A New Geneva Convention

 The problem

The four treaties comprising the Geneva Conventions and their three Additional Protocols were the result of a long negotiating process among states dating back to the mid-19th century. Together, these instruments are still considered the cornerstone of contemporary international humanitarian law. 

Yet, both the passage of time, and rise of new threats, actors and means and methods of warfare have made updates necessary. One of the main challenges concerns military operations conducted by multi-national forces. Peacekeepers involved in post-conflict and peacebuilding operations have been accused of serious human rights abuses. In Bosnia, for example, civilian police were alleged to be involved in the buying and selling of women, as well as colluding with criminal organizations in human trafficking.

To date, measures intended to end impunity have been ineffective. The dismissive attitude of member states in relation to allegations of sexual abuse and human trafficking, together with a lack of attention to violations of fundamental rights have indirectly endorsed this kind of behaviour. Moreover, the UN has failed in instilling a gender sensitive culture in field operations.

 The idea

The aim of this project is to ensure the continuing relevance of the Geneva Conventions in the 21st century. The research necessary to update these instruments will not be bound to the mere interpretation of treaties, soft law or case-law, but will also be based on the experience of experts and practitioners. The update will also take into account developments in related areas of international law, such as international criminal law and human rights law, which were in an embryonic stage when the Geneva Conventions were originally adopted.

It is an acknowledged truth that international law is, by nature, difficult to reform. Treaties need the political approval of contracting parties in order to be amended or modified. Yet, there is a pressing need for a new and efficient regulatory framework to address this issue and reflect the contemporary realities of conflict. 

To overcome the reservations - or indeed opposition - of states in driving reform, a parallel path would be taken initially at both the international level - through relevant intergovernmental organizations and NGOs - as well as at the domestic level - through the work of national courts and awareness raising via civil society, public opinion campaigns and media partners.

Potential impact

Peacekeepers who take advantage of their position violate the essence of their duty. Under the present regulatory framework, the people who have allegedly committed such crimes have not been punished. This failure is a result of the unwillingness of the UN to improve its disciplinary system, as well as of domestic legal systems to take appropriate action to prevent and prosecute this type of offence. 

International society - let alone conflict settings - will never be free from violence and injustice, and in this sense the project could be perceived as a utopian program. Yet, A New Geneva Convention aims to suggest, in realistic terms, new ways to improve and update international legal institutions to ensure that they remain relevant in intent and practice in a changing era of war and international criminal prosecution.

Moreover, in a time when the UN is finding it increasingly difficult to convince members states to contribute personnel to new peacekeeping missions, and abuse scandals have exacerbated waning public confidence in the value of such operations, this project could have a wider social value in helping to restore belief in the ability of the international community to assist in conflict and post-conflict settings without doing further harm.


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