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Summary of the Geneva Conventions

of 1949 and Their Additional Protocols

International Humanitarian Law April 2011

Overview: Protecting the Byzantine Empire and the Lieber Code The Red Cross
Vulnerable in War used during the United States Civil War. and International
International humanitarian law (IHL) is
The development of modern Humanitarian Law
a set of rules that seek for humanitarian
international humanitarian law is The Red Cross and the Geneva
reasons to limit the effects of armed
credited to the efforts of 19th century Conventions were born when Henry
conflict. IHL protects persons who are Dunant witnessed the devastating
Swiss businessman Henry Dunant. In
not or who are no longer participating in consequences of war at a battlefield
1859, Dunant witnessed the aftermath
hostilities and it restricts the means and in Italy. In the aftermath of that battle,
of a bloody battle between French
methods of warfare. IHL is also known Dunant argued successfully for the
and Austrian armies in Solferino, Italy. creation of a civilian relief corps to
as the law of war and the law of armed
The departing armies left a battlefield respond to human suffering during
littered with wounded and dying men. conflict, and for rules to set limits on
A major part of international Despite Dunant’s valiant efforts to how war is waged.
humanitarian law is contained in the mobilize aid for the soldiers, thousands Inspired in part by her work in the
four Geneva Conventions of 1949 that died. Civil War, Clara Barton would later
have been adopted by all nations in found the American Red Cross and
In “A Memory of Solferino,” his book also advocate for the U.S. ratification
the world. The Conventions have been
about the experience, Dunant proposed of the first Geneva Convention.
expanded and supplemented by two
that trained volunteer relief groups
further agreements: the Additional
be granted protection during war in
Protocols of 1977, relating to the
order to care for the wounded. A group
protection of victims of armed conflicts,
known as the Committee of Five,
and the 2005 Additional Protocol III,
which later became the International
relating to the adoption of an additional
Committee of the Red Cross, formed
distinctive emblem.
in Geneva in 1863 to act on Dunant’s
These Conventions provide specific suggestion. Dunant also suggested a
rules to safeguard combatants, or formal agreement between nations “for
members of the armed forces, who the relief of the wounded.”
are wounded, sick or shipwrecked,
Several months later, diplomats from

Polish Red Cross

prisoners of war, and civilians, as well
16 nations, assisted by this committee,
as medical personnel, military chaplains
as well as representatives of military
and civilian support workers of the
medical services and humanitarian
societies, negotiated a convention
(treaty) containing 10 articles specifying
History of International that: To Learn More
Humanitarian Law To learn more about international
International humanitarian law is • Ambulances, military hospitals, and humanitarian law, and find opportunities
founded on the principles of humanity, the personnel serving with them to promote these rules through the
impartiality and neutrality. Its roots are to be recognized as neutral and free curriculum Exploring Humanitarian
Law, visit Ask
extend to such historic concepts of protected during conflict;
your local Red Cross chapter for more
justice as Babylon’s Hammurabic • Citizens who assist the wounded information about IHL classes.
Code, the Code of Justinian from the are to be protected;

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Summary of the Geneva Conventions of 1949
and Their Additional Protocols
International Humanitarian Law April 2011

