Seventy Years of the Geneva Conventions: What of the Future?
On 24 March 2020, Chatham House published a Briefing Paper by ELAC’s Senior Research Fellow Emanuela-Chiara Gillard. The paper marks the 70th anniversary of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and seeks to assess some of their future challenges. It takes three pertinent examples and discusses possibilities for addressing them, namely 1) the protection of medical care in armed conflict; 2) sieges, starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, and other practices that may deprive civilians of objects indispensable to their survival; 3) the protection of children in armed conflict.
Emanuela notes that violations of the Conventions and of the 1977 Additional Protocols remain widespread. In particular, 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. The paper also notes that war has a huge impact on children, and their treatment in armed conflict is another area of the law that requires further attention.
Despite those challenges, the current political climate is unlikely to enable new treaties to be negotiated to address emerging issues or uncertainties in the law. In that light, the paper suggests that other measures should 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. Emanuela concludes that one overarching challenge is the interplay between IHL and counterterrorism measures. For her, 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.
The full report is available here.