Update: 19.08.2011

Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols

In 1949 the existing Geneva Conventions were re-written and a fourth was added to expand the protection to include also civilians. The Geneva Conventions have since been adopted by every country in the world and therefore are universally applicable.

The Geneva Conventions adopted in 1949 are composed of 159 articles and deal with the status and treatment of protected persons, with a distinction drawn between the situation of foreigners on the territory of one of the conflicting parties and that of civilians in occupied territory. Furthermore, it details the obligations of the occupying authority with regards to the civilian population and contains detailed provisions on humanitarian relief for populations in occupied territories.

The first Geneva Convention protects wounded and sick soldiers on land during war, but also for medical and religious personnel, medical units and medical transports. The second Geneva Convention protects the wounded, sick and shipwrecked military personnel at sea during war. This Convention replaced The Hague Convention of 1907 for the Adaptation to Maritime Warfare of the Principles of the Geneva Convention. The third Geneva Convention applies to prisoners of war. This Convention replaced the Prisoners of War Convention of 1929. It establishes the principle that prisoners of war shall be released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities. The fourth Geneva Convention provides protection to civilians, including in occupied territory.

In 1977 governments adopted Protocols I and II to the Geneva Conventions. The first Protocol covers international conflicts, whereas the second deals with non-international conflicts, for example but not limited to civil wars. In 2005 Protocol III to the Convention was added. This was created to allow for an additional distinctive emblem, the red crystal to be used, as the red cross and red crescent emblems can be perceived as having cultural, religious or political connotations.

In summary the following are some of the main points covered by the Geneva Conventions:

  • Soldiers who surrender are entitled to respect for their lives and integrity; they should not be killed or injured.
  • The wounded and sick must be cared for by the controlling force and the emblem of the red cross, red crescent or red crystal must be respected.
  • Captured combatants are entitled to respect for their lives, dignity, personal rights and convictions. They must be protected and have the right to receive relief.
  • Non national civilians are entitled to respect for their lives, dignity, personal rights and convictions.
  • No punishment without trial and no one must be subjected to physical or mental torture, corporal punishment or cruel or degrading treatment.
  • Parties to a conflict and members of their armed forces do not have an unlimited choice of methods and means of warfare. It is prohibited to employ weapons or methods of warfare of a nature to cause unnecessary losses or excessive suffering.
  • Parties to a conflict must at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants in order to spare civilian population and property.

Official Sources:

  • First Geneva Convention - 12 August 1949
    International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field
  • Second Geneva Convention - 12 August 1949
    International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea
  • Third Geneva Convention - 12 August 1949
    International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War
  • Fourth Geneva Convention - 12 August 1949
    International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War
  • Protocol I - 8 June 1977
    International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts
  • Protocol II - 8 June 1977
    International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts
  • Protocol III - 8 December 2005
    International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Adoption of an Additional Distinctive Emblem

Information Sources:

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