ICRC databases on international humanitarian law
Treaties and Documents
1949 Conventions and Additional Protocols, and their Commentaries
Historical Treaties and Documents
Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.
TITLE OF THE CONVENTION
[p.10] TITLE OF THE CONVENTION
GENEVA CONVENTION RELATIVE TO THE PROTECTION OF CIVILIAN
PERSONS IN TIME OF WAR OF AUGUST 12, 1949.
During its preliminary stages the Draft Convention was called "The Condition and Protection of Civilian Persons". In the draft submitted to the XVIIth International Red Cross Conference the words used were "Convention ' for ' the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War". The subject was discussed at the Diplomatic Conference. One delegation quite correctly pointed out that this wording might cause confusion, as ninety per cent of the Articles only referred to a limited class of civilians, Part II alone dealing with the protection of the civilian population as a whole (1).
Another point must be emphasized: the main object of the Convention is to protect a strictly defined category of civilians from arbitrary action on the part of the enemy, and not from the dangers due to the military operations themselves. Anything tending to provide such protection was systematically removed from the Convention. The clause prohibiting unnecessary destruction, for example, which originally appeared among the provisions applying both to the territory of the Parties to the conflict and to occupied territory, now refers only to destruction caused by the Occupying Power (Article 53). In the same way, the Diplomatic Conference declared that a draft Resolution forbidding the use of weapons of mass destruction was not receivable.
It is, perhaps, a pity from the humanitarian point of view that the Conference adopted this course; for no one questions the necessity for restrictive rules in this sphere. It may nevertheless have been wise not to overload the Convention, as that might have jeopardized its chance of ratification by the Powers. Besides, the limitation of means of waging war is a matter which comes traditionally within the purview of the Hague Conventions, whose object is to codify the laws of war in the strict sense of the term. Lastly, mention may be made here [p.11] of the fact that the International Committee of the Red Cross is again working in co-operation with international experts, on measures to provide the civilian population with more effective legal protection against the dangers inherent in modern warfare and to restrict bombing from the air. A draft code of international rules dealing with the subject is in the course of preparation.
It may be wondered, nevertheless, whether the wording of the title, even now that it has been amended, really reflects the precise purpose of the Convention, which, it must be repeated, is above all concerned with the protection of civilians against arbitrary action by the enemy, and not against the whole series of dangers which threaten them in wartime.
Notes: (1) [(1) p.10] The title of the Convention was amended, but
the corresponding correction was not made in the preamble;
this was no doubt an oversight. See p. 11;