What’s the point of the Geneva Conventions?


Wednesday August 12th is the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Convetions. But is it a Happy Birthday? The Geneva Conventions relate to the immunity of medical personnel on the battlefield, the treatment of prisoners of war and the duty to protect civilians.

But there is growing concern that the rules are regularly ignored. There are plenty of recent examples where such allegations have been made: Abu Ghraib, Sri Lanka, Georgia, DR Congo. So is it time to re-write the Conventions for the modern era? Or is it naive to think that there can be rules of war?

22 Responses to “What’s the point of the Geneva Conventions?”

  1. 1 anu_D
    August 12, 2009 at 16:05

    Unless there are some mutually agreed rules….how would the world judge those who are flouting the rules ?

    Hence Geneva convention ( or another set of refrence datum line) of what’s permissible and what’s not is essential.

    Actually the problem is even when evident and proven that the rules are violated….there is no universally agreed reprimand or punitive mechanism (and there never will be)

    Neverthless these rules do invoke moral guilt and media trials…. which do take their toll eventually on the governments and regimes that break them…albeit slowly and indirectly ( as the British Govt is experiencing now for example)

  2. 2 Deryck/Trinidad
    August 12, 2009 at 16:18

    It is naive to think there could be rules of war when particular countries set those rules and habitually break them with impunity. Civilian casualties due to drone bombings in Pakistan, civilian killings in Iraq and in Afghanistan are just a few.

    My main problem is you can’t have one rule that favours western countries and their armies and another that demonises anything that opposes western values.
    There is to much injustice and inequality in how the conventions are applied.


    The failure of the US to place itself under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court reeks of double standards because they know that their armed forces will come under scrutiny and possible prosecution for atrocities committed.

  3. 3 Deryck/Trinidad
    August 12, 2009 at 16:27

    Another reason the conventions don’t work is that many “wars” today are not being fought by conventional armies. Instead they are fought by “freedom fighters”, separatists, anti western groups, ethnic groups etc. who weren’t trained or educated in conventional warfare. They would therefore inflict the utmost damage on enemies( civilian and military).

  4. 4 James Turner
    August 12, 2009 at 16:28

    I think for a long time the Geneva Convention served a good purpose! With the invasion of Iraq and Afghan, the United States made a determine effort to ignore the Geneva Convention!

    It is debatable as to weather or not the Taliban would have observed the Geneva Convention? I guess we will never know? Our actions have put a stop to any chance of that happening! Fortunately because of our over all military strength we will not have to deal with having American soldiers held by the enemy! The ignoring of and the belittling of the Geneva Convention by the Bush Administrations has cause damage that will take a long time to undo! Because so many other things are happening in this country, I don’t know if recovering that respect is even possible?

  5. 5 John in Salem
    August 12, 2009 at 16:29

    These remain one of the most bizarre constructions of the 20th century mind. After the deaths of hundreds of millions of civilians in vicious, unnecessary wars in the preceding decades, the nations of the world sat down together and came up with… a code of conduct for vicious, unnecessary wars.
    This was followed by the development of weapons that could vaporize entire cities.

    If we are a typical example of a sentient species then it’s no wonder that our radio telescopes can’t detect any signs of intelligent life in the universe.

  6. 6 Anthony
    August 12, 2009 at 17:05

    Wait a sec, during the Bush administration I thought that Cheney and Rumsfeld replaced the Geneva Convention with the Bible?

    -Anthony, LA, CA

  7. 7 Stephen in Portland/Oregon
    August 12, 2009 at 17:05


    It’s another rulebook for Humanity like the Bible. Unfortunately there are people in society all over the world who do not know what is the difference between right and wrong and have no regards for others.

    Just look on a average day at the blogs on compassionate issues on WHYS site and you can see how far we have not come in 60 years. Branding people was mentioned recently by one Organic life form! Torture is still considered a means to an end by some.

    Evolution is a very slow process and the human race will not improve their behavior to our fellow man in our lifetime.

    Forecast. 8.58 PMT

    Heavy War with Famine and Inequality spreading up from the southeast with light sprinkles of torture and death.

  8. 8 leo goki
    August 12, 2009 at 17:10

    it’s a sad fact but the point of a war or a fight is to win when the bullets and the artiliary rounds start flying and survival is the only thing on a man’s mind rules and laws count for very little, the geneva convention is an ideal that sadly we cannot live up to but we should not re-write it we should keep trying to live up to it.

  9. 9 Blindman, leading the blind
    August 12, 2009 at 17:22

    What should be blindingly obvious is that the Geneva Convention exists to protect us – from becoming what we hate.

  10. 10 Rashid Patch
    August 12, 2009 at 17:23

    Without universally agreed upon laws of war, every conflict becomes a war of extermination.

    This was understood by the population of the world, 60 years ago. My parents generation understood it; they had fought in the 2nd World War. My generation was taught about it – although judging by the actions of the Bush and Blair administrations, many folks missed that class…

    It must be taught again: the “alternative” to the Geneva Convention is the end of civilization.

