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The half-century of the Geneva Conventions

30-06-1999 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 834, by Yves Sandoz

 Abstract of the article  "   Le demi-siècle des Conventions de Genève  "  


It is obvious that adopting the Geneva Conventions of 1949 did not put an end to tragedy in war time. Although there is clearly no reason to rejoice, this anniversary presents an opportunity to reflect on what the Conventions have achieved. After a brief discussion of the circumstances under which they were adopted in the following the Second World War, the author points out the great impact of those treaties on the conduct of parties to armed conflict in the last fifty years. Moreover, the 1949 Conventions have provided a solid basis for further development of international humanitarian law, both in the form of treaties (such as the 1977 Additional Protocols) and practice. A number of issues are identified which, today, ought to be examined in the search for fresh solutions. They include the law applicable in non-international armed conflict, the rules on the conduct of hostilities, the question of nuclear weapons and international humanitarian law, simpler procedures for adopting prohibitions or restrictions on the use of new conventional weapons, and the applicability of humanitarian law to armed forces acting under UN auspices. The article concludes with an appeal to respect the fundamental values embodied in international humanitari an law. Appart from anything else, respecting those values in times of armed conflict facilitates a return to peace.