The Geneva Convention – 1864


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The Geneva Convention – 1864

Excerpt from The Westminster Review Volume 143, article ‘International Agreements and the Sufferers in War’ by Joseph King Published in 1895

In many of the wars during the first sixty years of this century the wounded on the field were great sufferers. In some it is notorious that these sufferings were most cruelly aggravated. In the Crimean war English soldiers were killed or tortured by Cossacks when lying on the battlefield; in the great Civil War in the United States the wounded, as well as the prisoners, were treated by the Southerners with a brutality worthy of men fighting to maintain a system of slavery; in the wars of Italian Independence there were intense suffering and great mortality among the wounded, aggravated by the ferocity and ruthlessness of the enemy. But the last half of the century was to see a great advance of feeling on the subject, an advance indeed so extraordinary that it is only explicable on the theory that the great national and democratic movements of the day prepared men to recognise the rights of the wounded and of those attending upon them. So after the Austrian-Italian war of [1861] the conception of neutralising the wounded on the battlefield became all at once familiar. Within a short period Dr. Palasiano in Italy, M. Henri Arrault in Paris, and M. Henry Dunant in Geneva published pamphlets in which the same generous proposal was put forward.

The Swiss writer, M. Dunant, though in point of time the latest, was able to achieve the most. His work, the famous Souvenirs de Soferino, described his experiences as an eye-witness on the field, and after the victory of Solferino. Perhaps no more realistic account of the ghastliness of a battle and its consequences was ever published; after long pages of description M. Dunant made two fruitful suggestions: (1) That associations should be formed in time of peace which, in time of war, should take up an active existence and send as volunteers the doctors and nurses to attend the wounded; (2) That an International Conference should be summoned to consider the whole question. Both of these proposals were realised within a few years.

The credit of having realised them belongs to M. Dunant, whose ability and energy have placed thousands of wounded soldiers under the greatest obligations to him.

In [1863] the Societe Genevoise d’Utilite Publique, of which M. Dunant was a prominent member, assembled at Geneva a conference of representative men from almost all the European countries. It was from this Conference that the establishment of the International Committee for Aiding the Wounded in War dates, with its federated National Aid or Red Cross Societies in the various countries. The Conference also arrived at conclusions which justified the Swiss Federal Council in inviting the various Powers to attend a Diplomatic Congress, which was held in Geneva in August [1864]. To this Congress fifteen European Powers and the United States sent delegates; the conclusions of the Congress were embodied in the so-called Geneva Convention, which was signed on the 22nd August [1864].

The idea, which is the foundation of the Geneva “Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Soldiers Wounded in Armies in the Field,”  is that the wounded themselves, those that attend on them, their hospitals, ambulances, etc., are “acknowledged to be neuter,” and are to be protected and respected as such by the belligerents. The Convention is short and contains only ten articles.

Excerpt from The Westminster Review Volume 143, article ‘International Agreements and the Sufferers in War’ by Joseph King Published in 1895


Further Rading and External Links

International Committee of the Red Cross – War and Law

Henry Dunant