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Do the Geneva Conventions Matter?

Security and Law: A Reality Check on the 70th Anniversary of the 1949 Geneva Conventions

The four Geneva Conventions of 1949 turn seventy on 12 August 2019. 70 years is a moment to celebrate. The Geneva Conventions have regulated practically all wars between states after World War II. Their common Article 3 has provided fundamental rules for non-international armed conflicts. Additionally, the Geneva Conventions have set the grounds for their three Additional Protocols, customary international law and jurisprudence on the treatment and protection of the wounded, shipwrecked, sick, prisoners of war and civilians in times of war. Considerable efforts around the globe are devoted to disseminate, train and strengthen compliance with the Geneva Conventions. As a result, the Geneva Conventions are more than just international treaties; they have become the symbol par excellence of humanity in warfare.

Yet numerous are conflicts in which the Geneva Conventions are not respected. Atrocities are being committed, rights of combatants and civilians disregarded. Moreover, new technologies with uncertain effects on human dignity, such as autonomous weapons, are emerging. This raises a pressing question: Do the Geneva Conventions actually matter? Do they really have an impact on behavior in war? 70 years after their adoption, are the Geneva Conventions ready for retirement or is their legacy just getting started?

This Reality Check will be joined by:

Prof Matthew Evangelista, President White Professor of History and Political Science, Cornell University and co-editor of the book ‘Do the Geneva Conventions Matter?’ (OUP, 2017);

Ms Jelena Pejic, Senior Legal Adviser, Legal Division, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC);

Col Jerry Lane, Director of the Legal Service, Irish Defence Forces.

Join the debate. Join the Reality Check.


Moderation: Tobias Vestner, Security and Law Programme, GCSP

This public discussion is the sixth event of Security and Law: A Reality Check, the event series to address how international law matters in security affairs.

Light refreshment will be served

The event will be filmed, however only the panellists/speakers will be captured. No visual images of the audience will be taken, their questions will be recorded in audio only.

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GCSP, Chemin Eugène Rigot 2D, 1202 Geneva

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