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Significance of the Geneva Conventions for the contemporary world

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 April 2010

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Copyright © International Committee of the Red Cross 1999

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References

1 The four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 for the protection of war victims have been ratified by 188 States, the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989 by 191 States. In comparison, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966 has 142 ratifications, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights has 144. Protocol I additional to the Geneva Conventions of 13 August 1949, and relating to the protection of victims of international armed conflicts, of 8 June 1977, has been ratified by 154 States, and Protocol II additional to the Geneva Conventions of 13 August 1949, and relating to the protection of victims of non-international armed conflicts, by 147 States. The United Nations has 188 member States. (Status in September 1999.)

2 The Geneva Conventions were adopted on 12 August 1949, the Universal Declaration on 10 December 1948.

3 Article 7 of the First, Second and Third Conventions, Article 8 of the Fourth Convention.

4 The Annual Report of the ICRC for 1953 was the first one to use the term “international humanitarian law”.

5 Draft Rules for the Limitation of the Dangers Incurred by the Civilian Population in Time of War, 2d ed., ICRC, 1958. Reprinted in Schindler, D./Toman, J. (eds.), The Laws of Armed Conflicts, 3d ed., Martinus Nijhoff Publishers/Henry Dunant Institute, Dordrecht/Geneva, 1958, No. 28, p. 251Google Scholar(4th edition to appear in 2000).

6 International Conference on Human Rights (Teheran), Resolution XXIII of 12 May 1968, reprinted in Schindler, /Toman, , op. cit. (note 5), No. 30, p. 261.Google Scholar

7 United Nations General Assembly, Resolution 2444 (XXIII) of 19 December 1968, reprinted in Schindler, /Toman, , op. cit. (note 5), No. 31, p. 263.Google Scholar

8 Kalshoven, Frits, Constraints on the Waging of War, ICRC, Geneva, 1987, pp. 22/23.Google Scholar

9 Adopted by UN General Assembly Resolution 31/72 of 10 December 1976, reprinted in Schindler, /Toman, , op. cit. (note 5), No. 18, p. 163.Google Scholar

10 Adopted on 10 October 1980, reprinted in Schindler, /Toman, , op. cit. (note 5), No. 20, p. 179.Google Scholar

11 See esp. UN Security Council Resolution 794 (1992) on Somalia, Resolution 929 (1994) on Rwanda, but also Resolution 770 (1992) on Bosnia and Herzegovina. See also Resolution 1244 (1999) on Kosovo. In its resolutions on the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, the Security Council also determined that “widespread violations of international humanitarian law (…) constitute a threat to international peace and security” (Resolutions 808 (1993) and 827 (1993) on Yugoslavia, Resolution 955 (1994) on Rwanda).

12 This is the wording of paragraph 12 of the preamble to the Resolution of the Institut de Droit international on “The application of international humanitarian law and fundamental human rights in armed conflicts in which non-State entities are parties”, adopted on 25 August 1999, to be published in Annuaire de l'Institut de Droit international, Vol. 6811.Google Scholar Bothe rightly stated that Security Council action in such cases is based on the assumption that respect for international humanitarian law is a precondition for the restoration of a just peace: Bothe, Michael, “The United Nations actions for the respect of international humanitarian law and the coordination of related international operations”, in Condorelli, L., La Rosa, A-M, Scherrer, S. (eds.), The United Nations and International Humanitarian Law, Geneva, 1995, p. 226Google Scholar; similarly Luigi Condorelli, ibid., p. 462.

ibid.

13 Security Council Resolution 827 (1993) establishing the International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia since 1991, and Resolution 955 (1994) establishing the International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Genocide and Other Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of Rwanda and Rwandan Citizens Responsible for Genocide and Other Such Violations Committed in the Territory of Neighbouring States, between 1 January 1994 and 31 December 1994.

