Geneva Conventions of 1949
Geneva Conventions of 1949
four international conventions on the protection of war victims, signed on Aug. 12, 1949: (1) Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field; (2) Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded, Sick, and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea; (3) Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War; (4) Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.
The Geneva Conventions were the outgrowth of the norms of international law on the protection of war victims, which had previously been contained in the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 and in conventions signed in Geneva in 1864, 1906, and 1929. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 confirmed a basic principle of modern international law: wars are waged against the enemy’s armed forces, but military operations against civilians, prisoners of war, and the sick and wounded are prohibited.
The Geneva Conventions of 1949 are applied in the case of a declared war or any armed conflict, even if one of the belligerents does not acknowledge a state of war, and in the case of the occupation of territory, even if there is no armed resistance. The parties to the Geneva Conventions are obli-gated to comply with their provisions as long as an enemy who was not a party to the conventions also complies with them in his actions. In addition, the provisions of the conventions are mandatory for all neutral countries.
The Geneva Conventions make it the duty of the participating countries to find and punish individuals who commit or order the commission of any actions that violate the provisions of the conventions. Such individuals may be brought to trial in the country in which they committed the crimes or in any country participating in the Geneva Conventions, if it has evidence of guilt. Among the serious violations of the Geneva Conventions are premeditated murder of the wounded, the sick, prisoners of war, or civilians, and torture and inhumane treatment, including biological experiments. Other serious violations include injury to health, forcing prisoners of war to serve in their enemy’s army, taking hostages, and serious destruction of property that is not justified by military necessity. Individuals guilty of violating the Geneva Conventions are considered war criminals and must be brought to criminal trial. The conventions stipulate the procedure for investigating petitions concerning their violation and oblige the participating countries to adopt laws that provide for effective criminal punishment of persons guilty of violating the conventions.
The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR ratified the Geneva Conventions on Apr. 17, 1951. At the signing of the Conventions the Soviet representative made a number of stipulations. First, if a state with prisoners of war, civilians, and wounded and sick under its authority asked a neutral state or organization to perform the functions of a sponsor country, the USSR would not recognize the request as legal unless it had been agreed to by the state in which prisoners, civilians, wounded, and sick were citizens. The USSR re-fused to regard as freed of responsibility for compliance with the Geneva Conventions a state that had turned over prisoners of war, civilians, and captured wounded and sick to another state. Finally, the USSR stipulated that it would ex-tend the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War to those who had been convicted under the principles of the Nuremberg tribunal for the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. This category of prisoners of war was to be treated according to the regime established in the USSR for persons paying a penalty for crimes committed.
The participation of the USSR, the Ukrainian SSR, the Byelorussian SSR, and other socialist countries in writing the Geneva Conventions of 1949 made it possible to include in them a number of progressive provisions. The Geneva Conventions were made applicable to wars of a so-called noninternational character (civil wars and wars of national liberation). A’provision prohibited discrimination against prisoners of war, civilians, and the sick and wounded on the basis of race, language, religion, and property status. The conventions also prohibited destruction of the property of state and public organizations, as well as of private individuals, if it was not justified by military necessity.
The imperialist states continually violate norms of the Geneva Conventions, particularly in their wars against peoples fighting for their national liberation (for example, the USA violated the conventions during the aggressive war against Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia). The government of the USSR has repeatedly issued statements condemning violations of the Geneva Conventions of 1949.
REFERENCESZhenevskie konventsii o zashchite zhertv voiny 1949 g. Moscow, 1969.
Kurs mezhdunarodnogoprava, vol. 5. Moscow, 1969. Pages 284-90.
V. I. KUZNETSOV