Since 1949, the Geneva Conventions have placed limits on how war is waged, seeking to protect civilians during conflict. For 60 years, however, turning the rules into reality on the ground remains a major challenge.
One year after the war between Georgia and Russia, hundreds of people are still suffering its effects. Natia no longer has a home or income after she and her family fled the fighting. “They started to beat and kill the people,” she said, crying. “Then we watched as the flames went up. Soldiers do not have the right to destroy the property of ordinary people.” Before her home was destroyed, Natia had never even heard of the Geneva Conventions or what they say. According to the text: “Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property, belonging individually or collectively to private persons, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.” In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the civil war has killed and displaced millions. There are also countless other victims like 17-year-old Gloria. “When I looked up, I saw an armed man,” she said. “I wondered if I should stand up and try and run. I did not know what to do. I bent down. He said to me, ‘You sit down now’. I refused. Then he grabbed the back of my neck and I fell down. And then they raped me. Afterwards, I lay there like someone dead.” After being gang-raped Gloria had a child. Under the Geneva Conventions: “…Women shall be especially protected against any attack on their honour, in particular against rape…” “You can see that the law itself is not respected. That is the problem,” explained the ICRC’s Head of Delegation, Dominique Liengme. Sixty years on, the four conventions and three additional protocols remain in place, ratified by all 194 states, making them universal.