convention, so this was a first—perhaps only comparable to the Dungeon Masters Guide release of 1979. Wizards not only released the Player's Handbook for D&D third edition, but the d20 license also went live the first two third-party d20 books appeared simultaneously: Atlas Games’ Three Days to Live (2000) and Green Ronin’s Death in Freeport (2000).

For four days in 2000, Wizards’ core rulebook and those two d20 adventures were the focus of the entire industry.

Peter Takes Over: 2002-Present

In early 2002, Wizards of the Coast sold Gen Con to ex-President Peter Adkison. Though he kept Gen Con in Wisconsin in 2002, the next year he moved it out of its home state for the first time ever the convention’s new home in Indianapolis offered more room for expansion, a promise that has since been fulfilled. Though attendance numbers hovered around 25,000 for several years, Gen Con grew dramatically in the ‘10s: 30,000 gamers attended Gen Con Indy 2010, over 40,000 were at Gen Con Indy 2012, and a reported 49,000 visited Gen Con Indy 2013.

Though Wizards no longer owns Gen Con, they’ve continued to make it the heart of their D&D presence. They announced D&D 4e at Gen Con Indy 2007 while simultaneously revealing it online, and then published the new edition of the game at Gen Con Indy 2008. Campaign setting publications like Forgotten Realms (2008), Dark Sun (2010), and Neverwinter (2011) were their major Gen Con releases in the years that followed.

In 2013, Gale Force Nine sold Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle, a quickstart adventure that gave the public its first look at the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons. And this year, at Gen Con Indy 2014, Wizards is continuing its long tradition of showcasing their most anticipated books and products in Indianapolis. The D&D Starter Set released as of July 15, while the new Player’s Handbook (2014), the core book for Dungeons & Dragons, reaches Wizards Play Network retailers August 8—just before convention days.

It’s been forty years now that Gen Con and Dungeons & Dragons have been closely linked, and that’s a connection that seems destined to continue into the future.

Author’s Note: 40 Years of Gen Con (2007), by Robin D. Laws, and Playing at the World (2012), by Jon Peterson, both provided details for this article. Attendance numbers come from cited numbers collected on the “Gen Con” Wikipedia page they may not be 100% comparable to each other due to numbers being counted in different ways at different times.

The Red Cross of the Geneva Convention. What It Is

Pamplet cover printed as following: "The Red Cross of the Geneva Convention. What It Is by Clara Barton. Washington, D.C. Rufus H. Darby, Steam Power Book and Job Printer, 432 Ninth Street. 1878."

The following was transcribed from The Red Cross of the Geneva Convention. What It Is written and published by Clara Barton in 1878:

To the People of the United States,
Senators and Representatives in Congress:

Having had the honor conferred upon me of appointment by the Central Commission holding the Geneva Convention to present that treaty to this Government, and to take in charge the formation of a National organization according to the plan pursued by the committees working under the treaty, it seems to me but proper, that while I ask the Government to sign it, the people and their representatives should be made acquainted with its origin, designs, methods of work, &c. To this end I have prepared the following statement, and present it to my countrymen and women, hoping they will be led to indorse and sustain a benevolence so grand in its character, and already almost universal in its recognition and adoption by the civilized world.

A confederation of Relief Societies in different countries, acting under the Geneva Convention, carries on its work under the sign of the Red Cross. The aim of these societies is to ameliorate the condition of wounded soldiers in the armies in campaign on land or sea, and to furnish relief in cases of great national calamity.

The societies had their rise in the conviction of certain philanthropic men, that the official sanitary service in wars is usually insufficient, and that the charity of the people, which at such times exhibits itself munificently, should be organized for the best possible utilization. An International Public Conference was called at Geneva, Switzerland, in 1863, which, though it had not an official character, brought together representatives from a number of governments. At this conference a treaty was drawn up, afterwards remodeled and improved, which twenty-five governments have signed.

The treaty provides for the neutrality of all sanitary supplies, ambulances, surgeons, nurses, attendants, and the sick or wounded men, and their safe conduct, when they bear the sign of the organization, viz: the Red Cross.

Although the convention which originated the organization was necessarily international, the Relief Societies themselves are entirely national and independent each one governing itself and making its own laws, according to the genius of its nationality and needs.

The sign of the Red Cross was adopted because it was necessary for recognizance and safety, and for carrying out the general provisions of the treaty, that a uniform badge should be agreed upon. The Red Cross was chosen out of compliment to the Swiss Republic, where the first convention was held, and in which the Central Commission has its headquarters. The Swiss colors being a white cross on a red ground, the badge chosen was these colors reversed.

