The Geneva Conventions are a collection of four treaties and three protocols that outline the standards for international war. They are important because they establish rules for humanitarian practices during times of war and specifically protect those who do not partake in the fighting or who are no longer able to fight.
The Geneva Conventions include the following:
The First Geneva Convention: The Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field
The Second Geneva Convention: The Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea
The Third Geneva Convention: The Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War
The Fourth Geneva Convention: The Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War
Additional Protocol I: relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts
Additional Protocol II: relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts
Additional Protocol III: relating to the Adoption of an Additional Distinctive Emblem.
These treaties and protocols were created and ratified at different points in time. The first was inspired by social activist Henry Dunant. Thanks to his activism, the Red Cross was born and the first Geneva Convention was established in Geneva, Switzerland in 1864. The first Geneva Convention called for the protection of wounded soldiers on land during war. The second Geneva Convention, held in 1909, called for the protection of the wounded and ill soldiers at sea. The third Geneva Convention, held in 1929, dealt with the treatment of prisoners of war, and the final Geneva Convention, which took place in 1949, regarded the protection of civilians (including in occupied territories). Eventually the three Additional Protocols were added in 1977 and 2005 as well, making the Geneva Conventions what they are today.
The Geneva Conventions are enforced by the United Nations Security Council. They are responsible for taking disciplinary action against those who violate the statutes of the Geneva Conventions. This includes, but is not limited to, what are called “grave breaches,” which are considered the most serious of war crimes. These crimes include things like biological experimentations, torture, murder, taking hostages, forcing people to serve in the armed forces against their will, and other serious crimes.
The Geneva Conventions are as important and relevant today as they were when they were created. They still protect civilians and those who can no longer fight. The guidelines laid down in the Geneva Conventions still set the standard for how nations are to engage with each other in times of war.