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The Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949: From the 1949 Diplomatic Conference to the Dawn of the New Millennium
International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-)
Vol. 76, No. 1 (Jan., 2000), pp. 41-50
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2626195
Page Count: 10
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In 1949 the Swiss government convened a diplomatic conference to update international humanitarian law in the light of the tragic experiences of the Second World War. Although the proceedings were largely dominated by the fear that the coup in Prague, the blockade of Berlin and the Chinese civil war would lead to a third world war, the conference succeeded in adopting the four Geneva Conventions that are still in force today. This was a major breakthrough from a humanitarian point of view as well as a significant political success. However, in the 50 years that followed, the new Conventions were applied to circumstances that differed widely from those that their framers had in mind. Since the threat of nuclear annihilation prevented any direct and open confrontation between the superpowers, their rivalry led instead to a proliferation of internal conflicts along the fault-lines of the Cold War. What then was the significance of the new Geneva Conventions? What are the prospects for the future of international humanitarian law? These are some of the questions that deserve our attention as the twentieth century-scarred as it was by so many wars-gives way to the twenty-first.
International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-) © 2000 Royal Institute of International Affairs