Volume 2, Issue 5 (Originally Published 20 August 2012)
August 22, 1864 – First Geneva Conventions signed
This Friday will mark the 148th anniversary of the entry into force of the First Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field 1864. The First Geneva Convention 1864 was a seminal instrument defining the rules of international humanitarian law, limiting the devastating effects of armed conflict. The international treaty is one of four Geneva Conventions which together define the standards for the humanitarian treatment of victims of war, such as civilians, aid workers, wounded soldiers and prisoners of war. At present, the umbrella term Geneva Conventions encompasses four updated and revised treaties in addition to three protocols.
The treaty was largely borne out of the advocacy work of Henri Dunant, a Swiss businessman and aid relief activist who wrote about his experiences as an aid worker during the 1859 Battle of Solferino in Italy. He had arrived in Solferino on the very day of the battle and was shocked at the total disregard of life shown towards the thousands of wounded and dying soldiers on the battlefield. Ultimately, he convinced local civilians to provide assistance, personally funding the medical expenses and facilities which the town could not afford. After returning to Geneva, he published a memoir about his experiences and advocated for humanitarian efforts at the Geneva Society for Public Welfare. In the following years, he became one of the founders of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) along with others. The ICRC soon recognised that they would require a body of rules to govern the conduct of themselves, combatants, and States during periods of armed conflict in order to effectively carry out their humanitarian efforts.
On August 22, 1864, 12 European states congregated in Geneva, Switzerland, to sign the First Geneva Convention. The inaugral treaty provided for basic standards for humanitarian conduct during wartime, including articles providing for the protection of establishments treating wounded and sick soldiers, the impartial reception and humane treatment of all soldiers, the protection of civilian aid workers and the recognition of the Red Cross symbol as a means of identifying aid relief workers. The articles were later expanded upon in the subsequent Conventions and revisions were made so that the treaty reflected new developments in military technology and the changing nature of warfare. As a result, the revised version of the First Geneva Conventions currently in force, entered into force on 21 November 1950 following the aftermath of World War II.