The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Fourth Geneva Convention

The Fourth Geneva Convention ("GCIV") relates to the protection of civilians during times of war "in the hands" of an enemy and under any occupation by a foreign power. This should not be confused with the more common Third Geneva Convention which deals with the treatment of Prisoners of war. The convention was published on August 12, 1949, at the end of a conference held in Geneva from April 21 to August 12, 1949. The convention entered into force on October 21, 1950.

This article is a commentary, see for full text.


Part I. General Provisions

This sets out the overall parameters for GCIV:

  • which parties are bound by it
  • Art 3 covers internal armed conflict (not of an international character) and it provides similar protections to the population as those described in the rest of this document for a Protected person. That Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including POWs; shall in all circumstances be treated humanely.
  • Art 4 defines who is a Protected person Persons protected by the Convention are those who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever, find themselves, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict or Occupying Power of which they are not nationals. But it explicitly excludes Nationals of a State which is not bound by the Convention and the citizens of a neutral state or an allied state.
  • A number of articles specify how Protecting Powers, ICRC and other humanitarian organizations may aid Protected persons.

Protected person is the most important definition in this section because many of the articles in the rest of GCIV only apply to Protected persons.

Art. 5 is currently one of the most controversial articles of GCIV, because it forms, (along with Art. 5 of the GCIII and parts of GCIV Art 4,) the Administration of the USA's interpretation of unlawful combatants. sud sud

Part II. General Protection of Populations Against Certain Consequences of War

Art. 13. The provisions of Part II cover the whole of the populations of the countries in conflict, without any adverse distinction based, in particular, on race, nationality, religion or political opinion, and are intended to alleviate the sufferings caused by war.

Part III. Status and Treatment of Protected Persons

Section I. Provisions common to the territories of the parties to the conflict and to occupied territories

Art. 32. A protected persons shall not be have done to them anything of such a character as to cause the physical suffering or extermination ... the physical suffering or extermination of protected persons in their hands. This prohibition applies not only to murder, torture, corporal punishments, mutilation and medical or scientific experiments not necessitated by the medical treatment

At first reading this paragraph seems clear cut, but what constitutes a legal definition of torture is complicated and is covered in depth on the Torture page. The section on scientific experiments was considered necessary because of such actions carried out by German and Japanese "doctors" during World War II, the most infamous of whom was Josef Mengele.

Art. 33. No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.
Pillage is prohibited.
Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.

Under the 1949 Geneva Conventions collective punishments are a war crime. Article 33 states: "No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed," and "collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited."

By collective punishment, the drafters of the Geneva Conventions had in mind the reprisal killings of World Wars I and II. In the First World War, Germans executed Belgian villagers in mass retribution for resistance activity. In World War II, Nazis carried out a form of collective punishment to suppress resistance. Entire villages or towns or districts were held responsible for any resistance activity that took place there. The conventions, to counter this, reiterated the principle of individual responsibility. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Commentary to the conventions states that parties to a conflict often would resort to "intimidatory measures to terrorize the population" in hopes of preventing hostile acts, but such practices "strike at guilty and innocent alike. They are opposed to all principles based on humanity and justice."

Additional Protocol II of 1977 explicitly forbids collective punishment. But as less states have ratified this protocol than GCIV, GCIV Art 33. is the one more commonly quoted.

Section II. Aliens in the territory of a party to the conflict

Section III. Occupied territories

Section IV. Regulations for the treatment of internees


Section V. Information Bureaux and Central Agency

Part IV. Execution of the Convention

Section I. General Provisions

Section II. Final Provisions

Annex I. Draft Agreement Relating to Hospital and Safety Zones and Localities

Annex II. Draft Regulations concerning Collective Relief

ANNEX III, I. Internment Card,II.Letter,III. Correspondence Card


See also

External links

Last updated: 05-07-2005 18:08:02
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04