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State treaties are a key source of international law

National and international agreements impose obligations on the activities of states. The application of international agreements as part of national law varies by country.

Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols

The Geneva Conventions on the conduct of armed conflict are at the core of international humanitarian law, and all states have ratified them. The First Geneva Convention was drawn up in 1864, following which it was expanded into four other conventions. The legal rules of war only apply during a time of armed conflict.

The key principles of the Geneva Conventions are:

  • Protection of civilians: Military action must never be directed at those not involved in the conflict, nor must the prerequisites for life for civilians, such as drinking water, be jeopardised.
  • Avoidance of excessive suffering: Prisoners of war must be treated humanely. They must not be subjected to torture or other forms of violence, and they must be provided with water, food, and the opportunity to communicate with loved ones.
  • Limiting the means of warfare: For instance, the use of chemical weapons in outlawed.
  • Safeguarding the neutrality of medical and auxiliary activities: All wounded must be treated equally. Medical and emergency measures must be protected, they may not be targeted, and access to areas for those needing help may not be restricted

The Biological Weapons Convention

The use of chemical and bacteriological (biological) weapons was banned by the Geneva Convention in 1925 and extended to include the manufacture, storage, and transport of biological weapons in 1975. Small amounts of such materials are allowed to be used in research.

The Anti-Personnel Landmines Convention

The agreement on the total ban on anti-personnel landmines and their destruction, the so-called Ottawa Convention entered into force in 1997. The use, manufacture, transport, sale, and storage of anti-personnel land mines were banned.

States ratifying the treaty are also obliged to:

  • Empty their stockpiles of anti-personnel landmines within four years
  • Clear mined areas within ten years
  • Provide assistance to victims wounded by mines.

Under the convention, an anti-personnel landmine refers to a mine placed on the ground that is activated when someone is nearby or in contact with the mine. The agreement does not prohibit mines activated by vehicles.

The drive to ban anti-personnel landmines mines began in the early 1990s because they were considered to cause unnecessary suffering and civilians could not be adequately protected from them.

The Rome Statute

The Rome Statute refers to the founding document of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which was drawn up in 1998. It entered into force in 2002, when the court started work in The Hague. The court operates in close association with the UN.

States that have ratified the Rome Statute have given the ICC powers to convict persons who are guilty of serious international crimes as defined in the treaty. These include genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression.

Conventional weapons convention

The framework agreement, which took effect in 1983, restricts the use of certain kinds of conventional weapons deemed excessively injurious. The convention restricts the use of such weapons as landmines, incendiary weapons, and blinding laser weapons.

Chemical Weapons Convention

The Chemical Weapons Convention entered into force in 1997. It prohibits the use, manufacture, transport, and storage of chemical weapons. The agreement is enforced by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques (ENMOD)

The ENMOD prohibits the modification of the environment as part of warfare. The treaty bans any powerful or permanent manipulation of any country’s land, rocky bodies, waters, atmosphere, and outer space as part of a military invasion or for any other hostile use. The convention entered into force in 1978.

Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict

The Hague convention protects for humanity culturally important items such as architecture, religious monuments, historical sites and art. The agreementhighlights the cultural value of such objects to humankind, and the ownership of the cultural object is irrelevant. The signatories to the convention undertake to protect cultural objects during war. The agreement entered into force in 1954 and was supplemented in 1999.

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