The Geneva Conventions and enforcement of international humanitarian law
Revisiting the Geneva Conventions : 1949-2019
Leiden : Brill Nijhoff, 2019
Bibliography : p. 322-325
This chapter focuses on inter-belligerent enforcement of international humanitarian law (IHL), questioning what mechanisms of enforcement are employed in contemporary IHL and how best to design effective mechanisms. The author addresses these questions through an analysis of some constitutive features of the Geneva Conventions, arguing that the approach to enforcement in the Conventions differs importantly from the approach that characterised the classical law of war. The primary purpose of this paper is to provide a descriptive account of the approach of the Conventions—making clear not only the ways in which the Conventions mark an important decline in certain kinds of reciprocity constraints, but also the ways in which the Conventions encourage, even require, warring parties to retaliate against serious violations of IHL. The paper also offers some reflection on the strengths and weaknesses of this approach—emphasizing not only structural, but also sociological, cognitive, and behavioral considerations. The author concludes that the approach to enforcement in the Conventions, once properly understood and evaluated in light of various structural and psycho-social considerations, minimizes the considerable downside risks associated with the classical approach and offers a plausible, even if importantly qualified, means deterring violations of IHL.