And a Happy 60th to the Geneva Conventions!

Speaking of anniversaries, on August 12 1949, 64 countries came together in the wake of the worst war the world has ever seen and signed the four Geneva Conventions.

There are four Geneva conventions, the First protects wounded and sick soldiers on land during war. The Second protects wounded, sick and shipwrecked military personnel on sea. The Third covers the treatment of prisoners of war. The Fouth protects non-combatants during armed conflict and under military occupation.  

The International Committee for the Red Cross was an important driving force behind making these humanitarian principals the bedrock of international law.   This would be a good opportunity to show your support for the ICRC. In the meantime, read ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger stirring remarks on the need to updated International Humanitarian Law (IHL) to reflect the realities of modern conflict.  

It would be natural, on this date, to reflect with a certain pride and satisfaction on the achievements and successes over the decades, and to allow at least a modest degree of self-congratulation. It cannot be denied that much more attention is paid to situations where the rules are violated than to the many situations where their respect is ensured.

At the same time, this anniversary is an opportunity to anticipate the next decade and beyond, ensuring that the Geneva Conventions are well-prepared for the increasing challenges and risks that still lie ahead.

Without a doubt, the journey so far has not always been plain sailing. The extent to which armed conflict has evolved over the past 60 years cannot be underestimated. It almost goes without saying that contemporary warfare rarely consists of two well-structured armies facing each other on a geographically defined battlefield. As lines have become increasingly blurred between various armed groups and between combatants and civilians, it is civilian men, women and children who have increasingly become the main victims. International humanitarian law, IHL, has necessarily adapted to this changing reality. The adoption of the first two Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions in 1977, with the rules they established on the conduct of hostilities and on the protection of persons affected by non-international armed conflict, is just one example. Specific rules prohibiting or regulating weapons such as anti-personnel mines and, more recently, cluster munitions are another example of the adaptability of IHL to the realities on the ground.

The traumatic events of 9/11 and its aftermath set a new test for IHL. The polarisation of international relations and the humanitarian consequences of what has been referred to as the “global war on terror” have posed a huge challenge. The proliferation and fragmentation of non-state armed groups, and the fact that some of them reject the premises of IHL, have posed another. These challenges effectively exposed IHL to some rigorous cross-examination by a wide range of actors, including the ICRC, to see if it really does still stand as an adequate legal framework for the protection of victims of armed conflict.