Geneva Convention Laws

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 What Are the Geneva Conventions?

The Geneva Conventions are a set of four treaties and three additional protocols that establish the standards of international law for humanitarian treatment in war. They were established in 1864, 1906, 1929, and 1949, respectively, and are universally recognized. They outline the basic rights of wartime prisoners (both military and civilian), establish protections for the wounded and sick, and provide protection for civilians in and around a war zone.

There isn’t a specific Geneva Human Rights Convention. The Geneva Conventions primarily deal with humanitarian treatment during war, but some of the principles indirectly touch upon human rights.

Human rights are more generally encompassed by documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted by the United Nations in 1948, and the subsequent International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

The Geneva Conventions are part of international law—they are universally recognized treaties that bind all nations who have ratified them. The conventions are enforced by the International Committee of the Red Cross, national governments, and in some cases, international courts such as the International Criminal Court. Violations of the Geneva Conventions, known as war crimes, can be prosecuted at an international level.

What Are the Customary Laws?

In the context of the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law, “customary laws” refer to customary international humanitarian law. This comprises rules that come from a general practice accepted as law and that exist independently of treaty law. Customary international humanitarian law complements the protections provided by the formal Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols.

Customary law in this context is significant because it applies to all states regardless of whether they have ratified the relevant treaties. It is considered binding on all parties in an armed conflict, including non-state actors.

Customary international humanitarian law covers a broad range of rules. For instance, some of the most fundamental principles include:

  1. The principle of distinction: Parties must always distinguish between civilians and combatants, and attacks may only be directed against combatants.
  2. Prohibition on torture: Torture and all forms of inhumane treatment are strictly prohibited.
  3. Principle of proportionality: Parties must not launch an attack if it may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, or damage to civilian objects, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.

These customary laws have been identified and cataloged by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in its study on customary international humanitarian law. This extensive study offers an in-depth look at the 161 rules that the ICRC has identified as constituting customary international humanitarian law.

Who is the High Commissioner for Human Rights?

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is Volker Türk of Austria. He succeeded Michelle Bachelet of Chile and was appointed by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, with approval by the General Assembly.

Mr. Türk has had a long and distinguished career dedicated to advancing universal human rights, focusing on the international protection of vulnerable people like refugees and stateless persons. Before his appointment as High Commissioner, he served as the Under-Secretary-General for Policy in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, where he coordinated global policy work and ensured UN system-wide coordination in the follow-up to the Secretary-General’s “Call to Action for Human Rights.”

In addition to his policy work, Türk previously served as Assistant High Commissioner for Protection in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva. He played a crucial role in developing the landmark Global Compact on Refugees.

Throughout his career, Türk held numerous key positions at UNHCR headquarters and served in various regions around the world, including Malaysia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Kuwait.

Educationally, Türk holds a doctorate in international law from the University of Vienna and a Master of Laws degree from the University of Linz, Austria. He has published widely on international refugee law and international human rights law and is multilingual, fluent in English, French, and German, with a working knowledge of Spanish.

Which Rules Apply to Me?

Understanding which laws and regulations apply to you can be quite complex as it relies heavily on factors such as your location, citizenship, and the nature of the activities you’re engaged in. Here’s an explanation:

Domestic Laws

These are the laws of the country, state, or province where you live or where an act takes place. They cover a wide array of issues, including criminal matters, family law, contract law, and more. Everyone within a country’s borders is subject to that country’s domestic laws, regardless of their citizenship status. For example, if you live in France, you must abide by French law.

International Laws

These are laws agreed upon by nations in a global or regional context, often in the form of treaties or conventions, which nations then incorporate into their domestic legal framework. An example of this is the Geneva Conventions, which apply globally and relate to the conduct of war and the treatment of those involved in warfare.

Human Rights Laws

Stemming from international law, human rights laws are generally applicable to all individuals, irrespective of nationality or statelessness. These laws stem from documents like the UDHR, the ICCPR, and the ICESCR. These rights include, but are not limited to:

  • Right to life: Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.
  • Freedom from torture: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment. This is an absolute right and cannot be derogated under any circumstance.
  • Freedom of expression: This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Customary Laws

These are local customs or traditions that have gained legal force over time due to their long-standing and consistent use. Courts can sometimes recognize these and have the same weight as codified law.

Citizenship Laws

These laws apply specifically to citizens of a particular country, regardless of where in the world they might be. For example, U.S. citizens may be subject to U.S. taxation on their global income, regardless of their place of residence:

  1. Extraterritorial Laws: These are domestic laws that a country applies to conduct occurring outside its borders. They are often applied in the context of criminal law (for example, laws against child exploitation may apply to a country’s citizens while they are abroad) or environmental law.
  2. Occupational Laws: Certain professions have specific laws and regulations that apply to them. These can often extend beyond domestic boundaries. For instance, international aviation law applies to pilots regardless of where they are flying.

In essence, the laws that apply to you can originate from multiple sources, and understanding them can require an awareness of local laws, your personal status, and the international commitments of the country you are in.

What Do I Do if I Feel My Rights Have Been Violated?

If you suspect that your rights, particularly with regard to discrimination and sentencing, have been breached, there are several steps you can take:

  1. Record the Event: Compile any supporting material and identify any individuals who can vouch for the incident. This could involve the collection of discriminatory emails, documents, or any form of evidence that points towards unfair sentencing or bias.
  2. Report the Injustice: Depending on the circumstances, you may need to file a police report or inform an authority figure in your institution, such as a supervisor at your workplace or an administrative officer at your school.
  3. Contact Human Rights Organizations: These groups can provide essential assistance and direction in managing the infringement. They can guide you through the process of reporting and dealing with discrimination or inappropriate sentencing.
  4. Seek Legal Counsel: Speaking with an attorney can be valuable. A lawyer knowledgeable in human rights or anti-discrimination laws can help you explore your legal options and might assist you in initiating a lawsuit if needed.

Do I Need a Lawyer Experienced With Human Rights Issues?

If you believe that your human rights have been violated, it would be beneficial to consult with a lawyer who has experience in human rights issues. They can provide guidance on how to proceed and represent you in any necessary legal proceedings.

LegalMatch is a service that can help you find a government lawyer for your needs. Our broad network includes lawyers with a variety of practice areas, including human rights law.

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