    Rashid Patch
    Oakland, California, U.S.A.

  11. 11 Anthony
    August 12, 2009 at 17:28

    @ Deryck/Trinidad


    Here here, good show man! If it were a middle eastern country that did EXACTLY what we (the U.S.) did, then the US would have been shouting “bad bad bad” and used some sanctions/muscle. How is it, at least a few from the Bush administration aren’t on trial right now, I’ll never know.

    -Anthony, LA, CA

  12. August 12, 2009 at 17:52

    The Geneva Conventions are outdated. There are gaps in the legal protections that are offered by the Geneva Convention. The main aim is put a limit and an end to the barbarity in an extreme Situation . One should take the example of Abu Ghraib where sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners was in real evidence. There was a hue and cry of this disgusting behaviour

  13. 13 Jim Newman
    August 12, 2009 at 18:08

    Hello again
    No one seems to think that there is any value in the Geneva Conventions and, indeed, they were being flouted by certain signatories even before their signatures were dry on the paper.
    Of course, war is the ultimate contempt for humanity and civilisation and to devise rules for it seems a bit wayward as many contributors have pointed out.
    However if one considers the Geneva Conventions as a step along the road towards sanity and that other steps will follow then maybe, one day, war will be bannished.

  14. 14 Tom K in Mpls
    August 12, 2009 at 18:17

    Some people believe you can legislate war to a debate. A nice idea. In lieu of that, you may be able to gain better treatment for your people in a loosing situation. Then lastly, It is a great political tool when an opponent goes against these standards whether they acknowledge them or not.

  15. 15 nora
    August 12, 2009 at 18:53

    The Geneva Convention helped my father and other sensitive WWII soldiers heal enough to have kids. The Geneva Convention got my WWI Black Watch amputee warrior grandfather to drink less whiskey. The Geneva Convention was a standard we could use against the dictators of the 70’s. It led to the Bertrand Russell Human Rights Tribunals and more.

    Whatever the flaws, the Geneva Convention was attacked by Bush II along with our other civil rights. The Convention became a life raft from which to oppose torture.

    Happy Birthday, dignity, medical care and meals for the wounded soldier.

  16. 16 Abasiubong
    August 12, 2009 at 19:29

    Law is in itself lawless, so why should we then bother ourself about the law of war. It’s extremely preposterous.

  17. 17 patti in cape coral
    August 12, 2009 at 19:32

    @ Jim – “Of course, war is the ultimate contempt for humanity and civilisation and to devise rules for it seems a bit wayward as many contributors have pointed out.
    However if one considers the Geneva Conventions as a step along the road towards sanity and that other steps will follow then maybe, one day, war will be bannished.”

    I agree whole-heartedly, war is a thing to be avoided no matter how many rules you devise to “cleanse” it, but we would probably be worse off without those rules.

  18. 18 Tan Boon Tee
    August 13, 2009 at 04:28

    Verily, it must be absolutely naïve to believe that there can be rules of war. By any definition of “war”, no rules would be expected or respected in time of conflicts.

    The Geneva Conventions have failed miserably when come to dealing with rogue states, notably the autocratic and totalitarian ones.

    Indeed, “What is the point of the conventions?” when the rules have often been ignored or flouted.

  19. 19 scmehta
    August 13, 2009 at 07:52

    Rules and Regulations are a must for any national or international institution/ body /organization/convention to function; It’s a different matter how its constituents/members work/ perform or how many of them have no or scant regard for rules.
    My heartiest greetings on the eve of the Geneva Convention’s 60th Birthday.
    It’s future and efficacy will depend upon how much strong the UN can be made.

  20. 20 Dinka Aliap Chawul-Kampala,Uganda
    August 13, 2009 at 09:59

    I dont think the problems is about the terms & conditions under which the Geneva Convention was formed,but the implementations was never put in actions!……

  21. 21 Roberto
    August 13, 2009 at 10:33

    RE “” So is it time to re-write the Conventions for the modern era? Or is it naive to think that there can be rules of war? “”

    ———– It’s both, but most obviously after 60 yrs the current Geneva accords vastly outdated.

    Keep in mind the large numbers of political states in the world who don’t even accord common civil rights to it’s citizens much less the luxuries of the Geneva accords.

    This is a world moving from large numbers of weak political states controlling populations to small numbers of religious and ideological groups forming terrorist movements to create chaos. Geneva accords are as relevant as gentlemen’s agreements would be in a den of murderous criminals.

  22. 22 Halima
    August 14, 2009 at 07:43

    the Geneva Conventions are a start. It is unfortunate that the US flouted the spirit with Guantanamo Bay and its backing of Israel no matter what Israel does. But we shouldn’t give up. The day when all nations sign up to and pay attention to universal human rights surely must come. It may take several more generations, and unfortunately considerably more military conflict.

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