The Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, commonly referred to as the Fourth Geneva Convention and abbreviated as GCIV, is one of the four treaties of the Geneva Conventions. It was adopted in August 1949. While the first three conventions dealt with combatants, the Fourth Geneva Convention was the first to deal with humanitarian protections for civilians in a war zone. There are currently 196 countries party to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, including this and the other three treaties.
The Geneva Conventions comprise four treaties, and three additional protocols, that establish the standards of international law for humanitarian treatment in war. The singular term Geneva Convention usually denotes the agreements of 1949, negotiated in the aftermath of the Second World War (1939–45), which updated the terms of the two 1929 treaties, and added two new conventions. The Geneva Conventions extensively defined the basic rights of wartime prisoners, established protections for the wounded and sick, and established protections for the civilians in and around a war-zone. The treaties of 1949 were ratified, in whole or with reservations, by 196 countries. Moreover, the Geneva Convention also defines the rights and protections afforded to non-combatants, yet, because the Geneva Conventions are about people in war, the articles do not address warfare proper—the use of weapons of war—which is the subject of the Hague Conventions, and the bio-chemical warfare Geneva Protocol.
In general, a civilian is "a person who is not a member of the military or of a police or firefighting force". The definition distinguishes from persons whose duties involves risking their lives to protect the public at large from hazardous situations such as terrorism, riots, conflagrations, or wars. "Criminals" are also excluded from the category.
War is a state of armed conflict between states, governments, societies and informal paramilitary groups, such as mercenaries, insurgents and militias. It is generally characterized by extreme violence, aggression, destruction, and mortality, using regular or irregular military forces. Warfare refers to the common activities and characteristics of types of war, or of wars in general. Total war is warfare that is not restricted to purely legitimate military targets, and can result in massive civilian or other non-combatant suffering and casualties.
In 1993, the United Nations Security Council adopted a report from the Secretary-General and a Commission of Experts which concluded that the Geneva Conventions had passed into the body of customary international law, thus making them binding on non-signatories to the Conventions whenever they engage in armed conflicts.
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations (UN), charged with ensuring international peace and security, accepting new members to the United Nations and approving any changes to its charter. Its powers include the establishment of peacekeeping operations and international sanctions as well as the authorization of military actions through resolutions – it is the only body of the United Nations with the authority to issue binding resolutions to member states. The council held its first session on 17 January 1946.
The secretary-general of the United Nations is the head of the United Nations Secretariat, one of the six principal organs of the United Nations. The secretary-general serves as the chief administrative officer of the United Nations. The role of the United Nations Secretariat, and of the secretary-general in particular, is laid out by Chapter XV of the United Nations Charter.
Customary international law is an aspect of international law involving the principle of custom. Along with general principles of law and treaties, custom is considered by the International Court of Justice, jurists, the United Nations, and its member states to be among the primary sources of international law.
Parties to GC I–IV and P I–III
Parties to GC I–IV and P I–II
Parties to GC I–IV and P I and III
Parties to GC I–IV and P I
Parties to GC I–IV and P III
Parties to GC I–IV and no P
This sets out the overall parameters for GCIV:
Article 2 states that signatories are bound by the convention both in war, armed conflicts where war has not been declared, and in an occupation of another country's territory.
A declaration of war is a formal act by which one state goes to war against another. The declaration is a performative speech act by an authorized party of a national government, in order to create a state of war between two or more states.
Military or belligerent occupation is effective provisional control by a certain ruling power over a territory, which is not under the formal sovereignty of that entity, without the violation of the actual sovereign. The territory is then known as the occupied territory and the ruling power the occupant. Occupation is distinguished from annexation by its intended temporary nature, by its military nature, and by citizenship rights of the controlling power not being conferred upon the subjugated population.
A country is a region that is identified as a distinct entity in political geography.
