Law Quadrangle (formerly Law Quad Notes)


The following essay is based on the author’s article of the same name in the “Think Again” section of the March/April 2008 issue of Foreign Policy (pages 26-32). It is reproduced here with permission from FOREIGN POLICY, www.ForeignPolicy.com, #165 (March/April 2008). Copyright 2008 by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The “Think Again” section of Foreign Policy seeks to educate readers by presenting and responding to common myths and conventional wisdom on important matters of international relations.

“The Geneva Conventions are obsolete”. Only in the minor details. The laws of armed conflict are old; they date back millennia to warrior codes used in ancient Greece. But the modern Geneva Conventions, which govern the treatment of soldiers and civilians in war, can trace their direct origin to 1859, when Swiss businessman Henri Dunant happened upon the bloody aftermath of the Battle of Solferino. His outrage at the suffering of the wounded led him to establish what would become the International Committee of the Red Cross, which later lobbied for rules improving the treatment of injured combatants. Decades later, when the devastation of World War II demonstrated that broader protections were necessary, the modern Geneva Conventions were created, producing a kind of international “bill of rights” that governs the handling of casualties, prisoners of war (POWs), and civilians in war zones. Today, the conventions have been ratified by every nation on the planet.