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Human Rights in War: On the Entangled Foundations of the 1949 Geneva Conventions

  • Boyd van Dijk (a1)


The relationship between human rights and humanitarian law is one of the most contentious topics in the history of international law. Most scholars studying their foundations argue that these two fields of law developed separately until the 1960s. This article, by contrast, reveals a much earlier cross-fertilization between these disciplines. It shows how “human rights thinking” played a critical generative role in transforming humanitarian law, thereby creating important legacies for today's understandings of international law in armed conflict.



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1 This article was first presented at the workshop Political Thought and Intellectual History at the University of Cambridge, and the seminar Global Intellectual History at the University of Amsterdam. Special thanks to Karin Loevy, Joshua Smeltzer, Dirk Moses, Samuel Moyn, Paul van Trigt, Brian Drohan, Karin van Leeuwen, Paul Betts, Federico Romero, Edward Cavanagh, Mira Siegelberg, Andrei Mamolea, and the four anonymous reviewers for their useful insights and feedback.

2 For additional examples, see Robertson, Arthur, Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, in Studies and Essays on International Humanitarian Law and Red Cross Principles in Honour of Jean Pictet (Swinarski, Christophe ed., 1984); Keith Suter, An International Law of Guerilla Warfare: The Global Politics of Law-Making 35 (1984); Hoffmann, Stefan-Ludwig, Introduction: Genealogies of Human Rights, in Human Rights In The Twentieth Century 1119 (Hoffmann, Stefan-Ludwig ed., 2011); Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia 220 (2010); Gerald Draper, The Relationship Between the Human Rights Regime and the Law of Armed Conflicts, Isr. Y.B. Hum. Rts. (1971); Constantine Antonopoulos, The Relationship Between International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, Revue Hellénique De Droit International 599–634 (2010). In his excellent dissertation, Giovanni Mantilla has admitted that there existed a tenuous connection between human rights and humanitarian law in the 1940s. Still, he largely follows the orthodox view in the literature by arguing that a real overlap came about “[o]nly until decades later.” Giovanni Mantilla Casas, Under (Social) Pressure: The Historical Regulation of Internal Armed Conflicts Through International Law 194 (Univ. of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation, 2013).

3 Schindler, Dietrich, Human Rights and Humanitarian Law: Interrelationship of the Laws, 31 Am. U. L. Rev. 935 (1982). Swiss jurist Robert Kolb has similarly argued that during the 1940s “[Human rights law and international humanitarian law] were neatly and completely separated, intellectually and in practice. Nothing illustrated this fact better than the almost complete lack of attention paid by the delegates to the contemporaneous conferences for the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and for the Geneva Conventions of 1949 to the efforts of the other body.” Robert Kolb, Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Max Planck Encyclopedia Of Public International Law, para. 5, available at The influential human rights activist Aryeh Neier has said so as well: “[t]hough international humanitarian law and international human rights law [have] developed independently, in our time they have converged and are now deeply interwoven.” Aryeh Neier, The International Human Rights Movement: A History 137 (2012).

4 American jurist Richard Baxter noted as early as 1955 that several of the Civilian Convention's provisions against inhumane treatment were “basically a bill of rights for enemy civilians in time of war.” However, he added, “human rights is, I realize, a dirty word these days, and I shall therefore refrain from characterizing these provisions as a human rights convention.” It is partly for this reason that the connection between human rights and the Geneva Conventions has generally been overlooked since 1949. Humanizing the Laws of War. Selected Writings Of Richard Baxter 117 (Detlev F. Vagts, Theodor Meron, Stephen Schwebel & Charles Keever eds., 2014). A few contemporary legal scholars do investigate this connection. Katharine Fortin, for example, has shown skillfully the crucial overlap between human rights and the Geneva Conventions. However, as she focuses on public records rather than internal discussions, Fortin underemphasizes the ICRC's mixed track record, and suggests that the Stockholm preamble featuring human rights was created by the ICRC, instead of Cahen and Castberg, as explained later. Fortin, Katharine, Complementarity Between the ICRC and the United Nations and International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law, 1948–1968, 94 Int'l Rev. Red Cross 1433, 1445 (2012). Similarly, the ICRC historian Catherine Rey-Schyrr and Bruno Cabanes have pointed to the close connection between human rights and the Civilian Convention. However, they do not explain how, or to what extent, this connection was drawn by the drafters. Catherine Rey-Schyrr, De Yalta à Bien Phu: Histoire du Comité International de la Croix-Rouge 1945–1955 (2007); Bruno Cabanes, The Great War and the Origins of Humanitarianism 312–13 (2014). A similar approach is found in Leslie Green's study of the Civilian Convention. Leslie Green, Essays on the Modern Law of War (1999).

