Fourth Geneva Convention

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The Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, more 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 of 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. [1]


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. [2]

Part I. General provisions

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 Parties to the Geneva Conventions.svg
  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: Application of the Convention

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.

In addition to the provisions which shall be implemented in peacetime, the present Convention shall apply to all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties, even if the state of war is not recognized by one of them.

The scope of article 2 is broad:

Although one of the Powers in conflict may not be a party to the present Convention, the Powers who are parties thereto shall remain bound by it in their mutual relations.

In the commentary to the article Jean Pictet writes:

They [conventions] are coming to be regarded less and less as contracts concluded on a basis of reciprocity in the national interests of the parties and more and more as a solemn affirmation of principles respected for their own sake, a series of unconditional engagements on the part of each of the Contracting Parties ' vis-à-vis ' the others. [3]

Article 3: Conflicts not of an international character

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:

Article 4: Definition of protected persons

Article 4 defines who is protected person:

Persons protected by the Convention are those who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever, find themselves, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict or Occupying Power of which they are not nationals.

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: Derogations

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. [4] 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.

Part II. General Protection of Populations Against Certain Consequences of War

Article 13: Field of application of part II

The provisions of Part II cover the whole of the populations of the countries in conflict, without any adverse distinction based, in particular, on race , nationality, religion or political opinion , and are intended to alleviate the sufferings caused by war.

The list of basis on which distinction might be drawn is not exhaustive.

Part III. Status and Treatment of Protected Persons

Section I. Provisions common to the territories of the parties to the conflict and to occupied territories

Article 32: Prohibition of corporal punishment, torture, etc.

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.

Article 33: Individual responsibility, collective penalties, pillage and reprisals

"No protected person may be punished for any offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.
Pillage is prohibited.
Reprisals against protected persons and their property is prohibited."

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. [5] 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.

Section III. Occupied territories

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).

Article 49: Deportations, transfers, evacuations

Article 49. Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.
Nevertheless, the Occupying Power may undertake total or partial evacuation of a given area if the security of the population or imperative military reasons so demand. Such evacuations may not involve the displacement of protected persons outside the bounds of the occupied territory except when for material reasons it is impossible to avoid such displacement. Persons thus evacuated shall be transferred back to their homes as soon as hostilities in the area in question have ceased.
The Occupying Power undertaking such transfers or evacuations shall ensure, to the greatest practicable extent, that proper accommodation is provided to receive the protected persons, that the removals are effected in satisfactory conditions of hygiene, health, safety and nutrition, and that members of the same family are not separated.
The Protecting Power shall be informed of any transfers and evacuations as soon as they have taken place.
The Occupying Power shall not detain protected persons in an area particularly exposed to the dangers of war unless the security of the population or imperative military reasons so demand.
The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.

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 opinion, "that international humanitarian law prohibits the establishment of settlements, as these are a form of population transfer into occupied territory." [6]

Article 50: Children

Article 50. The Occupying Power shall, with the cooperation of the national and local authorities, facilitate the proper working of all institutions devoted to the care and education of children.
The Occupying Power shall take all necessary steps to facilitate the identification of children and the registration of their parentage. It may not, in any case, change their personal status, nor enlist them in formations or organizations subordinate to it.
Should the local institutions be inadequate for the purpose, the Occupying Power shall make arrangements for the maintenance and education, if possible by persons of their own nationality, language and religion, of children who are orphaned or separated from their parents as a result of the war and who cannot be adequately cared for by a near relative or friend.
A special section of the Bureau set up in accordance with Article 136 shall be responsible for taking all necessary steps to identify children whose identity is in doubt. Particulars of their parents or other near relatives should always be recorded if available.
The Occupying Power shall not hinder the application of any preferential measures in regard to food, medical care and protection against the effects of war which may have been adopted prior to the occupation in favour of children under fifteen years, expectant mothers, and mothers of children under seven

Article 53: Prohibited destruction

Article 53. Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.

