Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Global Implications

Geneva Conventions and the Russia-Ukraine War


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Geneva Conventions

Mains level : Read the attached story

As the evidence of casualties in the civilian population continues to mount, the world will increasingly look to the Geneva Conventions in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Geneva Conventions Guidelines for Wartime

  • These are a set of four treaties, formalized in 1949, and three additional protocols, which codify widely accepted ethical and legal international standards for humanitarian treatment of those impacted by war.
  • The focus of the Conventions is the:
  1. Treatment of non-combatants and prisoners of war, and
  2. Not the use of conventional or biological and chemical weapons

What are the four Geneva Conventions?

(1) First Geneva Convention: Health and Medical Issues

  • It protects wounded and sick soldiers on land during war.
  • This convention extends to medical and religious personnel, medical units, and medical transport.
  • It has two annexes containing a draft agreement relating to hospital zones and a model identity card for medical and religious personnel.

(2) Second Geneva Convention:  Offshore Protection

  • It protects wounded, sick and shipwrecked military personnel at sea during war.
  • This convention also extends to hospital ships and medical transports by sea, with specific commentary on the treatment and protections for their personnel.

(3) Third Geneva Convention: Treatment of Prisoners of War (PoW)

It applies to prisoners of war, including a wide range of general protections such as humane treatment, maintenance and equality across prisoners, conditions of captivity, questioning and evacuation of prisoners, transit camps, food, clothing, medicines, hygiene and right to religious, intellectual, and physical activities of prisoners.

(4) Fourth Geneva Convention: Civilian protection of occupied territory ***

  • It particularly applies to the invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces.
  • It protects civilians, including those in occupied territory.
  • Comprising 159 articles, it outlines the norms for this critical dimension of conflict.

Extent of the Fourth Geneva Convention amid the Ukraine-Russia War

  • Along with the Additional Protocols of 1977, the Fourth Convention expounds upon the:
  1. General protection of populations against certain consequences of war
  2. Conduct of hostilities and the status and
  3. Treatment of protected persons
  4. Distinguishing between the situation of foreigners on the territory of one of the parties to the conflict and that of civilians in occupied territory
  • This convention also spells out the obligations of the occupying power vis-à-vis the civilian population and outlines detailed provisions on humanitarian relief for populations in occupied territory.

Which countries are signatories?

  • The Geneva Conventions have been ratified by 196 states, including all UN member states.
  • The three Protocols have been ratified by 174, 169 and 79 states respectively.

Russia and these conventions

  • In 2019, perhaps anticipating the possibility of its invading Ukraine in the near future, Russia withdrew its declaration under Article 90 of Protocol 1.
  • By withdrawing this declaration, Russia has pre-emptively left itself with the option to refuse access by any international fact-finding missions to Russian entities.
  • Not withdrawing could have find Russia responsible for violations of the Geneva Conventions standards.
  • Further, the four conventions and first two protocols of the Geneva Conventions were ratified by the Soviet Union, not Russia.
  • Hence there is a risk of the Russian government of the day disavowing any responsibility under the Conventions.

What would be the steps for potential prosecution under the Conventions?

  • Under Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the ICC, it is the ICC that has jurisdiction in respect of war crimes, in particular “when committed as part of a plan or policy or as part of a large-scale commission of such crimes.”

To what extent have Geneva Conventions been upheld worldwide in recent years?

  • Amnesty International notes that there has been a blatant disregard for civilian protection and international humanitarian law in armed conflicts where four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council are parties.
  • Specifically, Amnesty cited:
  1. US-led coalition’s bombing of Raqqa in Syria, which left more than 1,600 civilians dead
  2. Destruction of civilian infrastructure and lives in Aleppo and Idlib by Russian forces
  3. Leading to mass displacement of millions
  4. War in Yemen where the Saudi Arabia and the UAE-led coalition, backed by the West, killed and injured thousands of civilians, fuelling a full-blown humanitarian crisis


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