5 See Doswald-Beck, Louise & Vité, Silvain, International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law, 33 Int'l Rev. Red Cross 94 (1993); Steven Jensen, The Making of International Human Rights: The 1960s, Decolonization and The Reconstruction of Global Values 206 (2016). For a history of human rights and IHL since the 1960s, see Alexander, Amanda, A Short History of International Humanitarian Law, 26 Eur. J. Int'l L. 109 (2015). Other accounts stress general complementarity between human rights and humanitarian law in this era. One example: Ruti Teitel, Humanity's Law (2011).

6 Int'l Conference on Human Rights, Teheran, April 22–May 13, 1968, Final Act of the International Conference on Human Rights, UN Doc. A/CONF. 32/41 (1968).

7 Lynn Hunt, Inventing Human Rights: A History (2008).

8 Witt, John Fabian, Two Conceptions of Suffering in War, in Knowing the Suffering of Others (Sarat, Austin ed., 2014).

9 Michael Ignatieff, The Warrior's Honor: Ethnic War and the Modern Conscience 119–20 (1998).

10 For an insightful overview of the theories of humanitarian law, see Mégret, Frédéric, Theorizing the Laws of War, in The Oxford Handbook of the Theory of International Law (Orford, Anne & Hoffmann, Florian eds., 2016).

11 Georges Cahen-Salvador, Les nouvelles conventions de Gen ève pour la protection des victimes de la guerre seront sign ées aujourd'hui, Le Figaro, Dec. 8, 1949. For his contemporary views on the UDHR as an inspirational source for the Geneva Conventions’ development, see Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of 1949, Vol. II, Section A, at 694–96, Library of Congress (LOC), Washington, DC. On Cahen's life and his interwar attempts to protect the economic and social rights of French citizens: Chatriot, Alain, Georges Cahen-Salvador, Un réformateur social dans la haute Administration Française (1875–1963), 7 Revue d'Histoire de la Protection Sociale 103 (2014).

12 Cited from: Krafft, Agenor, The Present Position of the Red Cross Geneva Conventions, 37 Transactions Grotius Society 131, 146 (1951). Pilloud, Claude, La déclaration universelle des droits de l'homme et les conventions internationales protégeant les victimes de la guerre, 31 Revue Internationale de la Croix-Rouge et Bulletin International des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge 252–58 (1949). For similar views from other Francophone contemporaries, see Claude Du Pasquier, Promenade Philosophique Autour des Conventions de Genève de 1949 (1950); Henri Coursier, Les éléments essentiels du respect de la personne humaine dans la convention de Genève du 12 Août 1949, relative à la protection des personnes civiles en temps de guerre, Revue Internationale de la Croix-Rouge et Bulletin International des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge 354–69 (1950).

13 Lauterpacht, Hersch, The Problem of the Revision of the Law of War, 29 Brit. Y.B. Int'l L. 360, 362 (1952) (“[I]n fact it might be said that this [reference from the Civilian Convention], in its limited sphere, is a veritable universal declaration of human rights; unlike the Declaration adopted by the General Assembly in December 1948, it is an instrument laying down legal rights and obligations as distinguished from a mere pronouncement of moral principles and ideal standards of conduct.”).