There are no "members of the Red Cross," but only members of societies whose sign it is. There is no "Order of the Red Cross." The Relief Societies use, each according to its convenience, whatever methods seem best suited to prepare in times of peace for the necessities of sanitary service in times of war. They gather and store gifts of money and supplies arrange hospitals, ambulances, methods of transportation of wounded men, bureaus of information, correspondence, &c. All that the most ingenious philanthropy could devise and execute, has been attempted in this direction.

In the Franco-Prussian war this was abundantly tested. That Prussia acknowledged its beneficence, is proven by the fact that the Emperor affixed the Red Cross to the Iron Cross of Merit.

Although the societies are not international, there is a tacit compact between them, arising from their common origin, identity of aim and mutual relation to the treaty. This compact embraces four principals, viz: centralization, preparation, impartiality, and "solidarity."

1st- C ENTRALIZATION. The efficiency of relief in time of war depends on unity of direction, therefore in every country the Relief Societies have a common central head to which they send their supplies, and which communicates for them with the seat of war or with the surgical military authorities, and it is through this central commission they have governmental recognition.

2d- P REPARATION. It is understood that societies working under the Red Cross shall occupy themselves with preparatory work in times of peace. This gives them a permanence they could not otherwise have.

3d- I MPARTIALITY. The societies of belligerent nations cannot always carry aid to their wounded countrymen who are captured by the enemy this is counterbalanced by the regulation that the aid of the Red Cross societies shall be extended alike to friend and foe.

4th-" S OLIDARITY". This provides that the societies of nations not engaged in war may afford aid to the sick and wounded of belligerent nations without affecting any principle of non-interference their governments may be pledged to. This must be done through the Central Commission, and not through either of the belligerent parties-this insures impartiality of relief.

That these principles are practical, has been thoroughly tested during the fifteen years the Red Cross has existed.

The "Convention" of Geneva does not exist as a society, but is simply a treaty under which all the relief societies of the Red Cross are enabled to carry on their work effectually. In time of war, the members and agents of the societies who go to the seat of war are obliged to have their badges vized by the Central Commission, and by one of the belligerents- this is in order to prevent fraud. Thus the societies and the treaty complement each other. The societies find and execute the relief, the treaty affords them the immunities which enable them to execute.

It is further a part of the raison d'etre of these national relief societies to afford ready succor and assistance to sufferers in time of national or wide-spread calamities, such as plagues, cholera, yellow fever and the like, devastating fires or floods, railway disasters, mining catastrophies, &c. The readiness of organizations like those of the Red Cross to extend help at the instant of need, renders the aid of quadruple value and efficiency to that gathered together hastily and irresponsibly, in the bewilderment and shock which always accompanies such calamities. The trained nurses and also attendants subject to the relief societies, in such cases would accompany the supplies sent, and remain in action as long as needed. Organized in every State, the relief societies of the Red Cross would be ready with money, nurses and supplies, to go on call to the instant relief of all who were overwhelmed by any of those sudden calamities which occasionally visit us. In case of yellow fever, there being an organization in every State, the nurses and attendants would be first chosen from the nearest societies, and being acclimated would incur far less risk to life than if sent from distant localities. It is true that the government is always ready in these times of public need to furnish transportation, and often does much more. In the Mississippi flood, a few years ago, it ordered rations distributed under the direction of army officers in the case of the explosion at the navy-yard, it voted a relief fund, and in our recent affliction at the South, a like course was pursued. But in such cases one of the greatest difficulties is that there is no organized method of administering the relief which the government or liberal citizens are willing to bestow, nor trained and acclimated nurses ready to give intelligent care to the sick or if there is organization, it is hastily formed in the time of need, and is therefore comparatively inefficient and wasteful. It would seem to be full time that, in consideration of the growth and rapidly accumulating necessities of our country, we should learn to economize our charities, and insure from them the greatest possible practical benevolence. Although we in the United States may fondly hope to be seldom visited by the calamities of war, yet the misfortunes of other nations with which we are on terms of amity appeal to our sympathies our southern coasts are periodically visited by the scourge of yellow fever the valleys of the Mississippi are subject to destructive inundations the plains of the West are devastated by grasshoppers, and our cities and country are swept by consuming fires. In all such cases, to gather and dispense the profuse liberality of our people without waste of time or material requires, the wisdom that comes of experience and permanent organization. Still more does it concern, if not our safety, at least our honor, to signify our approval of those principals of humanity acknowledged by every other civilized nation.

Articles of the Convention for the amelioration of the condition of the wounded in armies in the field. Signed at Geneva on the 22d of August, 1864.

