A Basic Understanding of the Law of War

The phrase law of war seems absurd on first listen. War is a circumstance where normal ideas of law and order vanish, and nothing is normal. Lives are lost, others are damaged beyond repair, and chaos reigns. But it is exactly because of this toll that war takes that the world recognizes the need for there to be a set of rules or imperatives that just cannot be broken. These rules collectively make what is known as jus in bello, or the law of war, which is also studied as international humanitarian law.

The law of war states how a war should be fought. And this concept is not new, but medieval. In the year 1474, Sir Peter Von Hagenbach was tried by an ad hoc tribunal of the Holy Roman Empire. He was a knight who was tried for various offences, such as killing unarmed people and raping women. A Duke of Burgundy, Austria, he was stripped of his knighthood after the tribunal found him guilty.

Therefore, even in times of war, innocent people cannot be targeted or victimized in any way, much less murdered. The law of war, as the world has envisioned it, aims to achieve this goal. The protection of non-combatants, that is, people who do not have a fighting role in a conflict, is of utmost importance.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, major international instruments were passed which relate to the law of war. Some of these were – the Hague Regulations of 1899 and 1907, the First Geneva Conventions of 1864 and 1868. Henry Dunant, based on his experiences in the war between France, Italy and Austria in the late 1850s, founded a charitable humanitarian association known as the Geneva Association of Public Welfare in 1863, which we now know as the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The First Geneva Conventions of 1864 and 1868 on the Amelioration of Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field were ratified within 3 years of their creation by a majority of European nations. They dealt with how wounded and sick soldiers were supposed to be treated and cared for while fighting in a war.

The Second Geneva Convention was passed in 1906, but retained a major portion of the First Convention, albeit extended the scope of the same by including naval soldiers (in case of maritime warfare) within its ambit.

The Third Geneva Convention related to Treatment of Prisoners of War was passed in 1929, and dealt with how Prisoners of War (combatants who are captured by the enemy) were supposed to be treated, and the rights they were entitled to.

The Fourth Geneva Convention was not only a collection of the previous three Conventions, but also took into consideration the protection of civilians (non-combatants) during times of war. All in all, the Conventions comprised of 429 articles by 1949, and these were later supplemented by the Additional Protocols of 1977 and 2005.

In 2008, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect was established, and it envisioned the principle of Responsibility to Protect, which intended to ensure that the world community would never again fail to act against instances of genocide and other heinous and unspeakable forms of human rights abuse. The examples of WW II, and the Vietnam War, and more still, were fresh in the minds of world leaders, and the peoples of entire countries. Therefore, it was acknowledged by all that abiding by the law of war was necessary to protect the lives of people all over the world, in the dreaded case another war commenced. In recent decades however, all-out war has not broken out. There have been times when the world has been on the brink, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, but the sheer fear of the absolute destruction that another war would bring has kept nations in check. However, newer forms of warfare have emerged, such as nuclear, biological, chemical and cyber warfare, and the world will need to keep pace with these worrying changes, if we are to avoid catastrophe.


Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.

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