14 See Maurice Bourquin, Brochure, The Geneva Convention for the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, 1949, No. 3043, Code-Archief Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken, National Archives of the Netherlands (NA), The Hague; Bourquin, Maurice, La position de l'individu dans l'ordre juridique international, 36 Revue Internationale de la Croix-Rouge et Bulletin International des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge 880, 888–89 (1954).

15 Gutteridge, Joyce, The Geneva Conventions of 1949, 26 Brit. Y.B. Int'l L. 294, 296–97, 325–26 (1949).

16 Luban, David, Human Rights Thinking and the Laws of War, in Theoretical Boundaries of Armed Conflict and Human Rights 4647 (Ohlin, Jens ed., 2016); Milinda Banerjee, Sovereignty as a Motor of Global Conceptual Travel: Sanskritic Equivalents of “Law” in Bengali Discursive Production, Modern Intellectual Hist. 1–20 (2018).

17 See Tanisha Fazal, Wars of Law: Unintended Consequences in the Regulation of Armed Conflict (2018); Hitchcock, William, Human Rights and the Laws of War: The Geneva Conventions of 1949, in Human Rights Revolution: An International History 9697 (Iriye, Akira, Goedde, Petra & Hitchcock, William eds., 2012).

18 Moses, Dirk, Empire, Resistance, and Security: International Law and the Transformative Occupation of Palestine, 8 Humanity 379 (2017).

19 See Punishment for War Crimes, The Inter-Allied Declaration Signed at St. James's Palace, London, January 13, 1942; Joint Declaration by Members of the United Nations, December 10, 1942.

20 Report Conference of Government Expert at Geneva, Introduction, 1947, No. 3795, FO369 (Foreign Office), The National Archives (TNA), Kew.

21 I agree here with Samuel Moyn's incisive critique of “cascading logics” as a means to explain the rise or fall of particular concepts. See Moyn, Samuel, On the Nonglobalization of Ideas, in Global Intellectual History 190–91 (Moyn, Samuel & Sartori, Andrew eds., 2013).

22 Luban, supra note 16.

23 Ohlin, Jens, Introduction: The Inescapable Collision, in Theoretical Boundaries of Armed Conflict and Human Rights 1 (Ohlin, Jens ed., 2016).

24 These specific terms were first coined by Marko Milanović. Milanović, Marko, The Lost Origins of Lex Specialis: Rethinking the Relationship Between Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, in Theoretical Boundaries of Armed Conflict and Human Rights 7879 (Ohlin, Jens ed., 2016).

25 Pitts, Jennifer, The Critical History of International Law, 43 Pol. Theory 541 (2015). The most outspoken publications recognizing a direct human rights influence on the 1949 Geneva Conventions are William Hitchcock's impressive (and pioneering) chapter and Anne Peters's distinguished legal analysis. Based on Anglophone sources, the historically selective ICRC Commentary, and/or the conferences’ translated and edited minutes, they have shown how human rights conceptions played a major part during these discussions regarding the extent to which persons and soldiers were to be granted intangible rights under these treaties. However, Hitchcock's important account, like that of Peters, is incomplete and it does not explain in a detailed and satisfying way why, by whom, and when human rights and humanitarian law precisely connected, and how this connection was challenged in various ways by the very same people who had first promoted it. The role of leading French and Swiss drafters is not further explored either, nor the significance of human rights in war, as well as its internal contradictions, paradoxes, unintended consequences, and conceptual limits. See Anne Peters, Beyond Human Rights: The Legal Status of the Individual in International Law 194 (2016); Hitchcock, supra note 17, at 97–98, 106. Mark Bradley's tour de force, which stresses a connection between post-1945 human rights and the Geneva Conventions is “informed by Hitchcock's analysis.” Mark Bradley, The World Reimagined: Americans and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century 96–97, 262 (2016).

