1977: Protecting victims of internal conflict

Soon after the adoption of the Geneva Conventions in 1949, it became apparent that additional rules would be necessary for the protection of civilians in wartime. There was also a need to develop international humanitarian law to encompass new forms of conflict that had emerged since the Second World War – such as struggles against colonial and foreign rule – to set clear humanitarian standards applicable in times of civil war, and to take account of advances in weapons technology.


Under ICRC auspices, two draft protocols were formulated in the early 1970s to address these issues and complement the Geneva Conventions. The drafts were then submitted for consideration at a Diplomatic Conference convened in Geneva between 1974 and 1977. The two Additional Protocols were adopted on 8 June 1977.



Most armed conflicts today are non-international in nature. The character and consequences of warfare have continued to evolve since the adoption of the Additional Protocols in 1977, giving rise to new needs for the protection of victims. For this reason, the ICRC has launched an initiative to strengthen international humanitarian law, with a view to improving the protection of detainees in non-international armed conflicts and enhancing the effectiveness of mechanisms to ensure compliance with this body of law.

Facts and figures

  • By 2014, 174 countries had ratified Additional Protocol I and 167 had ratified Additional Protocol II.

  • Before the adoption of the Additional Protocols, there were very few provisions of law that granted protection specifically to victims of civil war.
  • The principle of distinction requires parties to the conflict to distinguish between civilians and combatants at all times.
  • The principle of proportionality implies that, in war, military necessity must be weighed against the human cost.
  • A third Additional Protocol, adopted in 2005, recognizes the red crystal as an additional emblem, with equal status to the red cross and red crescent emblems.


  • 1977 Diplomatic Conference

    Geneva. Diplomatic Conference on the Reaffirmation and Development of International Humanitarian Law applicable in Armed Conflicts.
    > Photo

  • Prior to the 1977 Diplomatic Conference

    Interview with Jacques Moreillon and Michel Veuthey, upon their return from a diplomatic mission to several African countries.
    > Listen to audio

  • The Protocols additional to the Geneva Conventions

    Legal expert René-Jean Wilhelm and historian François Bugnion take you on a journey down the long road to the Additional Protocols of 1977.
    > Video

  • Rules to limit suffering in war

    Series of photos illustrating rules laid down by the 1977 protocols additional to the Geneva Conventions.
    > Photos

  • Distinction

    Overview of the requirements of all parties to an armed conflict to distinguish between civilians and combatants, civilian objects and military targets.
    > Leaflet