The Geneva Conventions which were adopted before 1949 were concerned with combatants only, not with civilians. Some provisions concerning the protection of populations against the consequences of war and their protection in occupied territories are contained in the Regulations concerning the laws and customs of war on land, annexed to the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907. During World War I the Hague provisions proved to be insufficient in view of the dangers originating from air warfare and of the problems relating to the treatment of civilians in enemy territory and in occupied territories. The International Conferences of the Red Cross of the 1920's took the first steps towards laying down supplementary rules for the protection of civilians in time of war.
The 1929 Diplomatic Conference, which revised the Geneva Convention on wounded and sick and drew up the Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war, limited itself to recommending that "studies should be made with a view to concluding a convention on the protection of civilians in enemy territory and in enemy occupied territory." A draft convention containing forty articles prepared by the International Committee of the Red Cross was approved by the International Conference of the Red Cross in Tokyo in 1934 and is generally referred to as the "Tokyo Draft". It was to be submitted to a diplomatic conference planned for 1940, but this was postponed on account of the war. The events of World War II showed the disastrous consequences of the absence of a convention for the protection of civilians in wartime.
The Convention adopted in 1949 takes account of the experiences of World War II. It contains a rather short part concerning the general protection of populations against certain consequences of war (Part II), leaving aside the problem of the limitation of the use of weapons. The great bulk of the Convention (Part III - Articles 27-141) puts forth the regulations governing the status and treatment of protected persons; these provisions distinguish between the situation of foreigners on the territory of one of the parties to the conflict and that of civilians in occupied territory.
The Convention does not invalidate the provisions of the Hague Regulations of 1907 on the same subjects but is supplementary to them (see Article 154 of the Convention).