26 Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of 1949, supra note 11, Vol. II, Section A, at 696.

27 This term “Greater War” comes from the Oxford University Press series led by Robert Gerwarth, which focuses on armed conflict between 1912 and 1923.

28 This point resonates with Bruno Cabanes’s sweeping analysis stressing the importance of the Great(-er) War as a formative experience for the “post-1945 assertion of human rights as the bulwark of human dignity.” Cabanes, supra note 4, at 307.

29 Mégret, supra note 10.

30 Benvenisti, Eyal & Lustig, Doreen, Taming Democracy: Codifying the Laws of War to Restore the European Order, 1856–1874, at 3–5 (University of Cambridge Faculty of Law Research Paper, 2017).

31 Doris Graber has noted that jurists remained divided, for instance, over whether collective penalties were legal. Doris Appel Graber, The Development of the Law of Belligerent Occupation 1863–1914, at 159 (1949).

32 Only when an insurgency in times of civil or colonial war complied with very strict criteria and was recognized as a belligerent power could it become a subject of the international laws of war. This decision to recognize a situation of belligerency (or insurgency) required all parties to adhere to the laws of war. See P.K. Menon, The Law of Recognition in International Law: Basic Principles (1994); Anthony Cullen, The Concept of Non-international Armed Conflict in International Humanitarian Law (2010); Sandesh Sivakumaran, The Law of Non-international Armed Conflict (2012).

33 Philippe Papelier, Le Droit de la Guerre et la Population Civile 10 (1955). The internment of civilians generated serious debate among international lawyers, who generally agreed that many of its forms should be considered unlawful. Stibbe, Matthew, The Internment of Civilians by Belligerent States During the First World War and the Response of the International Committee of the Red Cross, 41 J. Contemp. Hist. 519 (2006). For the vast historiography of civilian internment during World War I, see Rüdiger Overmans, In der Hand des Feindes: Kriegsgefangenschaft von der Antike bis Zum Zweiten Weltkrieg (1999); Panikos Panayi, The Enemy in Our Midst: Germans in Britain During the First World War (1991); Annette Becker, Oubliés de la Grande Guerre: Humanitaire et Culture De Guerre, 1914–1918: Populations Occupées, Déportés Civils, Prisonniers de Guerre (1998).

34 Benvenisti & Lustig, supra note 30.

35 Graber, supra note 31, at 194–95.

36 Alexander, Amanda, The Genesis of the Civilian, 20 Leiden J. Int'l L. 359, 362 (2007).

37 See Mégret, Frédéric, From “Savages” to “Unlawful Combatants”:A Postcolonial Look at International Humanitarian Law's “Other,” in International Law and Its Others (Orford, Anne ed., 2006); Helen Kinsella, The Image Before the Weapon: A Critical History of the Distinction Between Combatant and Civilian (2011).

38 Geoffrey Best, Humanity in Warfare: The Modern History of the International Laws of Armed Conflict 96 (1980); Graber, supra note 31, at 207–15; Alexander, supra note 36, at 361.

39 Heather Jones, Violence Against Prisoners of War in the First World War: Britain, France, and Germany, 1914–1920 (2011).

40 Alexander, supra note 36, at 361.

41 Id. at 368–69. See also Isabel Hull, A Scrap of Paper: Breaking and Making International Law During the Great War (2014).

42 Commission on the Responsibility of the Authors of the War and on Enforcement of Penalties, 14 AJIL 95, 112–15 (1920).

43 Rapport présenté par le Comité international à la Xme Conférence, 3 Revue Internationale de la Croix-Rouge et Bulletin International des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge 100 (1921); Ferrière, Frédéric, Projet d’une Convention internationale réglant la situation des civils tombés à la guerre au pouvoir de l’ennemi, 5 Revue Internationale de la Croix-Rouge et Bulletin International des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge 560 (1923).

44 Report American delegation, 1912, No. 73, American Red Cross, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), College Park, MD; Report Russian Red Cross for Red Cross Conference, 1921, ICRC Library.

