The Geneva Conventions: Aims and Importance


The Geneva Conventions are a set of treaties and protocols that were formulated in 1949 by the international community to make sure that humanity was respected during wars. The Geneva Conventions were a response to the great sufferings that people experienced during the Second World War. 59 states participated in the Geneva Diplomatic conference that gave rise to the Geneva conventions. The Geneva Conventions aimed at protecting the rights of the minority groups within war zones like women and children who are vulnerable to moral evils like rape. The Geneva conventions were also geared at protecting the rights of the people who became prisoners of war. The conventions made sure that these people were treated fairly and were allowed to enjoy their fundamental rights like the exercise of their religious practices as well as their political opinions. The Geneva conventions also aimed at making sure that the civilians that are present in war zones are safe and free from any cases of assault. In addition, the Geneva Conventions aimed at protecting the wounded soldiers on both sides of the warring parties. From the aims of the Geneva Conventions, it is clear that the conventions are aimed at enhancing neutrality when dealing with the two warring parties. Because wars are aimed at giving one party an upper hand it has been the Geneva conventions experienced a lot of problems when trying to initiate neutrality. This is one of the reasons they are not followed in different wars. However, the Geneva conventions have been followed in conflict areas and have turned out to be successful. Generally, the conventions have helped to reduce the number of crimes in conflict areas today.

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The Geneva conventions have had a lot of challenges in their application in different wars. One of the reasons why the Geneva conventions are difficult to apply is because some of the waring parties have a doctrine regarded as “just war” when they engage in wars. These parties take their opponents as an aggressor who is already violating the law. They do not hence see any reason whatsoever to treat them with respect after capturing them as war prisoners. They view the Geneva conventions as an obstacle that hinders them from conducting their course of action. This is the reason why the Geneva conventions were not successful in protecting the prisoners of war during the Korean War(1950-1953), and the Vietnam war(1962-1975). The Geneva conventions were not successful in protecting the prisoners of war in both North Korea and North Vietnam because the war zones had adopted the “just war” doctrine and were not ready to listen to any ideas that were geared at protecting their aggressors(Bugnion 44). In other cases, the warring parties adopt the Geneva Conventions but in the course of the war, they realize that it is not reasonable that they fight their enemies and at the same time protect and respect them. This was the case with Argentina and the United Kingdom when they were fighting over the Malvinas Islands in 1982(Provost 152). The other major reason that the Geneva Conventions are difficult to apply is that some of the armed conflicts target the civilians themselves. The warring parties target to destroy the civilians of their opponents. Bearing in mind that the Geneva Conventions are aimed at protecting civilians, it is clear that some wars aim at carrying out missions that are contrary to the aims of the Geneva Conventions. This was the case in Bosnia- Herzegovina, the Rwandan genocide the Kosovo Conflict. In all these cases, a massive population of civilians was killed in that the wars targeted at destroying the civilians. The Geneva Conventions hence not be in a position to protect such civilians. The other important reason that creates an obstacle to the implication of the Geneva Conventions is that there is a lot of insecurity in some of the war zones. This was the case in Liberia and SieraLeone(Best 85). It is also evident to date in Somalia which currently has no government and strongly disregards the efforts of the Geneva Conventions. This makes it hard to access war victims.

Positive steps have continuously been made to increase the impact of the Geneva Conventions. The addition of the two protocols between 1974 and 1977 to the Geneva Conventions is one of the important steps that was taken. It has helped to repress war crimes in that one of the protocols covered international armed conflict while the other protocol covered non-international war conflict. The non-international protocol was the most contentious during the Geneva Conference of 1977. It is found in Article 3 of the conventions. The member states present raised very heated debates. Three major prepositions were made. The first proposition was that Geneva Conventions should be applied in all cases that involved international conflicts. The second branch of the member states took a radical stand that the Geneva Conflicts should not be used in any case that involved internal armed conflicts. For example, the United States argued that every internal government had the responsibility of taking care of all the internal conflicts that took place within its borders. The introduction of the Geneva Conventions in such a case would be undermining the capacity of a sovereign government to defend its people. The third wing proposed that Geneva Conventions should be used only when the conflict reached certain levels and presented certain characteristics. These member states argued that “should be applied to only the internal conflicts that constitute war under the international law”(Rene 154). An example of a war where this would have been applied was the American Civil War and the civil war in Spain in 1936. However, at the end of the conference, the member states agreed that the Geneva Conventions should be applied in all circumstances to be in a position to help the suffering people, who are mostly civilians, minority groups like women and children, and wounded soldiers, at all times.

This was a major achievement bearing in mind that initially, the Geneva Conventions only covered the international armed war conflicts. This affected the armed conflicts that resulted between the native people and the colonial powers when the native people wanted to gain their independence. At that time, the colonies were taken to be part of the colonial power and were hence not considered to be part of international armed war conflicts. The prisoner’s war was treated harshly in that there were no humanitarian bodies that were responsible for caring about the welfare of the prisoners of non-international armed conflicts. This was the case in colonies in Southern Africa, Southern America, and South-East Asia where the prisoners of the non-international war conflicts were tried so harshly. Some of them like Nelson Mandela Of South Africa were deported to islands that had very harsh conditions and were imprisoned for lengthy periods. From this incident, which is not evident today, it is clear that the introduction of this protocol that takes care of non-international armed conflicts has helped repress war crimes greatly.


another important step towards increasing the impact of the Geneva Conventions was the adoption of the Rome Statute that provided for an International Criminal Court that is based in Hague, Netherlands in 1998. The main aim of the International Criminal Court is to sentence and try those people who committed war crimes(Roberge 675). The punishment of war crimes victims acts as a lesson to those people who had the aims of taking part in war crimes and it has helped to repress war crimes in a great way. For instance, in 2007 there was post-election violence that left more than 10000 Kenyans dead. This was the violation of the non-international armed conflict that is stipulated in one of the protocols. Currently, the suspected war crime instigators at the time are in the process of being sentenced and tried by the International Criminal Court. This is a lesson to the countries that might be intending to commit war crimes during their democratic processes. However, the efforts of the International Criminal Court have obstacles especially when countries continue to fight. For instance, the President of Sudan who is under a warranty of arrest by the International Criminal Court cannot be arrested because there is still fighting going on in the Darfur region in Sudan. In addition, some countries like Russia are not signatories to the Rome Statute and this causes them to take advantage of wars since they know that no action can be taken against them.


In conclusion, the Geneva Conventions have been able to save a lot of lives irrespective of the obstacles that the humanitarian organizations have faced. The use of Military action to make sure that supplies like food have reached the civilians is a good option to ensure the success of humanitarian activities. However, the use of military action to carry out Humanitarian activities dissolves the whole aim of the Geneva Conventions which is to maintain neutrality. Therefore, the answer to total success in the efforts of the humanitarian organization lies in the hands of the international community that most look for new diplomatic means of solving their conflicts and also new ways to enhance cooperation between states.


Best, Geoffrey. War and Law Since 1945. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994. Print.

Bugnion, Francois. “The Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949: From the 1949 Diplomatic Conference to the Dawn of the New Millennium.” International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-) 76.1 (2000): 41-50. JSTOR. Web.

Provost, Rene. International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. New York: Cambridge University Press , 2002. Print.

Roberge, Marie Claude. “Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.” Internal Review of the Red Cross 52.325 (1998): 671-683. Print.

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DemoEssays. "The Geneva Conventions: Aims and Importance." December 26, 2022.