A RTICLE I . Ambulances and military hospitals shall be acknowledged to be neutral and, as such, shall be protected and respected by belligerents so long as any sick or wounded may be therein. Such neutrality shall cease if the ambulances or hospitals shall be held by a military force.

A RT. II . Persons employed in hospitals and ambulances, comprising the staff for superintendence, medical service, administration, transport of wounded, as well as chaplains, shall participate in the benefit of neutrality while so employed, and so long as there remain any wounded to bring in or to succor.

A RT. III . The persons designated in the preceding article may, even after occupation by the enemy, continue to fulfill their duties in the hospital or ambulance which they serve, or may withdraw to join the corps to which they belong. Under such circumstances, when these persons shall cease from these functions, they shall be delivered by the occupying army to the outposts of the enemy. They shall have the special right of sending a representative to the headquarters of their respective armies.

A RT. IV . As the equipment of military hospitals remains subject to the laws of war, persons attached to such hospitals cannot, in withdrawing, carry away articles which are not their private property. Under the same circumstances an ambulance shall, on the contrary, retain its equipment.

A RT. V . Inhabitants of the country who may bring help to the wounded shall be respected and remain free. The generals of the belligerent powers shall make it their care to inform the inhabitants of this appeal addressed to their humanity, and of the neutrality which will be the consequence of it. Any wounded man entertained and taken care of in a house shall be considered as a protection thereto. Any inhabitant who shall have entertained wounded men in his house shall be exempted from the quartering of troops, as well as from the contributions of war which may be imposed.

A RT. VI . Wounded or sick soldiers, whatever their nationality, shall be cared for. Commanders-in-chief shall have the power to deliver immediately to the outposts of the enemy soldiers who have been wounded in an engagement, when circumstances permit this to be done, with the consent of both parties. Those who are recognized as incapable of serving, after they are healed, shall be sent back to their country. The others may also be sent back on condition of not again bearing arms during the continuance of the war. Evacuations, together with the persons under whose direction they take place, shall be protected by an absolute neutrality.

A RT. VII . A distinctive and uniform flag shall be adopted for hospitals, ambulances and evacuated places. It must on every occasion, be accompanied by the National flag. An arm-badge shall also be allowed for individuals neutralized, but the delivery of it shall be left to military authority. The flag and arm-badge shall bear a red cross on a white ground.

A RT. VIII . It is the duty of the conquering army to supervise, as far as circumstances permit, the soldiers who have fallen on the field of battle, to preserve them from pillage and bad treatment, and to bury the dead in conformity with strict sanitary rules. The contracting powers will take care that in time of war every soldier is furnished with a compulsory and uniform token, appropriate for establishing his identity. This token shall indicate his name, place of birth, as well as the army corps, regiment and company to which he belongs. In case of death, this document shall be withdrawn before his burial and remitted to the civil or military authorities of the place of enlistment or home. Lists of dead, wounded, sick and prisoners shall be communicated, as far as possible, immediately after an action, to the commander of the opposing army by diplomatic or military means.

The contents of this article, so far as they are applicable to the marine, and capable of execution, shall be observed by victorious naval forces.

Transcribed from an original document in the Clara Barton National Historic Site museum collection by Volunteer James Finta.

Geneva Convention - HISTORY

In the film, TORTURING DEMOCRACY, Martin Lederman, a legal adviser in the Department of Justice from 1994 to 2002, says, "The prohibition in the Geneva Conventions against cruel treatment turns out to have been probably the most important of the legal restrictions that the Bush administration had to deal with."

According to sources in the film, the administration would have been especially concerned with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which bans "violence to life and person," including "cruel treatment and torture [. ] and outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment."

What are the Geneva Conventions and to whom do they apply? Today they refer to those conventions ratified in the wake of WWII in 1949 and some provisions added in later years. Nearly all 200 countries of the world are "signatory" nations, in that they have ratified these conventions. Learn more about the Conventions and their history below.

Efforts to regulate the conduct of war appear throughout human history — but those agreements only bound the participants in individual conflicts. The first effort at international standards came through the efforts of Swiss businessman Henri Dunant, the founder of the International Red Cross. Dunant was horrified by witnessing the aftermath of the Battle of Soliferno in Northern Italy.

Dunant subsequently visited Emperor Napoleon III in France and persuaded him to issue the following orders to his soldiers: "Doctors and surgeons attached to the Austrian armies and captured while attending to the wounded shall be unconditionally released. "

Dunant carried on his crusade, founding in 1863, the International Committee of the Red Cross to combat human suffering. In 1864 Dunant invited 13 nations to take part in a conference on the humane conduct of war. The result was the first Geneva Convention, which provided for the neutrality of ambulance and military hospitals, the non-belligerent status of persons who aid the wounded, and sick soldiers of any nationality, the return of prisoners to their country if they are incapable of serving, and the adoption of a white flag with a red cross as symbol of neutrality.