45 Lowe, Kimberly, Humanitarianism and National Sovereignty: Red Cross Intervention on Behalf of Political Prisoners in Soviet Russia, 1921–23, 49 J. Contemp. Hist. 652 (2014).

46 See Lodygensky, Georges, La Croix-Rouge et la Guerre Civile, 1 Revue Internationale de la Croix-Rouge et Bulletin International des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge 1159 (1919); Lodygensky, Georges, La Croix-Rouge et la Guerre Civile (2me article), 2 Revue Internationale de la Croix-Rouge et Bulletin International des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge 654 (1920); Georges Lodygensky, Face au Communisme, 1905–1950: Quand Genève Était le Centre du Mouvement Anticommuniste International (2009).

47 See Peters, supra note 25, at 18–20; Cabanes, supra note 4, at 10–11.

48 Ferrière, supra note 43.

49 Lowe, supra note 45.

50 Rapport présenté par le Comité international à la Xme Conférence, supra note 43, at 107.

51 The conference covered only those political prisoners held in civil war or in time of revolution. As we saw previously, this idea formed an anti-communist response to the imprisonment of anti-Bolshevik individuals during the Russian Civil War.

52 Frits Kalshoven, Belligerent Reprisals 71–72 (1971).

53 The International Law Association had already previously distinguished between civilian and military detainment. Id. at 74.

54 Letter Lescaze to Werner, June 2, 1923, No. CR-119-1, Les Archives du Comité international de la Croix Rouge (ACICR), Geneva; Letter Ferrière to Lescaze, May 8, 1923, No. CR-119-1, ACICR. One example of such a bilateral agreement was the Franco-German Convention of May 1917. The ICRC also issued declarations calling for the release of civilian prisoners. Stibbe, supra note 33, at 15–16.

55 Lowe, supra note 45.

56 Ferrière, supra note 43.

57 The French had boycotted the 1921 conference in response to the German unwillingness to condemn their country's wartime violations of the laws of war, and this proved to be a critical fact. Best, supra note 38, at 232–33.

58 See Susan Pedersen, The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis Of Empire (2015).

59 Minutes of 1923 Red Cross Conference, Commission IV, August 29–30, 1923, ICRC Library.

60 Few National Red Cross Societies responded to an ICRC circular asking for information about the question of civilian protection. Minutes of Meeting Commission Diplomatique, February 12, 1925, No. CR-119-1, ACICR.

61 See Minutes Meeting Commission des Civils, November 28, 1923, No. CR-119-1, ACICR. Some thought, naively, that a largely symbolic measure like banning civilian internment for “non-mobilizable persons” would be a major first step. See Frick-Cramer, Renée Marguerite, A propos des projects de conventions internationales réglant le sort des prisonniers, 7 Revue Internationale de la Croix-Rouge et Bulletin International des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge 73, 79 (1925). For Rolin's skepticism toward the Civilian Convention, see Letter Albéric Rolin to Lescaze, January 2, 1924, No. CR-119-1, ACICR.

62 Minutes of Meeting ICRC and Swiss Federal officials, February 12, 1926, No. CR-119-2, ACICR. This point echoes with that of Isabelle Vonèche Cardia concerning the Swiss government's role in shaping the ICRC's decision making during World War II. Isabelle Vonèche Cardia, Neutralité Entre le Comité International de la Croix-Rouge (CICR) et le Gouvernement Suisse 239–46 (2012).

63 Report Propositions et Observations des Gouvernements sur l'Avant-Projet de Convention Internationale Relative au Traitement de Prisonniers de Guerre, 1929, No. CD_1929_DOC_02, ICRC Library.

64 See Documentation Diplomatic Conference, 1929, No. CR-119-2, ACICR; Letter Federal Council to ICRC on Civilian Protection, February 21, 1930, No. CR-119-2, ACICR.