The scope of article 2 is broad:
In the commentary to the article Jean Pictet writes:
Jean Simon Pictet was a Swiss citizen, jurist, legal practitioner working in international humanitarian law. First as a secretary-jurist, and then as a senior executive and Vice-President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Pictet was instrumental in drafting the 1949 Geneva Conventions for the protection of victims of war, their Commentaries, and negotiating the 1977 Additional Protocols. He also proposed the Red Cross Movement’s seven Fundamental Principles, which were adopted at Vienna in 1965: Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Voluntary Service, Unity and Universality. In 1989, an international humanitarian law competition for students was founded and named after him.
Article 3 states that even where there is not a conflict of international character, the parties must as a minimum adhere to minimal protections described as: non-combatants, members of armed forces who have laid down their arms, and combatants who are hors de combat (out of the fight) due to wounds, detention, or any other cause shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, with the following prohibitions:
Non-combatant is a term of art in the law of war and international humanitarian law, having civilians who are not taking a direct part in hostilities; persons—such as combat medics and military chaplains—who are members of the belligerent armed forces but are protected because of their specific duties ; combatants who are placed hors de combat; and neutral persons not involved in fighting for one of the belligerents involved in a war. This particular status was first recognized under the Geneva Conventions with the First Geneva Convention of 1864.
Hors de combat is a French term used in diplomacy and international law to refer to persons who are incapable of performing their ability to wage war. Examples include fighter pilots or aircrews parachuting from their disabled aircraft, as well as the sick, wounded, detained, or otherwise disabled. Persons hors de combat are normally granted special protections according to the laws of war, sometimes including prisoner-of-war status, and therefore officially become non-combatants.
A wound is a type of injury which happens relatively quickly in which skin is torn, cut, or punctured, or where blunt force trauma causes a contusion. In pathology, it specifically refers to a sharp injury which damages the Epidermis of the skin.
Violence is "the use of physical force so as to injure, abuse, damage, or destroy." Less conventional definitions are also used, such as the World Health Organization's definition of violence as "the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation."
Murder is the unlawful killing of another human without justification or valid excuse, especially the unlawful killing of another human with malice aforethought. This state of mind may, depending upon the jurisdiction, distinguish murder from other forms of unlawful homicide, such as manslaughter. Manslaughter is a killing committed in the absence of malice, brought about by reasonable provocation, or diminished capacity. Involuntary manslaughter, where it is recognized, is a killing that lacks all but the most attenuated guilty intent, recklessness.
Mutilation or maiming is cutting off or injury to a body part of a person so that the part of the body is permanently damaged, detached or disfigured.
Article 4 defines who is protected person:
It explicitly excludes "Nationals of a State which is not bound by the Convention" and the citizens of a neutral state or an allied state if that state has normal diplomatic relations "within the State in whose hands they are".
A number of articles specify how protecting powers, ICRC and other humanitarian organizations may aid protected persons.
The definition of protected person in this article is arguably the most important article in this section because many of the articles in the rest of GCIV only apply to protected persons.
Article 5 provides for the suspension of persons' rights under the Convention for the duration of time that this is "prejudicial to the security of such State", although "such persons shall nevertheless be treated with humanity and, in case of trial, shall not be deprived of the rights of fair and regular trial prescribed by the present Convention."
The common interpretation of article 5 is that its scope is very limited.Derogation is limited to individuals "definitely suspected of" or "engaged in activities hostile to the security of the State." In paragraph two of the article, "spy or saboteur" is mentioned.
The list of basis on which distinction might be drawn is not exhaustive.
A protected person may not have anything done "of such a character as to cause physical suffering or extermination... the physical suffering or extermination of protected persons in their hands. This prohibition applies to murder, torture, corporal punishments, mutilation and medical or scientific experiments not necessitated by the medical treatment. While popular debate remains on what constitutes a legal definition of torture, the ban on corporal punishment simplifies the matter; even the most mundane physical abuse is thereby forbidden by Article 32, as a precaution against alternate definitions of torture.
The prohibition on scientific experiments was added, in part, in response to experiments by German and Japanese doctors during World War II of whom Josef Mengele was the most infamous.