• Wounded or sick combatants are to “enact any legislation necessary to Local civilians may be asked to care for
be collected and cared for by either provide effective penal sanctions for the wounded and sick.
side in a conflict; and persons committing or ordering to be
Art. 12
• The symbol of a red cross on a committed any of the grave breaches
The wounded and sick shall be
white background (the reverse (violations)” of the Conventions.
respected and protected without
of the Swiss flag in honor of the
The following pages provide a basic discrimination on the basis of sex, race,
origin of this initiative) will serve
overview of the Conventions and nationality, religion, political beliefs or
as a protective emblem to identify
Protocols and a quick reference to other criteria.
medical personnel, equipment, and
the legal text of the treaties. For a
facilities. Art. 12
comprehensive listing of all legal
The wounded and sick shall not be
provisions, please refer to the actual
Known as the Geneva Convention, this murdered, exterminated or subjected to
treaty documents.
agreement became the foundation torture or biological experiments.
of modern international humanitarian The First Geneva Convention
Art. 15
law, which now encompasses four The Geneva Convention for the
The wounded and sick shall receive
conventions and three additional Amelioration of the Condition of the
adequate care.
protocols. Collectively, they represent Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in
modern efforts to protect people in the Field of August 12, 1949. Art. 15
times of armed conflict. The First Geneva Convention protects The wounded and sick shall be
soldiers who are hors de combat (out protected against pillage and ill
The Geneva Conventions of the battle). The 10 articles of the treatment.
of 1949 and Their original 1864 version of the Convention
Arts. 15-16
Additional Protocols have been expanded in the First
All parties in a conflict must search
In 1949, an international conference of Geneva Convention of 1949 to 64
for and collect the wounded and sick,
diplomats built on the earlier treaties articles that protect the following:
especially after battle, and provide the
for the protection of war victims,
• Wounded and sick soldiers information concerning them to the
revising and updating them into four
• Medical personnel, facilities and Central Tracing and Protection Agency
new conventions comprising 429
equipment of the International Committee of the
articles of law—known as the Geneva
• Wounded and sick civilian support Red Cross (ICRC).
Conventions of August 12, 1949. The
personnel accompanying the armed
Additional Protocols of 1977 and 2005 The Second Geneva Convention
supplement the Geneva Conventions. The Geneva Convention for the
• Military chaplains
Amelioration of the Condition of
The Geneva Conventions apply in all • Civilians who spontaneously take
Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked
cases of declared war, or in any other up arms to repel an invasion
Members of Armed Forces at Sea of
armed conflict between nations. They
August 12, 1949
also apply in cases where a nation is Specific provisions include:
partially or totally occupied by soldiers The Second Geneva Convention adapts
Art. 9
of another nation, even when there is the protections of the First Geneva
This Convention, like the others,
no armed resistance to that occupation. Convention to reflect conditions at
recognizes the right of the ICRC to
sea. It protects wounded and sick
Nations that ratify the Geneva assist the wounded and sick. Red Cross
combatants while on board ship or
Conventions must abide by certain and Red Crescent national societies,
at sea. Its 63 articles apply to the
humanitarian principles and impose other authorized impartial relief
legal sanctions against those who organizations and neutral governments
violate them. Ratifying nations must may also provide humanitarian service. • Armed forces members who are 2
Summary of the Geneva Conventions of 1949
and Their Additional Protocols
International Humanitarian Law April 2011

wounded, sick or shipwrecked The Third Geneva Convention Arts. 50, 54

• Hospital ships and medical The Geneva Convention Relative to POWs must be housed in clean,
personnel the Treatment of Prisoners of War of adequate shelter, and receive the food,
• Civilians who accompany the armed August 12, 1949 clothing and medical care necessary to
forces maintain good health. They must not be
The Third Geneva Convention sets
held in combat areas where they are
Specific provisions include: out specific rules for the treatment
exposed to fire, nor can they be used to
of prisoners of war (POWs). The
Arts. 12, 18 “shield” areas from military operations.
Convention’s 143 articles require that
This Convention mandates that parties They may be required to do non-
POWs be treated humanely, adequately
in battle take all possible measures military jobs under reasonable working
housed and receive sufficient food,
to search for, collect and care for conditions when paid at a fair rate.
clothing and medical care. Its provisions
the wounded, sick and shipwrecked.
also establish guidelines on labor, Arts. 70-72, 123
“Shipwrecked” refers to anyone who is
discipline, recreation and criminal trial. Names of prisoners of war must be
adrift for any reason, including those
Note that prisoners of war may include sent immediately to the Central Tracing
forced to land at sea or to parachute
the following: Agency of the ICRC. POWs are to
from damaged aircraft.
be allowed to correspond with their
• Members of the armed forces
Art. 14 families and receive relief packages.
• Volunteer militia, including
While a warship cannot capture a
resistance movements Arts. 82, 84
hospital ship’s medical staff, it can hold
• Civilians accompanying the armed Prisoners are subject to the laws of
the wounded, sick and shipwrecked as
forces. their captors and can be tried by their
prisoners of war, providing they can be
captors’ courts. The captor shall ensure
safely moved and that the warship has Specific provisions include:
fairness, impartiality and a competent
the facilities to care for them.
Arts. 13-14, 16 advocate for the prisoner.
Art. 21 Prisoners of war must not be subjected
Arts. 109, 110
Appeals can be made to neutral to torture or medical experimentation
Seriously ill POWs must be repatriated
vessels, including merchant ships and and must be protected against acts of
(returned home).
yachts, to help collect and care for the violence, insults and public curiosity.
wounded, sick and shipwrecked. Those Art. 118
Art. 17
who agree to help cannot be captured When the conflict ends, all POWs shall
POWs are required to provide to their
as long as they remain neutral. be released and, if they request, be sent
captors only their name, rank, date of
home without delay.
Art. 22 birth and military service number.
Hospital ships cannot be used for Art. 125
Art. 23
any military purpose. They cannot be The ICRC is granted special rights to
Female POWs must be treated with the
attacked or captured. The names and carry out humanitarian activities on
regard due their sex.
descriptions of hospital ships must be behalf of prisoners of war. The ICRC
conveyed to all parties in the conflict. Arts. 25-27, 30 or other impartial humanitarian relief
Captors must not engage in any organizations authorized by parties
Arts. 36-37
reprisals or discriminate on the basis to the conflict must be permitted to
Religious, medical and hospital
of race, nationality, religious beliefs, visit with prisoners privately, examine
personnel serving on combat ships
political opinions or other criteria. conditions of confinement to ensure the
must be respected and protected. If
Conventions’ standards are being met
captured, they are to be sent back to
and distribute relief supplies.
their side as soon as possible. 3
Summary of the Geneva Conventions of 1949
and Their Additional Protocols
International Humanitarian Law April 2011

