[JURIST] International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) [official website] President Jakob Kellenberger on Wednesday called for greater compliance [press release] with the Geneva Conventions [ICRC backgrounder], making the documents' 60th anniversary [press release]. Kellenberger said that the conventions were tested in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, with the global "war on terror" posing a "huge challenge":
The traumatic events of 9/11 and its aftermath set a new test for [international humanitarian law (IHL)]. The polarisation of international relations and the humanitarian consequences of what has been referred to as the "global war on terror" have posed a huge challenge. The proliferation and fragmentation of non-state armed groups, and the fact that some of them reject the premises of IHL, have posed another. These challenges effectively exposed IHL to some rigorous cross-examination by a wide range of actors, including the ICRC, to see if it really does still stand as an adequate legal framework for the protection of victims of armed conflict.ICRC Director of International Law Philip Spoerri said the conventions remain relevant today, saying that they "remain the cornerstone of contemporary international humanitarian law."
In short, the result of this sometimes arduous process was a resounding reaffirmation of the relevance and adequacy of IHL in preserving human life and dignity in armed conflict. However, as I made clear at the outset, this is no time to rest on our laurels. The nature of armed conflict, and of the causes and consequences of such conflict, is continuing to evolve. IHL must evolve too.
The priority for the ICRC now is to anticipate and prepare for the main challenges to IHL in the years ahead. While these challenges have a legal and often a political dimension, I must stress that our ultimate concern is purely humanitarian; our only motivation is to contribute to achieving better protection for the victims of armed conflict.
The Geneva Conventions were drafted in response to World War II and entered into force on October 21, 1950. They have been ratified by all 194 states and are universally applicable. The first Geneva Convention protects wounded and sick soldiers on land during war; the second Geneva Convention protects wounded, sick and shipwrecked military personnel at sea during war; the third Geneva Convention applies to prisoners of war; and the fourth Geneva Convention [texts] affords protection to civilians, including in occupied territory.