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HISTORY • Kingdom of Denmark

International humanitarian law is • Second French Empire

founded on the principles of humanity,
impartiality and neutrality. Its roots • Grand Duchy of Hesse
extend to such historic concepts of • Kingdom of Italy
justice as Babylon’s Hammurabic
Code, the Code of Justinian from the • Kingdom of the Netherlands
Byzantine Empire and the Lieber Code
used during the United States Civil War. • Kingdom of Portugal and the Algarves

• Kingdom of Prussia
The development of modern
international humanitarian law is • Kingdom of Spain
credited to the efforts of 19th century
Swiss businessman Henry Dunant. In • Kingdom of Württemberg
1859, Dunant witnessed the aftermath
of a bloody battle between French
and Austrian armies in Solferino, Italy. International humanitarian law (IHL) is
The departing armies left a battlefield a set of rules that seek for humanitarian
littered with wounded and dying men. reasons to limit the effects of armed
Despite Dunant’s valiant efforts to conflict. IHL protects persons who are
mobilize aid for the soldiers, thousands not or who are no longer participating in
died. hostilities and it restricts the means and
methods of warfare. IHL is also known
In “A Memory of Solferino,” his book as the law of war and the law of armed
about the experience, Dunant proposed conflict.
that trained volunteer relief groups
be granted protection during war in A major part of international
order to care for the wounded. A group humanitarian law is contained in the
known as the Committee of Five, four Geneva Conventions of 1949 that
which later became the International have been adopted by all nations in
Committee of the Red Cross, formed the world.
in Geneva in 1863 to act on Dunant’s
suggestion. Dunant also suggested a This agreement became the foundation
formal agreement between nations “for of modern international humanitarian
the relief of the wounded.” law, which now encompasses four
conventions and three additional
Several months later, diplomats from protocols. Collectively, they represent
12 nations, assisted by this committee, modern efforts to protect people in
as well as representatives of military times of armed conflict.
medical services and humanitarian
societies, negotiated a convention PURPOSE
(treaty) containing 10 article These Conventions provide specific
rules to safeguard combatants, or
members of the armed forces, who
• Swiss Confederation are wounded, sick or shipwrecked,
prisoners of war, and civilians, as well
• Grand Duchy of Baden as medical personnel, military chaplains
and civilian support workers of the
• Kingdom of Belgium
The First Geneva Convention Art. 15
The Geneva Convention for the The wounded and sick shall be
Amelioration of the Condition of the protected against pillage and ill
Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in treatment.
the Field of August 12, 1949.
The First Geneva Convention protects Arts. 15-16
soldiers who are hors de combat (out All parties in a conflict must search
of the battle). The 10 articles of the for and collect the wounded and sick,
original 1864 version of the Convention especially after battle, and provide the
have been expanded in the First information concerning them to the
Geneva Convention of 1949 to 64 Central Tracing and Protection Agency
articles that protect the following: of the International Committee of the
• Wounded and sick soldiers Red Cross (ICRC).
• Medical personnel, facilities and
• Wounded and sick civilian support
The Second Geneva Convention
The Geneva Convention for the
personnel accompanying the armed
Amelioration of the Condition of
Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked
• Military chaplains
Members of Armed Forces at Sea of
• Civilians who spontaneously take
August 12, 1949
up arms to repel an invasion
Specific provisions include: The Second Geneva Convention adapts
the protections of the First Geneva
Art. 9 Convention to reflect conditions at
This Convention, like the others, sea. It protects wounded and sick
recognizes the right of the ICRC to combatants while on board ship or
assist the wounded and sick. Red Cross at sea. Its 63 articles apply to the
and Red Crescent national societies, following:
other authorized impartial relief • Armed forces members who are
organizations and neutral governments wounded, sick or shipwrecked
may also provide humanitarian service. • Hospital ships and medical
Local civilians may be asked to care for personnel
the wounded and sick. • Civilians who accompany the armed
Art. 12 Specific provisions include:
The wounded and sick shall be
respected and protected without Arts. 12, 18
discrimination on the basis of sex, race, This Convention mandates that parties
nationality, religion, political beliefs or in battle take all possible measures
other criteria. to search for, collect and care for
the wounded, sick and shipwrecked.
Art. 12 “Shipwrecked” refers to anyone who is
The wounded and sick shall not be adrift for any reason, including those
murdered, exterminated or subjected to forced to land at sea or to parachute
torture or biological experiments. from damaged aircraft.

Art. 15 Art. 14
The wounded and sick shall receive While a warship cannot capture a
adequate care. hospital ship’s medical staff, it can hold
the wounded, sick and shipwrecked as Specific provisions include:
prisoners of war, providing they can be
safely moved and that the warship has Arts. 13-14, 16
the facilities to care for them. Prisoners of war must not be subjected
to torture or medical experimentation
Art. 21 and must be protected against acts of
Appeals can be made to neutral violence, insults and public curiosity.
vessels, including merchant ships and
yachts, to help collect and care for the Art. 17
wounded, sick and shipwrecked. Those POWs are required to provide to their
who agree to help cannot be captured captors only their name, rank, date of
as long as they remain neutral. birth and military service number.