The Fourth Geneva Convention Arts. 33, 49 Arts. 89-91

The Geneva Convention Relative to the They are not to be subjected to Internees are to receive adequate
Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of collective punishment or deportation. food, clothing and medical care, and
War of August 12, 1949 protected from the dangers of war.
Art. 40
Civilians in areas of armed conflict and Civilians cannot be forced to do Art. 106
occupied territories are protected by military-related work for an occupying Information about internees is to be
the 159 articles of the Fourth Geneva force. sent to the Central Tracing Agency.
Art. 54 Arts. 108, 107
Specific provisions include: They are to be paid fairly for any Internees have the right to send
assigned work. and receive mail and receive relief
Arts. 13, 32
Civilians are to be protected from Art. 55
murder, torture or brutality, and from Occupying powers are to provide food Art. 132
discrimination on the basis of race, and medical supplies as necessary to Children, pregnant women, mothers
nationality, religion or political opinion. the population and maintain medical with infants and young children, the
and public health facilities. wounded and sick and those who have
Art. 14
been interned for a long time are to be
Hospital and safety zones may be Arts. 55, 58
released as soon as possible.
established for the wounded, sick, and Medical supplies and objects used for
aged, children under 15, expectant religious worship are to be allowed Common Article 3
mothers and mothers of children under passage. All four Geneva Conventions contain
seven. an identical Article 3, extending
Art. 59
general coverage to “conflicts not of an
Art. 18 When that is not possible, they are to
international character.”
Civilian hospitals and their staff are to facilitate relief shipments by impartial
be protected. humanitarian organizations such as In the case of armed conflict not of an
the ICRC. Red Cross or other impartial international character occurring in the
Arts. 24, 25
humanitarian relief organizations territory of one of the High Contracting
This Convention provides for the care of
authorized by the parties to the conflict Parties, each Party to the conflict shall
children who are orphaned or separated
are to be allowed to continue their be bound to apply, as a minimum, the
from their families. The ICRC’s Central
activities. following provisions:
Tracing and Protection Agency is also
authorized to transmit family news Art. 64 1. Persons taking no active part in
and assist with family reunifications, Public officials will be permitted to the hostilities, including members
with the help of Red Cross and Red continue their duties. Laws of the of the armed forces who have
Crescent national societies. occupied territory will remain in force laid down their arms and those
unless they present a security threat. placed hors de combat (out of
Art. 27
the fight) by sickness, wounds,
The safety, honor, family rights, religious Arts. 79-135
detention, or any other cause, shall
practices, manners and customs of If security allows, civilians must be
in all circumstances be treated
civilians are to be respected. permitted to lead normal lives. They are
humanely, without any adverse
not to be deported or interned—except
Arts. 33-34 distinction founded on race,
for imperative reasons of security. If
Pillage, reprisals, indiscriminate color, religion or faith, sex, birth or
internment is necessary, conditions
destruction of property and the taking wealth, or any other similar criteria.
should be at least comparable to those
of hostages are prohibited.
set forth for prisoners of war. 4
Summary of the Geneva Conventions of 1949
and Their Additional Protocols
International Humanitarian Law April 2011

