IRRC No. 258

Red Cross Society of China: The 1977 Geneva Protocols and the development of international humanitarian law

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Ten years ago, two Protocols additional to the Four Geneva Conventions were adopted in Geneva: one relating to the protection of victims of international armed conflicts, the other to the protection of victims of non-international armed conflicts. This marked a forward step in the development of international humanitarian law applicable in armed conflicts. The most outstanding problem confronting international humanitarian lawyers in the postwar years has been the protection of civilians in circumstances of armed conflicts, particularly in a period characterized by wars of national liberation. The two Protocols scored achievements on two points. First, provisions were elaborated aiming at protecting civilians from the effects of hostilities as opposed to simply protecting civilians in occupied territories as had been the case of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. Secondly, the scope of the application of humanitarian law was greatly widened so as to bring a greater number of victims of armed conflicts under the protection of humanitarian law. This should in turn facilitate the observance and implementation of humanitarian law in conflicts. It is attempted in this paper to make some comments on the achievements of the Protocols, especially Protocol I relating to international armed conflicts.

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