Reference Guide to the Geneva Conventions
How to Use this Guide
The Alphabetical Reference that begins on the next page covers the most common issues that arise with regard to the treatment of the wounded, prisoners of war, and civilians
in international conflicts or some civil wars.
Each entry includes the specific convention that addresses that topic, and where in the convention it is addressed.
Please note that the Conventions are extremely detailed, going as far as to stipulate the exact measurements of identity papers. In order to keep the Alphabetical Reference to a reasonable length, a great deal of detail was left out.
However, a reader interested in more information will be able to look up the original reference or references.
The Geneva Conventions are variously divided into Parts, Chapters, Sections, Articles and untitled subdivisions within Articles. In the Alphabetical Reference, the term "Sec." refers to a numbered subdivision within an Article. So, for example, Protocol I, Art. 51, Sec. 5b refers to the fifth subdivision, item b, in Article 51 of Protocol I.
By John Hopkins
Former Chair, SPJ International Journalism Committee
In this year's bloody film spectacle The Patriot, movie-goers are shown several examples of what today would be called crimes of war. Whether the British cavalry leader Banastre Tarleton ever slaughtered the wounded or Ð and I seriously doubt this – burned villagers in their house of worship, we do know that he was shunned by his fellow officers after the British surrender, because of his savage zeal against the Colonials in North and South Carolina. History, if not Hollywood, shows us that humankind's quest for the rules of fighting fair goes back for centuries.
Long before musket, machine gun or mustard gas appeared on the world's battlefields, ambassadors and some generals tried to bring a measure of civility into warfare. Among the greatest achievements of this effort are the Geneva Conventions of 1949, product of a century of diplomacy and a compelling wave of revulsion as the social and spiritual cost of modern warfare, demonstrated by two world wars, began to be reckoned. Those treaties are almost universally revered and almost nowhere understood. And we need to understand them. Bosnia showed that, and so did Rwanda.
You can find the treaties in most good libraries, but an unfamiliar reader may easily feel that he needs an international lawyer to get through them. That, our committee believes, is one reason journalists have neglected both the potential and the failures of the treaties to curb the inhumanity of race or tribe or creed set one against another.
This guide, made possible by a grant from the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, means to make these important documents accessible to reporters in the field and to their busy editors.
Copyright © 2003 Maria Trombly. All rights reserved.