By the time of World War I, the Red Cross was a potent symbol of both humanitarian relief and, as in the poster at left, of calls to wartime patriotism as well.

The first Geneva Convention had been supplemented by treaties from 1899 concerning asphyxiating gases and expanding bullets. The Second Geneva Convention, which extended the principals of the first to war at sea, was signed in 1906.

But the real change in thinking around warfare was related to the treatment of prisoners of war and to defining who qualified for such protection. As early as 1899 a convention in The Hague drafted 18 articles to the care of POWs — these articles were included in the international agreement The Hague Convention of 1907.

As the scope of the First World War became clear, the International Red Cross lobbied combatants to agree to standard humanitarian rules in relation to prisoner treatment. It advocated the creation of a central office and special prisoner-of-war commissions. However, it was not until after the end of the war that new rules were codified in new Geneva Convections. In 1929, two more Geneva Conventions dealt with the treatment of the wounded and prisoners of war.

The horrors of World War II added great impetus to the press of a comprehensive humanitarian standard governing warfare. Although the provisions of the 1929 conventions were in effect, and Germany was a signatory to that convention, the Red Cross and other agencies could not forestall the large-scale atrocities taking place on the battlefields, and in prisoner of war camps in Europe and the Far East.

    : For the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field : For the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea : Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War
  • Convention IV: Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War : Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, extends protection to victims of wars against racist regimes, wars of self determination, and against alien oppression. : Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts.

BILL MOYERS JOURNAL resources and interviews about torture and the rule of law.

Explore the history of the Geneva Conventions.

A History of The Geneva Conventions

We often hear about the Geneva Conventions as they relate to the treatment of war prisoners — a very contemporary and relevant subject given U.S. detention and torture of terrorism suspects in the post-9/11 period. But where did the guidelines come from, what rights do they specifically call out, and to whom do they apply? Here’s a quick look and the history behind the Geneva Conventions.


Efforts to regulate the conduct of war appear throughout human history — but those agreements only bound the participants in individual conflicts. The first effort at international standards came through the efforts of Swiss businessman Henri Dunant, the founder of the International Red Cross. Dunant was horrified by witnessing the aftermath of the Battle of Soliferno in Northern Italy.

Dunant subsequently visited Emperor Napoleon III in France and persuaded him to issue the following orders to his soldiers: “Doctors and surgeons attached to the Austrian armies and captured while attending to the wounded shall be unconditionally released…”

Dunant carried on his crusade, founding in 1863, the International Committee of the Red Cross to combat human suffering. In 1864 Dunant invited 13 nations to take part in a conference on the humane conduct of war. The result was the first Geneva Convention, which provided for the neutrality of ambulance and military hospitals, the non-belligerent status of persons who aid the wounded, and sick soldiers of any nationality, the return of prisoners to their country if they are incapable of serving, and the adoption of a white flag with a red cross as symbol of neutrality


By the time of World War I, the Red Cross was a potent symbol of both humanitarian relief and, as in the poster at right, of calls to wartime patriotism as well.

The first Geneva Convention had been supplemented by treaties from 1899 concerning asphyxiating gases and expanding bullets. The Second Geneva Convention, which extended the principals of the first to war at sea, was signed in 1906.

But the real change in thinking around warfare was related to the treatment of prisoners of war and to defining who qualified for such protection. As early as 1899 a convention in The Hague drafted 18 articles to the care of POWs — these articles were included in the international agreement The Hague Convention of 1907.

As the scope of the First World War became clear, the International Red Cross lobbied combatants to agree to standard humanitarian rules in relation to prisoner treatment. It advocated the creation of a central office and special prisoner-of-war commissions. However, it was not until after the end of the war that new rules were codified in new Geneva Convections. In 1929, two more Geneva Conventions dealt with the treatment of the wounded and prisoners of war.


The horrors of World War II added great impetus to the press for a comprehensive humanitarian standard governing warfare. Although the provisions of the 1929 conventions were in effect, and Germany was a signatory to that convention, the Red Cross and other agencies could not forestall the large-scale atrocities taking place on the battlefields, and in prisoner of war camps in Europe and the Far East.

The result was the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which updated the earlier conventions and adds a fourth convention relative to the treatment of civilians in the time of war. In 1977 two additional protocols were added relating to “Hostile Use of Environmental Techniques” and extending the protections of all conventions to civil wars.

Watch the video: Την σύμβαση της Γενεύης την κατουρώ!Στρατηγός Πάγκαλος σε


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