To this end, the following acts are and The Protocols Additional to Art. 35
shall remain prohibited at any time and the Geneva Conventions of Use of weapons that “cause
in any place whatsoever with respect to 1949 superfluous injury or unnecessary
the above-mentioned persons: In 1977, two Protocols supplementary suffering,” as well as means of warfare
to the Geneva Conventions were that “cause widespread, long-term,
(a) Violence to life and person, in
adopted by an international diplomatic and severe damage to the natural
particular murder of all kinds, mutilation,
conference to give greater protection to environment” are prohibited.
cruel treatment and torture;
victims of both international and internal
Arts. 43-44
(b) Taking of hostages; armed conflicts.
Protocol I seeks to clarify the military
(c) Outrages upon personal dignity, in As of 2010, 170 nations have ratified status of members of guerrilla forces
particular, humiliating and degrading Protocol I and 165 have ratified in the following manner: It includes
treatment; Protocol II. Any nation that has ratified provisions granting combatant and
the Geneva Conventions but not the prisoner of war status to members
(d) The passing of sentences and the
Protocols is still bound by all provisions of dissident forces when under the
carrying out of executions without
of the Conventions. command of a central authority. Such
previous judgment pronounced by a
combatants cannot conceal their
regularly constituted court, affording Protocol I (102 Articles)
allegiance; they must be recognizable
all the judicial guarantees which are Protocol additional to the Geneva
as combatants while preparing for or
recognized as indispensable by civilized Conventions of 12 August 1949, and
during an attack.
peoples. Relating to the Protection of Victims of
International Armed Conflicts Arts. 51, 54
2. The wounded, sick and It outlaws indiscriminate attacks on
Protocol I expands protection for
shipwrecked shall be collected civilian populations and destruction of
the civilian population as well as
and cared for. food, water and other materials needed
military and civilian medical workers in
for survival.
An impartial humanitarian body, such international armed conflicts.
as the International Committee of the Arts. 56, 53
Specific provisions include:
Red Cross, may offer its services to the Dams, dikes and nuclear generating
Parties to the conflict. The Parties to Arts. 15, 79, Arts. 76-77 stations may not be attacked, nor can
the conflict should further endeavor to Special protections are provided for cultural objects and places of worship.
bring into force, by means of special women, children and civilian medical
Art. 77
agreements, all or part of the other personnel, and measures of protection
Recruitment of children under age 15
provisions of the present Convention. for journalists are specified.
into the armed forces is forbidden.
The application of the preceding
Arts. 17, 81
provisions shall not affect the legal Art. 85
The ICRC, national societies or other
status of the Parties to the conflict. It is a war crime to use one of the
impartial humanitarian organizations
protective emblems recognized by the
authorized by parties to the conflict
Geneva Conventions to deceive the
must be permitted to provide
opposing forces or to use other forms
of treachery. 5
Summary of the Geneva Conventions of 1949
and Their Additional Protocols
International Humanitarian Law April 2011

Protocol II (28 Articles) Art. 4 Protocol III

Protocol additional to the Geneva Children are to be evacuated to safe Protocol additional to the Geneva
Conventions of 12 August 1949, and areas when possible and reunited with Conventions of 12 August 1949, and
Relating to the Protection of Victims of their families. Relating to the Adoption of an Additional
Non-International Armed Conflicts Distinctive Emblem
Art. 5
Protocol II elaborates on protections Persons interned or detained during In December 2005, a third Additional
for victims caught up in high-intensity internal conflicts are assured of the Protocol to the Geneva Conventions
internal conflicts such as civil wars. same humane treatment as specified was adopted that provides for another
It does not apply to such internal by the Geneva Conventions. distinctive emblem: the red crystal.
disturbances as riots, demonstrations
Art. 7, 9 The red crystal is an optional emblem,
and isolated acts of violence. Protocol II
Strengthens protection of the wounded, equal in status to the red cross and red
expands and complements the non-
sick and shipwrecked as well as crescent. The red crystal may be used
international protections contained in
medical and religious personnel. in environments where another emblem
Article 3 common to all four Geneva
could be perceived as having religious,
Conventions of 1949. Arts. 10-11, Arts. 13-14, Art. 16
cultural or political connotations.
Attacks are forbidden on civilians and
Specific provisions include:
on “objects indispensable to civilian
Art. 4 survival” such as crops, irrigation
Persons who do not take a direct part systems or drinking water sources,
or who have ceased to take part in cultural objects, and places of worship.
hostilities are entitled to respect. In all
Art. 18
circumstances, they are to be treated
Impartial humanitarian relief
humanely. Protocol II specifically
organizations, such as the ICRC,
prohibits violence to the life, health
are to be permitted to continue their
and physical or mental well-being of
humanitarian services.
people. In particular, it prohibits acts of
murder and cruel treatment, terrorism,
hostage-taking, slavery, outrages on
personal dignity, collective punishment
and pillage. These protections are
considered fundamental guarantees for
all persons. 6
Summary of the Geneva Conventions of 1949
and Their Additional Protocols
International Humanitarian Law April 2011

The Emblems Under conference in 1929, although the red also used to identify the programs and
International Humanitarian lion and sun is no longer in use. In activities of the Red Cross and Red
Law December 2005, governments adopted Crescent national societies.
Those drafting the Geneva Convention the Third Additional Protocol adding the
Widespread understanding and
of 1864 foresaw the need for a red crystal.
acceptance of these humanitarian
universal symbol of protection easily
Under the Geneva Conventions, the emblems is crucial to saving lives and
recognizable on the battlefield. In honor
three distinctive emblems of the red alleviating suffering.
of the origin of this initiative, the symbol
cross, red crescent and red crystal are
of a red cross on a white background
intended to identify and protect medical
(the reverse of the Swiss flag) was
and relief workers, military and civilian
identified as a protective emblem in
medical facilities, mobile units and
conflict areas. The red crescent and
hospital ships during armed conflict.
red lion and sun emblems were later
More generally, these emblems are
recognized by nations at a diplomatic

May Be Used Protectively or Indicatively

Red Cross Red Crescent Red Crystal

May Be Used Indicatively

Red Shield of David 7