The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, which outline how soldiers and civilians should be treated during combat, serve as the cornerstone of contemporary international humanitarian law.
The Conventions have been ratified by all States and are universally applicable.
The Conventions were adopted in 1949 to reflect on the Second World War’s experiences. In 1977, two further Protocols that widened the rules were established. Then, in 2005, a third Protocol was adopted that recognized the red crystal as an additional emblem.
The First Geneva Convention
The First Geneva Convention protects wounded and sick soldiers on land during the war.
This Convention represents the fourth updated version of the Geneva Convention on the wounded and sick following those adopted in 1864, 1906 and 1929. It contains 64 articles. These provide protection for the wounded and sick, but also for medical and religious personnel, medical units and medical transport. The Convention also recognizes the distinctive emblems.
The Second Geneva Convention
The Second Geneva Convention protects wounded, sick and shipwrecked military personnel at sea during war.
This Convention replaced the Hague Convention of 1907 for the Adaptation to Maritime Warfare of the Principles of the Geneva Convention. It closely follows the provisions of the first Geneva Convention in structure and content. It has 63 articles specifically applicable to war at sea. For example, it protects hospital ships.
The Third Geneva Convention
The Third Geneva Convention applies to prisoners of war.
This Convention replaced the Prisoners of War Convention of 1929. It contains 143 articles whereas the 1929 Convention had only 97. The categories of persons entitled to prisoner of war status were broadened in accordance with Conventions I and II. The conditions and places of captivity were more precisely defined, particularly with regard to the labour of prisoners of war, their financial resources, the relief they receive, and the judicial proceedings instituted against them.
The Convention establishes the principle that prisoners of war shall be released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities.
The Fourth Geneva Convention
The Fourth Geneva Convention protects civilians, including those in occupied territory.
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. It also contains a specific regime for the treatment of civilian internees.
Additional Protocol I (international conflicts) and its Commentary
Additional Protocol II (non-international conflicts) and its Commentary
Additional Protocol III (additional distinctive emblem) and its Commentary