14 Reproduced in Yearbook 1995 of the Tribunal, p. 54 ff., esp. paras 96–137. See also Meron, Theodor, “International criminalization of internal atrocities”, American Journal of International Law, Vol. 89, 1995, pp. 554577Google Scholar; Meron, , “The continuing role of custom in the formation of international humanitarian law”, AJIL, Vol. 90, 1996, pp. 238249Google Scholar; Bretton, Philippe, “Actualité du droit international humanitaire dans les conflits armés”, Mélanges offerts à Hubert Thierry, Paris, 1998, pp. 57 ff.Google Scholar, 60–64; Greenwood, Christopher, “The development of international humanitarian law by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia”, Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law, Vol. 2, 1998, pp. 97 ff.Google Scholar, esp. 128–133; Greenwood, Christopher, International Humanitarian Law (Law of War), Revised Report for the Centennial Commemoration of the First Hague Peace Conference 1899, May 1999, 6276Google Scholar; Domestici-Met, Marie-José, “Cent ans après La Haye, cinquante ans après Genève: le droit international humanitaire au temps de la guerre civile”, RICR, No. 834, June 1999, pp. 277 ff.Google Scholar, esp. pp. 288–291.

15 Resolution 2444 (XXIII), loc. cit. (note 7).

16 UN General Assembly Resolution 2675 (XXV): “Basic Principles for the Protection of Civilian Populations in Armed Conflicts”, adopted on 9 December 1970.

17 See, e.g., Security Council Resolution 771 (1992), paras 1–3, on Bosnia and Herzegovina; Resolution 794 (1992), para. 4, and Resolution 814 B (1993), para. 13, on Somalia. It must be mentioned, however, that the Security Council has a broad concept of international humanitarian law: the Statutes of the two International Criminal Tribunals include genocide and crimes against humanity in the realm of international humanitarian law.

18 This is the case of the two new Protocols to the 1980 Weapons Convention: Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices as amended on 3 May 1996 (Protocol II), and Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons (Protocol IV), adopted on 13 October 1995, as well as for the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, of 18 September 1997. The latter is to be observed also in the absence of any armed conflict.

19 Thus, for instance, the law relating to prisoners of war and to occupied territories could not as such be applied in internal conflicts. In the same sense the 1995 Tadic decision of the International Tribunal, toc. cit. (note 14), para. 126.

20 Ibid., paras 96–137.

Ibid.

21 I.C.J. Reports 1996, pp. 256–259, paras 75–84.

22 See Dieng, Adama, “La mise en œuvre du droit international humanitaire: Les infractions et les sanctions”, in Law in Humanitarian Crises, European Commission, Luxembourg, 1995, Vol. I, pp. 311 ff.Google Scholar, esp. pp. 350–358.

23 Loc. cit. (note 21), p. 257, para. 79. In para. 83, the Court states that in the case under examination there was no need for the Court to pronounce on the question whether these principles are part of/us cogens.

24 See note 18.

Ibid.

26 UNESCO Doc. HC/1999/7 and ILM 38/4 (July 1999). P. 769.

27 United Nations, ST/SGB/1999/13 of 6 August 1999. See also infra, p. 795.

28 IRRC, No. 278, September-October 1990, p. 404.

29 IRRC, No. 282, May-June 1991, p. 330.

30 Grotius Publications, Cambridge University Press, 1995.

31 See Oeter, Stefan, “Civil war, humanitarian law and the United Nations”, Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law, Vol. 1, 1997, pp. 195 ff.Google Scholar, esp. pp. 214–215.

32 See Holleufer, Gilbert, “Peut-on célébrer le 50s anniversaire des Conventions de Genève?”, IRRC, Vol. 833, March 1999, p. 135.Google Scholar The final results of the survey had not yet been published at the time of writing this report.

33 Forsythe points to the clash between glob-alism and “romantic (and dangerous) particularism”: see Forsythe, David, “1949 and 1999: Making the Geneva Conventions relevant after the Cold War”, IRRC, No. 834, June 1999, pp. 267/8.Google Scholar Roberts and, similarly, Dieng, refer to fears in post-colonial States that increased diplomatic attention paid to international humanitarian standards could lead to interventions and to a new form of colonialism: Roberts, Adam, “The laws of war: Problems of implementation in contemporary conflicts”, in Law in Humanitarian Crises, European Commission, Luxembourg, 1995. PP. 79/80Google Scholar, and Dieng, Adama, op. cit. (note 22), p. 363.Google Scholar

34 These and other measures were recommended in the Final Declaration of the International Conference for the Protection of War Victims of 1993 and in Resolution 1 of the 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent of 1995, see IRRC, No. 310, January-February 1996, pp. 58 and 79 respectively.

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