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Solemn Appeal marks 50th anniversary of 1949 Geneva Conventions

12-08-1999 News Release 99/46

Geneva (ICRC) - Fourteen prominent world figures, responding to the invitation of MrCornelio Sommaruga, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), launched a Solemn Appeal to the peoples, nations and governments of the world at a ceremony held on 12 August 1999 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions. In this appeal the fourteen, including United Nations Secretary-General KofiAnnan, asked States to reiterate " their refusal to see the unprecedented horrors of the Second World War repeated " .

In Mr Sommaruga's words, " The Geneva Conventions, which are today binding on 188States, have prevented untold suffering, yet the past 50 years have seen massacres, deportation, looting, rape and countless other atrocities. Nevertheless, this anniversary should be seen as an opportunity to look to the future " .

In August 1949, 58 countries signed the four Geneva Conventions with the hope of limiting the horrors of war. These instruments were aimed at increasing protection for the civilian population, prisoners of war, the shipwrecked and wounded combatants. In 1977, the Conventions were supplemented by two Additional Protocols affording greater protection to civilians in both international and non-international conflicts. Fifty years on, the Solemn Appeal launched in Geneva asks the world:

- " to reject the idea that war is inevitable and to work tirelessly to eradicate its underlying causes;

- to demand of all those involved in armed conflicts and all who are in a position to influence the course of such conflicts that they respect the essential humanitarian principles and the rules of international humanitarian law;

- to spare civilians the agony of war;

- to foster relations between individuals, peoples and nations on the basis of the principles that inspired the Geneva Conventions, namely respect for human dignity in all circumstances, compassion for those who suffer and solidarity " .

The Solemn Appeal was signed by:

 His Highness Prince Saddrudin Aga Khan ;

 Mr Kofi Annan , Secretary-General of the United Nations;

 Ms Shabana Azmi , India, actress;

 MsGeraldine Chaplin , United Kingdom, actress;

 H.R.H. Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan;

 Fayrouz , Lebanon, singer and poet;

 Mr Serge Klarsfeld , France, President of Fils et Filles des Déportés Juifs de France ;

 Mr Chris Moon , United Kingdom, supporter of organizations for the disabled;

 Mr Jean Pictet , Honorary Vice-President of the ICRC;

 Mr Vladimir Pozner , Russian Federation, journalist;

 H.E. Mr Mário Soares , former President of Portugal;

 H.E. General Amadou Toumani Touré , former President of Mali;

 MsMarian Wright Edelman , President of the Children's Defense Fund;

 Mr Zhang Yuan , China, stage and film director.

 Mr Adolfo Pérez Esquivel , Argentina, 1980 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was unable to attend for health reasons.

During this anniversary year the ICRC has been carrying out, as part of its People on War project, a vast survey of war victims and combatants in 11 countries and among the general population in five others.

For the next two months, the streets of Geneva will be decorated with thematic banners and symbolic banderoles. On the evening of 12 August, the violinist Vanessa-Mae will give a charity concert in aid of Sudanese war victims.