Seventy Years of the Geneva Conventions: What of the Future?

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Emanuela-Chiara Gillard
Associate Fellow, International Law Programme


• The 70th anniversary of the adoption of the 1949 Geneva Conventions was commemorated in 2019. But violations of the Conventions and of the 1977 Additional Protocols are widespread.

• Contemporary conflicts have been marked by violations of some of the foundational rules of international humanitarian law (IHL) relating to the protection of the wounded and sick and of providers of medical assistance.

• A further area of IHL that has come under strain and scrutiny are the rules regulating humanitarian relief operations and their application to sieges and blockades.

• War has a huge impact on children, and the treatment of children in armed conflict is another area of the law that requires further attention.

• In the current political climate, it is unlikely that new treaties will be negotiated to address emerging issues or uncertainties in the law.

• Other measures must be explored, including the adoption of domestic measures to implement existing law; support for processes that interpret the law; and initiatives to promote compliance with the law by organized armed groups.

• One overarching challenge is the interplay between IHL and counterterrorism measures. It can undermine the protections set out in IHL, and hinder principled humanitarian action and activities to promote compliance with the law by organized armed groups.