65 See, e.g., Minutes of Meeting CV, April 12, 1934, No. CR-119-2, ACICR. The concept of “armed conflict” became first extensively used in the 1920s, when aggressive war became legally prohibited under the Kellogg-Briand Pact and states were much less inclined to declare war formally. Thus, the process of recasting civil war and interstate war as “armed conflict” has its origins in the interwar period, rather than in the years after 1945, as is often assumed in retrospect. Oona Hathaway & Scott Shapiro, The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World (2017).

66 Jean-Claude Favez, The Red Cross and the Holocaust 15–16 (1999).

67 Avant-Projet de Convention adopté à Monaco, February 1934, ICRC Library.

68 Burgers, Jan, The Road to San Francisco: The Revival of the Human Rights Idea in the Twentieth Century, 14 Hum. Rts. Q. 447, 452–53 (1992).

69 Avant-Projet de Convention adopté à Monaco, supra note 67, Art. 1, “Sanctions” section; Art. 9, “Sanitary Cities and Localities” section.

70 Later, this principle would form the core of the International Congress of Military Medicine and Pharmacy's sister organization, named L'Association pour la Protection Internationale de l'Humanité (1936). See Albert De La Pradelle, Jules Voncken & Fernand Dehousse, La Reconstruction du Droit de la Guerre 137–47 (1936). For interwar notions of human rights in France, see Jay Winter & Antoine Prost, René Cassin and Human Rights: From the Great War to the Universal Declaration (2013); Cabanes, supra note 4, at 18–75; and Sluga, Glenda, René Cassin: Les droits de l'homme and the Universality of Human Rights, 1945–1966, in Human Rights in History 107, 110–11 (Moyn, Samuel & Hoffmann, Stefan-Ludwig eds., 2011).

71 Avant-Projet de Convention adopté à Monaco, supra note 67, Art. 3, “Protection of the Civilian Population” section.

72 Id. Art. 7, “Sanctions” section.

73 Id. Art. 3, “Protection of the Civilian Population” section.

74 Id. Art. 10, “Protection of the Civilian Population” section.

75 Kerstin von Lingen, Legal Flows: Contributions of Exiled Lawyers to the Concept of “Crimes Against Humanity” During the Second World War, Modern Intellectual Hist. (2018). For interwar discussions on international criminal law, see Mark Lewis, The Birth of the New Justice: The Internationalization of Crime and Punishment 1919–1950 (2014).

76 Minutes Meetings Legal Division, May 13, 1936, June 8, 1936, No. A PV JUR.1, ACICR.

77 Le Projet de Convention pour la Création de Localités et Zones Sanitaires en Temps de Guerre, 1938, ICRC Library.

78 Letter Swiss Political Department to Huber, December 10, 1936, No. CR-119-3, ACICR. Letters Motta to ICRC, February 19, 1937 and March 12, 1937, No. CR-119-4, ACICR. As one of the few, Best has noted this French opposition before. Best, supra note 38, 233.

79 The significance of the Civilian Convention's belated approval was its role in enabling the ICRC's silence in the face of Nazi genocide, declared some World Jewish Congress officials after 1945. In their view, a binding Civilian Convention “would [have] mitigate[d] [the ICRC's] precarious position [during the Second World War]. Specifically, the lack of action on the part of the [ICRC] with respect to the … murdered Jewish civilian population in the ghettos and in the concentration camps might have been avoided if adequate legal safeguards had been available.” Draft Proposals of the World Jewish Congress for the Inclusion in a Convention on the Treatment of the Civilian Population in Case of War, 1948, Series B69, No. 17, American Jewish Archives (AJA), Cincinnati, OH.

80 The ICRC's official response to Jean-Claude Favez's crucial account focusing on the ICRC's actions in relation to the Shoah is a bit one-sided. While accepting many of Favez's conclusions, the ICRC criticized his lack of reflection on the organization's efforts up to the outbreak of the war to promote the Tokyo Draft. This criticism neglects, however, the ICRC's own disinterest during parts of this period in this topic. Before 1939, the issue never really was a major priority for the ICRC. Favez, supra note 66, at 10; Farré, Sébastien, The ICRC and the Detainees in Nazi Concentration Camps (1942–1945), 94 Int'l Rev. Red Cross 1381 (2012).

