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The Geneva Conventions: Are they known? Do they help?

10-08-2009 Report

A survey by the Gallup International Association at the end of 2008 included questions about people’s awareness of the Geneva Conventions and about how effective they thought the Conventions were. Just over half the respondents had heard of the Conventions, and just under half of those thought the Conventions were reasonably effective in limiting civilian suffering during wartime.

Question 1: How well-known are the Geneva Conventions?

55% of those asked had heard of the Geneva Conventions, 37% had not, 8% weren’t sure and 1% refused to answer.

Awareness varied widely from one country to another, from just 8% in Nigeria to an almost-universal 96% in Iceland. Interestingly, there was little correlation between awareness of the Conventions and involvement in conflict: some countries with current or recent experience of conflict displayed an above-average awareness of the Conventions, but awareness in other conflict-affected countries was below average.

The question Gallup put to these 52,300 people was clear: “Have you ever heard of the Geneva Conventions?”

The response was equally clear: while just over half the world’s population has heard of the Geneva Conventions, more than a third has not.

So 60 years after the current Geneva Conventions were first signed, the need to “disseminate the text of the present Convention as widely as possible” (Geneva Convention I, Article 47) is as acute as ever.

Question 2: How effective are the Geneva Conventions?

Those who said they had heard of the Geneva Conventions were asked another question:

“To what extent do you think the existence of the Geneva Conventions limits the suffering of civilians in wartime?”

Almost half (49%) replied “Not much” or “Not at all,” while only 40% (22% of the total number surveyed) thought the Conventions limited suffering a “great deal” or even a “fair amount.”

There was little correlation between a country’s experience of war and the effectiveness that its citizens ascribed to the Conventions, with the percentage of broadly positive responses ranging from 18% to 86% and conflict-affected and peaceful countries found at both ends of the spectrum.