The Geneva Conventions of 1949

Through the same months and years that the war-crimes trials were struggling towards their conclusions, a systematic review of the Geneva side of the law was quietly in progress; a review which issued in the four Geneva Conventions of the summer of 1949. Discreetly orchestrated by the International Committee of the Red Cross and confined within what that body understood to be its prudent limits, this review was so long-drawn-out and, relatively speaking, so undramatic that it attracted hardly any public attention. Yet some of its debates and achievements would have profoundly interested the more reflective members of the public. The ' Nuremberg' and ' Tokyo' stories from the outset attracted great publicity, and have not ceased to engage historians' attention. This ' Geneva' story, though thematically connected with those others and like them part of the general history of the law of war, has scarcely so far been told except by lawyers to lawyers for their own professional interest and purposes.1 It can be told (and it richly merits being told) more amply and historically.

Approaches to the Diplomatic Conference

The formal beginning of the Conventions-making process was a letter sent by the ICRC's President on 15 February 1945 to governments and national societies, outlining a provisional programme and inviting their help in assembling documentation. Governments' reactions varied in proportion with their sense of priorities--for almost all of them, after all, there was still a war on!--and with their perceptions of Geneva. Max Huber's letter, for example, came as no surprise to Washington. American Red Cross officials' customary close collaboration with the administration already included preparation of a revision agenda. In Washington, Geneva's initiative was expected and seemed only natural. To Whitehall on the other hand, it appeared strange and bothersome. Already in the preceding autumn the

The great exception is Paul de la Pradelle, La conférence diplomatique et les nouvelles conventions de Genève du 12 aôut 1949 ( Paris, 1951). One of a distinguished dynasty of international lawyers (to an earlier member of which, Albert Geouffre de Lapradelle [sic], is owed a superb history of La conférence de la paix, La Haye ( Paris, 1990), he was a professor at the University of Aix-en-Provence and Monaco's delegate at the Diplomatic Conference. He evidently wrote for many besides his fellow professionals.


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War and Law since 1945


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