81 Mazower, Mark, The Strange Triumph of Human Rights, 1933–1950, 47 Hist. J. 379 (2004).

82 This section, which stresses the role of power and competing rights projects, somewhat broadens Hitchcock's narrow understanding of these pre-1939 debates. Apart from neglecting the Tokyo Draft, he largely blames the interwar's silence regarding civilian protection on a lack of “imagination.” Hitchcock, supra note 17, at 96, 101.

83 Favez, supra note 66, 85–88.

84 See Dominique-Debora Junod, The Imperiled Red Cross and the Palestine-Eretz-Yisrael Conflict 1945–1952: The Influence of Institutional Concerns on a Humanitarian Operation 51–54 (1996); Favez, Jean-Claude, 1942: Le Comité international de la Croix-Rouge, les déportations et les camps, 21 Vingtième Siècle. Revue d'Histoire 4556 (1989); Gerald Steinacher, Humanitarians at War: The Red Cross in the Shadow of the Holocaust 47–48 (2017); Arieh Ben Tov, Facing the Holocaust in Budapest: The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Jews in Hungary, 1943–1945 (1988).

85 To give a few examples, the ICRC would have been unable to lobby on behalf of Polish Jews as a consequence of the Nazi destruction of the Polish state; to question the use of collective penalties; or to sufficiently protect civilians against hostage taking in occupied territory.

86 Joint Declaration by Members of the United Nations, supra note 19.

87 Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia (2010).

88 Paul De la Pradelle, La Conférence Diplomatique et les Nouvelles Conventions de Genève Du 12 Août 1949, at 68–69 (1951).

89 This was the view as expressed in the ICRC's obituary of Suzanne Ferrière, a remarkable female ICRC drafter who had participated (with Eglantyne Jebb) in the foundation of the International Union for Child Welfare. Décès de Mlle S. Ferrière, membre honoraire du CICR, 52 Revue Internationale de la Croix-Rouge et Bulletin International des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge 235–36 (1970).

90 See Report ICRC, 1946, No. CSN_1946_DOCCIR_ENG_03, ICRC Library.

91 This key point echoes Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann's critical remarks regarding the political instrumentality of rights. Hoffmann, supra note 2, at 2.

92 Id. at 14. The relevant 1946 commission agreed that “que les prochaines Conventions contiennent une partie générale garantissant, en tout état de cause, les droits essentiels de la personnalité ainsi que le respect de la dignité humaine des personnes qui … seraient aux mains de l'ennemi ou d'un pouvoir non reconnu par elles. Ces droits sont intangibles et reconnus à tous, sans distinction d'opinion, de race, de religion, de nationalité.” Report Commission II, 1946, at 202–03, No. CSN_1946_COMM2_PV_03, ICRC Library.

93 See Procès-Verbaux de la Commissions I et II, No. CSN_1946_COMM1_PV_01, CSN_1946_COMM2_PV_02, ICRC Library; Norwegian and Yugoslav Memoranda, No. CSN_1946_DOCSN_02, ICRC Library.

94 Minutes of Meeting Commission Juridique, May 1, 1946, No. A PV JUR. 1, Vol. I, ACICR.

95 Id. at 24, July 1946. This point nuances the view that the “ICRC officials moved rapidly to assert the applicability of certain basic standards of humane treatment during any and all conflicts … .” Hitchcock, supra note 17, at 104.

96 The Legal Division continued to advocate a non-renunciation plan of trying to ensure protection for those stateless persons whose status was questioned as a result of the destruction of their indigenous state, for example, citizens from occupied Western Poland. Draft Civilian Convention, 1948, No. CI_1948_B3_01_ENG_03, ICRC Library. On the legal dimensions of the Conventions’ non-renunciation clauses: Peters, supra note 25, at 196–202.

