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The New Geneva Conventions for the Protection of War Victims

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 April 2017

Jean S. Pictet
Affiliation:
International Committee of the Red Cross

Abstract

The Geneva Conventions are the basis on which rest the rules of international law for the protection of the victims of armed conflicts.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © American Society of International Law 1951

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References

1 The International Committee, the direct successor of the Committee of Five (Dunant, Dufour, Moynier, Appia and Maunoir) who founded the Red Cross, comprises twenty-five Swiss citizens at most, who are elected by co-optation. In time of war the Committee acts as a neutral and independent intermediary between belligerents. During the recent war the Committee directed large-scale relief activities. The following figures will give some idea of the scope of its work: more than four thousand enrolled assistants; eleven thousand visits paid to prisoners of war camps; twenty-five million civilian postal messages dispatched; relief valued at three thousand million Swiss francs forwarded to prisoners of war alone.

2 The International Red Cross Conference is attended by representatives of the national and international Red Cross institutions and of governments; it is the supreme legislative authority of the Red Cross. It is convened, in principle, every four years. Such conferences have taken place in Geneva (1864), Paris (1867), Berlin (1869), Geneva (1884), Carlsruhe (1887), Eome (1892), Vienna (1897), St. Petersburg (1902), London (1907), Washington (1912), Geneva (1921, 1923, 1925), The Hague (1928), Brussels (1930), Tokyo (1934), London (1938), Stockholm (1948). The Minutes of the International Red Cross Conferences are as a rule issued in French by the Red Cross society of the country in which the meeting is held.

3 A diplomatic conference is a meeting of representatives of states empowered to conclude an international convention.

4 U. S. Treaty Series, No. 846; this JOURNAL, Supp., Vol. 27 (1933), p. 59.

5 See Report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on its Activities during the Second World War (September 1, 1939-June 30, 1947) (3 vols., Geneva, May, 1948, pp. 736, 320, 539, in English, French and Spanish). Further reports on the International Committee for the period July 1, 1947-Dec. 31, 1948, and the year 1949 have appeared.

6 A Protecting Power is a neutral country which undertakes, in time of war, to look after the interests of a belligerent in an enemy country. In the course of their duties the Protecting Powers carry out welfare work which is often similar to that of the International Committee, since it comprises in particular the visiting of prisoner-of-war camps. During the second World War, Switzerland played a very important part as a Protecting Power.

7 Prisoners of war are authorized to appoint representatives or spokesmen to act on their behalf with the authorities, to receive and allocate and distribute collective relief consignments and so forth.

8 Those members, at least, who were in Switzerland. The 1929 Prisoners of War Convention instituted the said Commissions, each to consist of two neutral medical practitioners and one belonging to the Detained Power. On the basis of a schedule of diseases and wounds included in the Model Draft Agreement annexed to the Convention, the Mixed Medical Commissions decide whether prisoners are eligible for repatriation. The neutral members of these Commissions are appointed by the International Committee or by the Swiss Government; during the war, they were nearly all of Swiss nationality.

9 See Report on the Work of the Conference of Government Experts for the Study of the Conventions for the Protection of War Victims (Geneva, April 14-26, 1947) (Geneva: International Committee of the Red Cross, 1947, pp. 332).

10 Draft Revised or New Conventions for the Protection of War Victims (Geneva: International Committee of the Red Cross, 1948, pp. 245).

11 See Revised and New Draft Conventions for the Protection of War Victims. Texts approved and amended by the XVIIth International Red Cross Conference (Revised Translation). (Geneva: International Committee of the Red Cross, 1948, pp. 171); Remarks and Proposals submitted by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Document for the consideration of Governments invited by the Swiss Federal Council to attend the Diplomatic Conference at Geneva (April 21, 1949) (Geneva: International Committee of the Red Cross, February, 1949, pp. 95).

12 The French and English texts (both versions are equally authentic) adopted by the Geneva Diplomatic Conference on Aug. 12, 1949, have been printed and circulated to the signatory governments by the Swiss Federal Government. The same authority is issuing translations into Spanish and Russian under Article 55 of the First Convention. The following reprint of the four conventions has been issued by the International Committee: The Geneva Conventions of Aug. 12, 1949 (Geneva: International Committee of the Red Cross, 1949, pp. 249, 5 Swiss Fr.). The text of the Conventions has also been published in U. S. Dept. of State Pub. No. 3938 (General Foreign Policy Series 34, Aug. 1950, $1.00). The Final Record of the Geneva Diplomatic Conference of 1949 (3 vols.) is in course of publication by the Swiss Federal Government.

13 For texts of early conventions see Recueil général des lois et coutumes de la guerre terrestre, maritime, sous-marine et aérienne, d’après les Actes élaborés par les Conférences internationales depuis 1856. Documents recueillis et annotés par M. Marcel Deltenre (Bruxelles: 1943, pp. 885, in French, Dutch, German and English) ; Manuel de la Croix-Rouge Internationale. Conventions—Statuts et règlements. Résolutions des Conférences internationales et des Assemblées de la Ligue (Geneva: Comité international de la Croix-Rouge, Ligue des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge, 1942, 8th ed., pp. 561, in French only). A ninth edition, which will appear also in English and Spanish, is in preparation. See also The Hague Conventions and Declarations of 1899 and 1907 (James Brown Scott, ed., New York: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1925, pp. 303).

14 See Herbert C. Fooks, Prisoners of War (Federalsburg, Md.: Stowell Printing Co., 1924, pp. 456); Gustav Rasmussen, Code des Prisonniers de guerre. Commentaire de la Convention du 27 juillet 1929 (Copenhagen: Levin & Munksgaard, 1931, pp. 147); William E. S. Flory, Prisoners of War. A Study in the Development of International Law (Washington: American Council on Public Affairs, 1942, pp. 199).

15 Max Huber, Address to the Preliminary Red Cross Conference, Geneva, 1946.

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