Art. 22 Art. 23
Hospital ships cannot be used for Female POWs must be treated with the
any military purpose. They cannot be regard due their sex.
attacked or captured. The names and
descriptions of hospital ships must be
Arts. 25-27, 30
conveyed to all parties in the conflict.
Captors must not engage in any
reprisals or discriminate on the basis
Arts. 36-37 of race, nationality, religious beliefs,
Religious, medical and hospital political opinions or other criteria.
personnel serving on combat ships
must be respected and protected. If
Arts. 50, 54
captured, they are to be sent back to
POWs must be housed in clean,
their side as soon as possible.
adequate shelter, and receive the food,
clothing and medical care necessary to
The Third Geneva Convention maintain good health. They must not be
The Geneva Convention Relative to held in combat areas where they are
the Treatment of Prisoners of War of exposed to fire, nor can they be used to
August 12, 1949 “shield” areas from military operations.
They may be required to do nonmilitary
The Third Geneva Convention sets
jobs under reasonable working
out specific rules for the treatment
conditions when paid at a fair rate.
of prisoners of war (POWs). The
Convention’s 143 articles require that
POWs be treated humanely, adequately Arts. 70-72, 123
housed and receive sufficient food, Names of prisoners of war must be
clothing and medical care. Its provisions sent immediately to the Central Tracing
also establish guidelines on labor, Agency of the ICRC. POWs are to
discipline, recreation and criminal trial. be allowed to correspond with their
families and receive relief packages.
Note that prisoners of war may include
the following: Arts. 82, 84
• Members of the armed forces Prisoners are subject to the laws of
• Volunteer militia, including their captors and can be tried by their
resistance movements captors’ courts. The captor shall ensure
• Civilians accompanying the armed fairness, impartiality and a competent
forces. advocate for the prisoner.
Arts. 109, 110 Arts. 24, 25
Seriously ill POWs must be repatriated This Convention provides for the care of
(returned home). children who are orphaned or separated
from their families. The ICRC’s Central
Art. 118 Tracing and Protection Agency is also
When the conflict ends, all POWs shall authorized to transmit family news
be released and, if they request, be sent and assist with family reunifications,
home without delay. with the help of Red Cross and Red
Crescent national societies.
Art. 125
The ICRC is granted special rights to Art. 27
carry out humanitarian activities on The safety, honor, family rights, religious
behalf of prisoners of war. The ICRC practices, manners and customs of
or other impartial humanitarian relief civilians are to be respected.
organizations authorized by parties
to the conflict must be permitted to Arts. 33-34
visit with prisoners privately, examine Pillage, reprisals, indiscriminate
conditions of confinement to ensure the destruction of property and the taking
Conventions’ standards are being met of hostages are prohibited.
and distribute relief supplies.
Arts. 33, 49
The Fourth Geneva Convention They are not to be subjected to
The Geneva Convention Relative to the
collective punishment or deportation.
Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of
War of August 12, 1949
Civilians in areas of armed conflict and Art. 40
occupied territories are protected by Civilians cannot be forced to do
the 159 articles of the Fourth Geneva military-related work for an occupying
Convention. force.
Specific provisions include:
Art. 54
Arts. 13, 32 They are to be paid fairly for any
Civilians are to be protected from assigned work.
murder, torture or brutality, and from
discrimination on the basis of race, Art. 55
nationality, religion or political opinion. Occupying powers are to provide food
and medical supplies as necessary to
Art. 14 the population and maintain medical
Hospital and safety zones may be and public health facilities.
established for the wounded, sick, and
aged, children under 15, expectant Arts. 55, 58
mothers and mothers of children under Medical supplies and objects used for
seven. religious worship are to be allowed
Art. 18
Civilian hospitals and their staff are to Art. 59
be protected. When that is not possible, they are to
facilitate relief shipments by impartial
humanitarian organizations such as
the ICRC. Red Cross or other impartial
humanitarian relief organizations
Why is the Geneva
authorized by the parties to the conflict Convention important?
are to be allowed to continue their
What countries are
directly affected by it?
Art. 64
Public officials will be permitted to
continue their duties. Laws of the The four Geneva Conventions
occupied territory will remain in force establish humane rules for the conduct of
unless they present a security threat. war, primarily the treatment of prisoners
and the wounded. Without the Geneva
Arts. 79-135 Convention, if you are taken prisoner by
If security allows, civilians must be the enemy, there would be nothing to stop
permitted to lead normal lives. They are them from mistreating you.
not to be deported or interned—except
for imperative reasons of security. If The four conventions were
internment is necessary, conditions designed to ameliorate the effects of war
should be at least comparable to those on soldiers and civilians, and are closely
set forth for prisoners of war. associated with the work of the
International Red Cross
Arts. 89-91
Internees are to receive adequate
food, clothing and medical care, and
protected from the dangers of war.

Art. 106
Information about internees is to be
sent to the Central Tracing Agency.

Arts. 108, 107

Internees have the right to send
and receive mail and receive relief

Art. 132
Children, pregnant women, mothers
with infants and young children, the
wounded and sick and those who have
been interned for a long time are to be
released as soon as possible.