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Destruction of city of Cologne during World War 2 Destruction of city of Cologne during World War 2 

The Geneva Conventions turn 70

The Geneva Conventions mark their 70th anniversary on Monday. Pope Francis has said he hopes this anniversary will “make states increasingly aware of the indispensable need to protect the life and dignity of victims of armed conflict”.

By Vatican News

The Geneva Conventions is a unique set of agreements, treaties and protocols. Sometimes known as “the laws of war”, it is also the only universally ratified treaty in the world.

Who the Geneva Conventions protect

In the preamble to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, signatory nations clearly state their “earnest wish to see peace prevail among peoples”. By signing these agreements, every country in the world commits itself to safeguarding people not taking part in hostilities, protecting the sick and wounded, and respecting the basic rights of wartime prisoners.

The Fourth Geneva Convention deals in detail with the question of hostage taking, unlawful deportation and torture. Later treaties relate specifically to the prohibition of anti-personnel landmines.

What the Geneva Conventions mean today

Rapidly changing technologies mean the way war is conducted in the 21st century has changed radically since 1949. The Geneva Conventions remain the cornerstone of international humanitarian law. In many places they still provide the only legal protection for civilians caught up in a conflict zone. The attacking of civilians, according to the Conventions, constitutes a war crime. Anywhere.

Why Pope Francis praised the Geneva Conventions

Speaking before the Angelus in St Peter’s Square on Sunday, Pope Francis described the Geneva Conventions as “important international legal instruments which impose limits on the use of force”. All countries are required to observe these limits, he continued: “protecting unarmed populations and civil structures, especially hospitals, places of worship, and refugee camps”. “Let us not forget that war and terrorism are always a serious loss for humanity”, said the Pope, adding spontaneously: “they are the great defeat of humanity”.  

12 August 2019, 14:54