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The History of International Humanitarian Law

The beginning of humanitarian law was in 1864 with the first Geneva Convention; the Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field. Influenced by one of the bloodiest battles of the nineteenth century in Solférino, Henry Dunant in 1862 published Un Souvenir de Solférino [A Memory of Solferino]. Dunant proposed that nations should form relief societies to provide care for the wounded in wartime. This laid down the foundation for the Geneva Conventions and led to the establishment of the International Red Cross.

On 22 August 1864 twelve nations signed the first Geneva Convention, agreeing to guarantee neutrality to medical personnel, to expedite supplies for their use, and to adopt a special identifying emblem (which since 1870s has been the red cross on a white background).

Developing alongside the Geneva Conventions were The Hague Conventions created by states in order to govern the conduct of war. The Hague Conventions are various international treaties that emerged from The Hague Peace Conferences in 1899 and 1907. At these conferences limitations on armaments, for example a prohibition on the use of air bombs and chemical warfare, and expansion of armed forces were proposed. The two Conventions established a model for multilateral meetings to create international laws, and subsequently influenced the formation of the League of Nations in 1919.

The Geneva Protocol to the Hague Convention is considered an addition to the Hague Convention, although not drafted in The Hague. This entered into force on 8 February 1928 and permanently banned the use of all forms of chemical and biological warfare. This was drafted following the use of mustard gas and similar agents in World War I, and fears that such warfare in the future could lead to terrible consequences. The protocol has since been amended by the Biological Weapons Convention in 1972 and the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993.

The Hague Conventions as opposed to the Geneva Conventions, which are concerned with the treatment of personnel and civilians, mainly detail the permitted conduct for war.

The Geneva Conventions adopted prior to 1949 were concerned with the treatment of soldiers; following the events of World War II it was understood that a Convention for the protection of civilians in wartime was also crucial.

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Update: 19.08.2011

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