War is a calamity and favors no one. But, before the 18th century, war was much more damaging due to the lack of any international rules and regulations. Getting killed in battle was far better than being caught by the enemy. Prisoners of War, as they call them today, were subject to unimaginable cruelty ranging from execution to torture and other extremities. Meanwhile, there were limited facilities for the sick and wounded thereby increasing the fatality rate. Realizing the negative impacts of war on prisoners and the wounded, a series of treaties were signed which came to be called the Geneva Conventions.
Geneva Convention can be defined as rules that are applicable in times of armed conflict. These rules aim to protect people who are not a part or no longer taking part in hostilities. These people are the wounded and sick soldiers on the battlefield, members of the armed forces at sea who are shipwrecked, wounded or are sick, prisoners of war and even civilians.
The entire set, which includes the two Geneva Conventions that have been revised and adopted and the addition of the second and fourth in 1949, is called the Geneva Conventions or the Geneva Conventions of 1949. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 is the only one to be called First, Second, Third or Fourth Geneva Convention. 196 countries have either in whole or with reservations ratified the treaties of 1949.
The origins of the Geneva Conventions can be credited to Henry Dunant, a Swiss businessman. In 1859, Dunant visited the wounded soldiers following the Battle of Solferino. He encountered depressing scenes as there were no medical facilities or personnel to assist the wounded soldiers. This propelled Dunant to author a book A Memory of Solferino, which was published in 1862. He laid down two proposals, which would help minimize the effects of the wars. One was the establishment of a permanent relief agency. This agency was to provide humanitarian aid in war times. The other was a government treaty. This treaty recognized the neutrality of the agency and permit it to provide aid in the region affected by war. These two proposals had a lasting effect. As per the former, the Red Cross was established in Geneva and the latter led to the establishment of the 1864 Geneva Convention. In 1901 Dunant was awarded the first Nobel Peace Prize for initiating the Geneva Convention and founding the Red Cross.
The Four Geneva Conventions
The first Geneva convention of 1864 dealt with the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field. In 1906, 1929 and 1949, the treaty witnessed significant revision.
The second Geneva convention was regarding the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea.
The Third Geneva Convention related to the treatment of the Prisoners of War and defines humanitarian protection for the POWs. This was adopted in 1929 and revised in 1949. currently, the Convention has 196 state parties.
The Fourth Geneva Convention was different from the first three conventions. While, the three earlier conventions dealt with combatants, the fourth was aimed at the protection of civilians in a war zone.
The 1949 Protocol has been modified over the years with three protocols. The first two were modified in 1977 and the third in 2005. Protocol 1 (1977) and Protocol II (1977) dealt with Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts and Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts, respectively. The Protocol III (2005) was related to Adoption of an Additional Distinctive Emblem.
The Geneva Convention documents are long, but inadequate. The nature of armed conflicts has undergone a significant change since the Cold War. The world is witnessing an increase in armed conflicts and civil wars and as compared to earlier times, wars now are resulting in a higher civilian toll. Because of this, an update to the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 was required. Thus, two protocols that were adopted in 1977, extended the terms of the 1949 conventions by listing some additional protections. A third brief protocol was added in 2005.