The 1949 Geneva Conventions after seventy years : the fate of charity in turbulent times
David P. Forsythe
Host item entries:
Global governance : a review of multilateralism and international organizations, Vol. 25, no. 3, p. 359-369
Every ten years, essays appear marking another anniversary of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Many of these essays note the importance of the four landmark treaties that comprise the cornerstone of modern international humanitarian law (IHL)—aka the law of armed conflict or the laws of war. The essays usually observe the considerable development of norms in this part of international law, then move on to emphasize the lamentable lack of proper application. There is a predictable pattern to this commentary. Not surprisingly, the pattern is similar to evaluating international human rights law: normative development, maybe even a normative revolution, but lax enforcement. These two international legal firewalls against barbarianism, human rights and humanitarian law, show the same general characteristics. But then both bodies of law are made by states, which usually have other priorities especially when it comes to application. Moreover, both bodies of law are affected by important nonstate actors, armed and unarmed. What could possibly be said that is new on this hoary subject? From a political perspective there are some developments which, if not entirely new, still merit a new commentary. Many of these factors are negative, but a few are at least partly positive. Some may turn out to be positive, but are indeterminate at the moment. That framework is in itself new, and a broad approach gives insights.