What are the Geneva Conventions?
The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols are international treaties that contain the most important rules limiting the barbarity of war. They protect people who do not take part in the fighting (civilians, medics, aid workers) and those who can no longer fight (wounded, sick and shipwrecked troops, prisoners of war). The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols are at the core of international humanitarian law, the body of international law that regulates the conduct of armed conflict and seeks to limit its effects. They specifically protect people who are not taking part in the hostilities (civilians, health workers and aid workers) and those who are no longer participating in the hostilities, such as wounded, sick and shipwrecked soldiers and prisoners of war. The Conventions and their Protocols call for measures to be taken to prevent or put an end to all breaches.
The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols is a body of Public International Law, also known as the Humanitarian Law of Armed Conflicts, whose purpose is to provide minimum protections, standards of humane treatment, and fundamental guarantees of respect to individuals who become victims of armed conflicts. The Geneva Conventions are a series of treaties on the treatment of civilians, prisoners of war (POWs) and soldiers who are otherwise rendered hors de combat (French, literally “outside the fight”), or incapable of fighting.
The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols form the basis of modern international humanitarian law, setting out how soldiers and civilians should be treated during the war.
Although they were adopted in 1949, to take account of the experiences of the Second World War, the four Geneva Conventions continue to apply to armed conflicts today.
Two additional protocols were adopted in 1977, which expanded the rules. Then, a third protocol was agreed in 2005, which recognised an additional emblem, the red crystal.
- Protocol I expands protection for the civilian population as well as military and civilian medical workers in international armed conflicts.
- Protocol II elaborates on protections for victims caught up in high-intensity internal conflicts such as civil wars. It does not apply to internal disturbances such as riots, demonstrations and isolated acts of violence.
- In December 2005, a third Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions was adopted that provides for another distinctive emblem: the red crystal. The red crystal is an optional emblem, equal in status to the Red Cross and Red Crescent.
The Geneva Conventions are a series of treaties on the treatment of civilians, prisoners of war (POWs) and soldiers who are otherwise rendered hors de combat (French, literally ‘outside the fight’), or incapable of fighting.
In total, 196 countries have signed and ratified the 1949 conventions over the years, including many that did not participate or sign until decades later. These include Angola, Bangladesh, and Iran.
As of 2010, 170 nations have ratified Protocol I and 165 have ratified Protocol II. Any nation that has ratified the Geneva Conventions but not the protocols are still bound by all provisions of the conventions.
The four Geneva Conventions
Convention I: First Geneva Convention “for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field” (first adopted in 1864, last revision in 1949) protects wounded and infirm soldiers and ensures humane treatment without discrimination founded on race, colour, sex, religion or faith, birth or wealth, etc.
The convention prohibits torture, assaults upon personal dignity, and execution without judgment. It also grants the right to proper medical treatment and care.
Convention II: Second Geneva Convention “for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea” (first adopted in 1949, came after looking over the 1907 Hague Convention X) extended the protections described in the first convention to shipwrecked soldiers and other naval forces, including special protections afforded to hospital ships.
Convention III: Third Geneva Convention “relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War” (started in 1929, last revision in 1949), defined ‘Prisoner of War,’ and accorded such prisoners proper and humane treatment as specified by the first convention.
Specifically, it required POWs to give only their names, ranks, and serial numbers to their captors. Nations party to the convention may not use torture to extract information from POWs.
Convention IV: Under the Fourth Geneva Convention “relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War” (first adopted in 1949, based on parts of the 1907 Hague Convention IV), civilians are afforded the same protections from inhumane treatment and attack afforded to sick and wounded soldiers in the first convention.
Applicability of the Geneva Conventions
- The conventions apply to all cases of declared war between signatory nations.
- The conventions apply to all cases of armed conflict between two or more signatory nations, even in the absence of a declaration of war.
- The conventions apply to a signatory nation even if the opposing nation is not a signatory, but only if the opposing nation ‘accepts and applies the provisions’ of the conventions.
What is International Humanitarian Law?
International humanitarian law (IHL) is a set of international laws that establish what can and can’t be done in an armed conflict.
IHL protects all victims of armed conflicts, including civilians, and combatants who are injured, have been captured or have laid down their arms. All parties to an armed conflict – whether states or organised non-state armed groups – are bound by IHL.
Also known as the laws of war or the law of armed conflict, the best known of these rules are found in the four Geneva Conventions of 1949. The rules of war are universal.
During armed conflict, such rules include:
- Care for the wounded, sick and shipwrecked, regardless of whether they are friends or enemies
- Humane treatment of prisoners
- Protection of civilian persons and property
- Respect for the red cross, red crescent, and red crystal emblems
- Attacking only military targets
- Limiting the use of force
- No physical or moral coercion shall be exercised against protected persons, in particular, to obtain information from them or from third parties
Kashmir and the Fourth Geneva Convention
The Fourth Geneva Convention was established for the protection of civilians in two situations: armed conflict and military occupation.
Article 32 of the Geneva IV prohibits torture against civilians in the occupied territory. It reads as follows, “The High Contracting Parties specifically agree that each of them is prohibited from taking any measure of such a character as to cause the physical suffering or extermination of protected persons in their hands. This prohibition applies not only to murder, torture, corporal punishments … but also to any other measures of brutality by civilian or military agents.”
There are over 700,000 Indian soldiers occupying Kashmir, making it the world’s most densely militarised zone. In May this year, thousands of civilians in Kashmir were summarily arrested and abused by Indian soldiers. Moreover, civilian deaths rose over 200% between 2013 and 2018.
Article 27 of the Geneva IV states: “Protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their persons, their honour, their family rights, their religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs. They shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof and against insults and public curiosity.” India denied local Kashmiris access to the Jamia Masjid, the main mosque in Srinagar, for Jummah and even Eid prayers.
Article 49 of the Geneva IV says, “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” After revoking Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, India has not only stripped the Kashmiris of their autonomy, but also paved the way for Indians to buy property and make investments in Kashmir.