Under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, collective punishment is a war crime. By collective punishment, the drafters of the Geneva Conventions had in mind the reprisal killings of World War I and World War II. In the First World War, the Germans executed Belgian villagers in mass retribution for resistance activity during the Rape of Belgium. In World War II, both the Germans and the Japanese carried out a form of collective punishment to suppress resistance. Entire villages or towns or districts were held responsible for any resistance activity that occurred at those places.The conventions, to counter this, reiterated the principle of individual responsibility. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Commentary to the conventions states that parties to a conflict often would resort to "intimidatory measures to terrorize the population" in hopes of preventing hostile acts, but such practices "strike at guilty and innocent alike. They are opposed to all principles based on humanity and justice."
Additional Protocol II of 1977 explicitly forbids collective punishment. But as fewer states have ratified this protocol than GCIV, GCIV Article 33 is the one more commonly quoted.
Articles 47-78 impose substantial obligations on occupying powers. As well as numerous provisions for the general welfare of the inhabitants of an occupied territory, an occupier may not forcibly deport protected persons, or deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into occupied territory (Art.49).
The reference in the last paragraph to “deportation”, is commonly understood as the expulsion of foreign nationals, whereas the expulsion of nationals would be called extradition, banishment or exile. If ethnic groups are affected by deportation, it may also be referred to as population transfer. Transfer in this case literally means to move or pass from one place to another. The International Committee of the Red Cross has expressed the political opinion, “that international humanitarian law prohibits the establishment of settlements, as these are a form of population transfer into occupied territory.”
In The Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949. Commentary, Jean Pictet writes:
In order to dissipate any misconception in regard to the scope of Article 53, it must be pointed out that the property referred to is not accorded general protection; the Convention merely provides here for its protection in occupied territory. The scope of the Article is therefore limited to destruction resulting from action by the Occupying Power. It will be remembered that Article 23 (g) of the Hague Regulations forbids the unnecessary destruction of enemy property; since that rule is placed in the section entitled "hostilities", it covers all property in the territory involved in a war; its scope is therefore much wider than that of the provision under discussion, which is only concerned with property situated in occupied territory.
Article 56 describes the medical obligations the occupying power has in the occupied territory:
Article 78 deals with internment. It allows the occupying power for "imperative reasons of security" to "subject them [protected persons] to assigned residence or to internment." The article does not allow the occupying power to take collective measures: each case must be decided separately.
This part contains "the formal or diplomatic provisions which it is customary to place at the end of an international Convention to settle the procedure for bringing it into effect are grouped together under this heading (1). They are similar in all four Geneva Conventions.
The ICRC commentary on the Fourth Geneva convention states that when the establishment of hospital and safety zones in occupied territories were discussed reference was made to a draft agreement and it was agreed to append it as an annex I to the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The ICRC states that "the Draft Agreement has only been put forward to States as a model, but the fact that it as carefully drafted at the Diplomatic Conference, which finally adopted it, gives it a very real value. It could usefully be taken as a working basis, therefore, whenever a hospital zone is to be established."
The ICRC states that Annex II is a "...draft which, according to Article 109 (paragraph 1) of the Convention, will be applied in the absence of special agreements between the Parties, deals with the conditions for the receipt and distribution of collective relief shipments. It is based on the traditions of the International Committee of the Red Cross which submitted it, and on the experience the Committee gained during the Second World War."
Annex III contains an example internment card, letter and correspondence card:
Unlawful combatant, illegal combatant, unprivileged combatant/belligerent or enemy combatant are informal terms used to refer to a person who directly engages in armed conflict in violation of the laws of war or is fighting outside of internationally recognized military forces. An unlawful combatant may be detained or prosecuted under the domestic law of the detaining state for such action. The International Committee of the Red Cross points out that the terms are not defined in any international agreements.
The law of war refers to the component of international law that regulates the conditions for war and the conduct of warring parties. Laws of war define sovereignty and nationhood, states and territories, occupation, and other critical terms of international law.
