The Geneva Conventions

The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols form the core of international humanitarian law, which regulates the conduct of armed conflict and seeks to limit its effects. They protect people not taking part in hostilities and those who are no longer doing so.1

The first Geneva Convention protects wounded and sick soldiers on land during war. It contains 64 articles. These provide protection for the wounded and sick, but also for medical and religious personnel, medical units and medical transports.

The second Geneva Convention protects wounded, sick and shipwrecked military personnel at sea during war. It has 63 articles specifically applicable to war at sea. For example, it protects hospital ships. It has one annex containing a model identity card for medical and religious personnel.

The third Geneva Convention applies to prisoners of war. The Convention establishes the principle that prisoners of war shall be released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities. The Convention has five annexes containing various model regulations and identity and other cards.

The fourth Geneva Convention affords protection to civilians, including in occupied territory. It is composed of 159 articles. It contains a short section concerning the general protection of populations against certain consequences of war, without addressing the conduct of hostilities, as such, which was later examined in the Additional Protocols of 1977. The bulk of the Convention deals with the status and treatment of protected persons, distinguishing between the situation of foreigners on the territory of one of the parties to the conflict and that of civilians in occupied territory. It spells out the obligations of the Occupying Power vis-à-vis the civilian population and contains detailed provisions on humanitarian relief for populations in occupied territory.

The Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions strengthen the protection of victims of international (Protocol I) and non-international (Protocol II) armed conflicts and place limits on the way wars are fought. Protocol II was the first-ever international treaty devoted exclusively to situations of non-international armed conflicts.


  1. https://www.icrc.org/eng/war-and-law/treaties-customary-law/geneva-conventions/overview-geneva-conventions.htm []

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