The Geneva and Hague Conventions were held to create laws that would establish acceptable practices and customs during any armed conflict. These rules covered topics such as war crimes, treatment of POW’s and the rights of civilians during wartime. Collectively, the documents that were produced at these conventions, as well as later treaties and agreements, are known as International Humanitarian Law (IHL).
There are two specific areas that are covered by IHL. The first is the establishment of rights and the promise of safe treatment for civilians, medical workers and all other non military personnel. Soldiers who are wounded in battle to the point that they are unable to protect themselves are also covered. Anyone who is either too sick or injured to move is expected to be cared for and given medical treatment.
Another group that is protected by these laws are military personnel that surrender willingly. It is a crime of war to shoot soldiers that have turned themselves in. They may be taken into custody as prisoners of war, at which point they continue to have the right to humane and just treatment.
The second area the IHL covers, involves restricting the types of weapons as well as the methods of destruction that are used during combat. Any military practice that shows no regard for the lives of civilians or their property is considered to be a criminal offense. No weapon that will create a massive and ongoing threat to the environment may be lawfully used for any reason. This includes every type of biological weapon and form of chemical warfare.
Although not all of the rules established by International Humanitarian Law are followed by every country, the nations of the world continue to work together to enforce these regulations and make the world a safer and more humane place.