In The Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949. Commentary, Jean Pictet writes:

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. [7]

Article 56: Hygiene and public health

Article 56 describes the medical obligations the occupying power has in the occupied territory:

To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring and maintaining, with the cooperation of national and local authorities, the medical and hospital establishments and services, public health and hygiene in the occupied territory, with particular reference to the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics. Medical personnel of all categories shall be allowed to carry out their duties.
If new hospitals are set up in occupied territory and if the competent organs of the occupied State are not operating there, the occupying authorities shall, if necessary, grant them the recognition provided for in Article 18. In similar circumstances, the occupying authorities shall also grant recognition to hospital personnel and transport vehicles under the provisions of Articles 20 and 21.
In adopting measures of health and hygiene and in their implementation, the Occupying Power shall take into consideration the moral and ethical susceptibilities of the population of the occupied territory.

Article 78: Security measures. Internment and assigned residence. Right of appeal

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.

Part IV. Execution of the Convention

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. [8]


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. [9]

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." [9]

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." [10]

Annex III contains an example internment card, letter and correspondence card: [11]

  1. An example internment card with dimensions of 10 x 15 cm.
  2. An example letter with dimensions of 29 x 15 cm.
  3. An example correspondence card with dimensions of 10 x 15 cm.

See also

Related Research Articles

Torture Intentional infliction of physical or mental suffering upon a person or an animal

Torture is the act of deliberately inflicting severe physical or psychological suffering on someone by another as a punishment or in order to fulfill some desire of the torturer or force some action from the victim. Torture, by definition, is a knowing and intentional act; deeds which unknowingly or negligently inflict suffering or pain, without a specific intent to do so, are not typically considered torture.

In general, a civilian is "a person who is not a member of the police, the armed forces, or a fire department". The definition distinguishes from persons whose duties involve risking their lives to protect the public at large from hazardous situations such as terrorism, riots, conflagrations, and wars. Criminals are also excluded from the category, as members of the public, politicians, and the media want to distinguish between those who are law-abiding and those who are not.

Unlawful combatant person who directly engages in armed conflict in violation of the laws of war

An unlawful combatant, illegal combatant or unprivileged combatant/belligerent is 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.

Law of war International regulations of warfare

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(2) of Additional Protocol I (AP1) to the Geneva Conventions of 1949. 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." Consequently, on the other hand combatants, as a rule, are legal targets themselves for the opposite side regardless the specific circumstances at hand, in other words, they can be attacked regardless of the specific circumstances simply due to their status, so as to deprive their side of their support.

Non-combatant is a term of art in the law of war and international humanitarian law to refer to 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.

Third Geneva Convention International treaty on the treatment of prisoners of war

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 United Nations Security Council resolution

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.

Military occupation effective provisional control of a certain power over a territory

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.

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".

Summary execution Execution immediately after being accused of a crime, without a fair trial

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

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.

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.

Geneva Conventions Treaties establishing humanitarian laws of war

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 (1939–1945), 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. The Geneva Conventions are about people in war; they 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.

The international community considers the establishment of Israeli settlements in the Israeli-occupied territories illegal on one of two bases: that they are in violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, or that they are in breach of international declarations. 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 applies to Israeli settlements.

Mass atrocity crimes have historically referred to the three legally defined international crimes of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Ethnic cleansing is widely regarded as a fourth mass atrocity crime by legal scholars and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in the field, despite not yet being recognized as an independent crime under international law.

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 Legal term in international humanitarian law

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.


  1. "Geneva Convention (IV) on Civilians, 1949". Treaties, States parties, and Commentaries. 23 March 2010. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  2. "United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law". United Nations. Retrieved 15 March 2017.
  3. "Treaties, States parties, and Commentaries – Geneva Convention (IV) on Civilians, 1949–53: Commentary of 1958". International Red Cross.
  4. Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949. COMMENTARY OF 1958, p. 52 (derogations)
  5. Keylor, William R., The Twentieth-Century World and Beyond, Oxford University Press, New York: 2011.
  6. What does the law say about the establishment of settlements in occupied territory?
  7. "Treaties, States parties, and Commentaries – Geneva Convention (IV) on Civilians, 1949–53: Commentary of 1958". International Red Cross.
  8. Commentary: Part IV : Execution of the convention #Section II : Final provisions. Retrieved 28 October 2008
  9. 1 2 ICRC Commentary: Annex I : Draft agreement relating to hospital and safety zones and localities. Retrieved 28 October 2008
  10. ICRC Commentary: Annex II : Draft regulations concerning collective relief. Retrieved 28 October 2008
  11. ICRC Commentary: Annex III Model internment cards, letters and correspondence cards. Retrieved 28 October 2008