Station: [8] International humanitarian law

At this point, we’d like to discuss international humanitarian law. Human rights, of course, came up earlier in the “Kanzel” room. No doubt you remember – the universal human rights, according to the UN declaration of 1948. But this is about the role of the International Red Cross in the 4th Geneva Convention on international humanitarian law, adopted in 1949.

But aren’t human rights and international law the same thing?

No. Even though both strive to protect life and human dignity, there are differences. 

And those are?

Every human being automatically has human rights from the moment they are born. International humanitarian law is a special set of rights designed to apply during armed conflicts. Its purpose is to protect individuals – civilians, the wounded, the sick, medical personnel and prisoners of war — in other words, everyone who’s not an active combatant. Those rights are based on the four Geneva Conventions of 1949. Virtually every country in the world has signed the conventions. Take a look at the panels to read up on them. Incidentally, these are original exhibits from the Expo 2000 in Hanover!  
So these are rules designed to reduce human suffering in war time – and ensure a minimally humane response? 

Yes, and it falls to the Red Cross to disseminate the rules of international humanitarian law, to ensure that they are known and can be implemented if the worst comes to the worst. But part of the organisation’s mission in war is to make sure that all parties are observing international law – and if necessary, to call on them to do so. 



Foto: © Rotkreuz Museum