INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW: A BRIEF HISTORY

International Committee is the guardian of humanitarian law and is also known as the Law of Arms or Law of Armed Conflicts. ICRC is considered to be a part of the global landscape that’s why we the people are very much related to it. ICRC lays that it is not possible to reduce wars in the world, but it is always possible to reduce the sufferings caused during wars. It works to safeguard the Fundamental Humanitarian Rights and the dignity of the persons including the refugees, soldiers, wounded soldiers, captured soldiers, civilians and many others. The main objective of the ICRC is to maintain peace and protect all the nations of the world during a conflict between any two countries.

The Human Rights Law and the International Humanitarian Law are two distinct terms even though they have a lot of similarity among them. Human Rights Law applies during conditions of peace while the IHL applies during conditions of conflicts and disturbances .The distinction between the two laws is said to be artificial. The rights covered by the two are human rights covers the areas of freedom of expression, assembly and also the right to marry. While IHL covers the protection of the wounded, sick and shipwrecked. IHL is an international law that applies to situations of armed conflicts and also limits the effects of the conflict.

International humanitarian law has a brief but eventful history. It was not until the second half of the nineteenth century that nations agreed on international rules to avoid needless suffering in wars-rules.

It started with French and Austrian armies fighting the battle of Solferino in northern Italy in June, 1859. The idea of international action to limit the suffering of the sick and wounded in wars was born in the mind of Henri Dunant, a young Swiss citizen. Dunant found himself, more or less by accident, among thousands of French and Austrian wounded after the battle, and with a few other volunteers he did what he could to ease their suffering. Appalled by what he had seen, he then wrote a book Un souvenir de Solferino, published in 1862, in which he suggested that national societies should be created to care for the sick and wounded irrespective of their race, nationality or religion. He also proposed that States should make a treaty recognizing the work of these organizations and guaranteeing better treatment for the wounded.

With four friends, Henri Dunant then set up the International Committee for Aid to the Wounded (soon to be renamed the International Committee of the Red Cross). Dunant’s ideas met a wide response. In several countries national societies were founded and at a diplomatic conference in Geneva in 1864 the delegates of 16 European nations adopted the Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field. This document, the First Geneva Convention, enshrined the principles of universality and tolerance in matters of race, nationality and religion. The emblem, a red cross on a white field, was adopted as the distinguishing mark of military medical personnel. In Islamic countries, the emblem is a red crescent on a white field. Medical staff and installations were from this time on to be considered as neutral.

The Convention formally laid the foundations of international humanitarian law.

Seema Agarwal

Research Asst. in Law

Indian Institute of Legal Studies

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