Combatant is the legal status of an individual who has the right to engage in hostilities during an international armed conflict. The legal definition of "combatant" is found at article 43 of Additional Protocol One to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 [AP1]. It states that "Members of the armed forces of a Party to a conflict are combatants, that is to say, they have the right to participate directly in hostilities."
The Third Geneva Convention, relative to the treatment of prisoners of war, is one of the four treaties of the Geneva Conventions. The Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War was first adopted in 1929, but significantly revised at the 1949 conference. It defines humanitarian protections for prisoners of war. There are 196 state parties to the Convention.
United Nations Security Council resolution 446, adopted on 22 March 1979, concerned the issue of Israeli settlements in the "Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem". This refers to the Palestinian territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip as well as the Syrian Golan Heights.
International humanitarian law (IHL), also referred to as the laws of armed conflict, is the law that regulates the conduct of war. It is a branch of international law which seeks to limit the effects of armed conflict by protecting persons who are not participating in hostilities, and by restricting and regulating the means and methods of warfare available to combatants.
Stress and duress is a term which has been used by the United States to describe interrogation techniques authorized for use by the United States Armed Forces upon detainees who are determined to be a threat to the United States during the War on Terrorism. These techniques are claimed to cause "inhuman and degrading treatment" but which the George W. Bush administration claims do not cause "suffering of the particular intensity and cruelty implied by the word torture".
A summary execution is an execution in which a person is accused of a crime and immediately killed without benefit of a full and fair trial. Executions as the result of summary justice are sometimes included, but the term generally refers to capture, accusation, and execution all conducted simultaneously or within a very short period of time, and without any trial at all. Under international law, refusal to accept lawful surrender in combat and instead killing the person surrendering is also categorized as a summary execution.
The International law bearing on issues of Arab–Israeli conflict, which became a major arena of regional and international tension since the birth of Israel in 1948, resulting in several disputes between a number of Arab countries and Israel.
Protocol I is a 1977 amendment protocol to the Geneva Conventions relating to the protection of victims of international conflicts, where "armed conflicts in which peoples are fighting against colonial domination, alien occupation or racist regimes" are to be considered international conflicts. It reaffirms the international laws of the original Geneva Conventions of 1949, but adds clarifications and new provisions to accommodate developments in modern international warfare that have taken place since the Second World War.
Competent Tribunal is a term used in Article 5 paragraph 2 of the Third Geneva Convention, which states:
Should any doubt arise as to whether persons, having committed a belligerent act and having fallen into the hands of the enemy, belong to any of the categories enumerated in Article 4, such persons shall enjoy the protection of the present Convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal.
The Geneva Convention (1929) was signed at Geneva, July 27, 1929. Its official name is the Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, Geneva July 27, 1929. It entered into force 19 June 1931. It is this version of the Geneva Conventions which covered the treatment of prisoners of war during World War II. It is the predecessor of the Third Geneva Convention signed in 1949.
The international community considers the establishment of Israeli settlements in the Israeli-occupied territories illegal under international law, violating Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 which states: "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies." Israel maintains that it is not in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention since, in its view, Israeli citizens were neither deported nor transferred to the territories, and they cannot be considered to have become "occupied territory" since there had been no internationally recognized legal sovereign prior. The United Nations Security Council, the United Nations General Assembly, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Court of Justice and the High Contracting Parties to the Convention have all affirmed that the Fourth Geneva Convention does apply.
Atrocity crimes refer to the three legally defined international crimes of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. In 2017 the International Criminal Court (ICC) will be deciding upon whether or not to include crimes of aggression within their jurisdiction; effectively adding a fourth atrocity crime. These crimes are defined in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Additional Protocols, and the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
Prisoners' rights in international law are found in a number of international treaties. For the most part these treaties came into existence following the two World Wars and the body of law continues to be added to and amended.
Protected persons is a legal term under international humanitarian law and refers to persons who are under specific protection of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, their 1977 Additional Protocols, and customary international humanitarian law during an armed conflict.
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