97 Jean Pictet, La Défense de la Personne Humaine dans le Droit Future (1947).

98 Id. at 20.

99 Draft Pictet Notice Concernant l'Article Premier de la Convention Relative au Traitement des Prisonniers de Guerre, 1946, No. CR-240-5, ACICR.

100 With legal empowerment, I mean specifically the increasing role of women in the fighting as part of wartime resistance groups or regular armies. Pictet's agenda for European women in war and class had a dissonant character by questioning some gender hierarchies (e.g. the unequal treatment of female POWs) while perpetuating others; and by giving officers’ rights more legal weight than those of privates. Pictet, supra note 97, at 1–6, 11–15.

101 Minutes of Meeting Bureau Stockholm Conference, February 17, 1948, No. CRI-25 IV-Dossier 4, ACICR.

102 Junod, supra note 84, at 67–68.

103 Pictet, supra note 97, at 15. This point stressing the ICRC's measured drafting agenda complicates accounts suggesting that it wished to “universally” cover “the rights of all persons” affected by armed conflict. Hitchcock, supra note 17, at 97–98, 103. Excluding the question of political prisoners had frustrated the observer for the World Jewish Congress, Gerhart Riegner, who called it absolutely unsatisfactory. The drafts, he argued, dealt insufficiently with the questions of statelessness and human rights protections more generally. Report Riegner on Red Cross Conference Plans, July 17, 1946, Series D106, No. 10, AJA.

104 Report Riegner Conference on the Study of Treaty Stipulations Relative to the Spiritual and Intellectual Needs of POWs and Civilian Internees, March 1947, Series D106, No. 10, AJA.

105 See Speech Huber at Plenary Meeting Government Expert Conference, April 14, 1947, No. CEG_1947_ASSPLEN, ICRC Library; Report Riegner Conference on the Study of Treaty Stipulations, supra note 104.

106 While in agreement, Pictet had wished to broaden the definition for enemy civilian and create greater protections for “Jews and other minorities.” But these undefined proposals led to no substantial change. Minutes of Meeting Commission Juridique, December 6, 1946, No. A PV JUR. 1, Vol. I, ACICR.

107 Id.

108 Marco Duranti, The Conservative Human Rights Revolution: European Identity, Transnational Politics, and the Origins of the European Convention 392 (2017).

109 “Since 1945 the ICRC has paid increasing attention to one of the most fundamental human rights issues—political prisoners … .” Armstrong, David, The International Committee of the Red Cross and Political Prisoners, 39 Int'l Org. 615, 626 (1985). See also Jacques Moreillon, The ICRC and the Future, 65 Revue Internationale de la Croix-Rouge et Bulletin International des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge 231 (1983).

110 Minutes Meeting Interdepartmental Commission, December 4, 1946, No. 160-BIS, Unions Internationales, 1944–1960 (Unions), Les Archives Diplomatiques (LAD), Paris. This point adds an element to existing studies about Cassin's wider influence on post-1945 human rights’ initiatives. Winter & Prost, supra note 70.

111 See Minutes Meeting Interdepartmental Commission, December 4, 1946 and January 10, 1947, No. 160-BIS, Unions Internationales 1944–1960, LAD.

112 The SS massacred and destroyed the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane allegedly in retaliation for partisan activities.

113 See Minutes Meeting Interdepartmental Commission, December 4, 1946, supra note 110. When Cahen himself endorsed the right of reprisals for governments in times of internal war while stressing the need to protect human rights in war, other delegations reacted surprised, if not puzzled. Report of U.S. delegation to the Stockholm Red Cross Conference, 1948, Provost Marshal General, No. 672, NARA; Minutes of Meetings Legal Commission, August 1948, American Red Cross, No. 22, NARA.

114 Speech President Conference, 1947, No. CEG_1947_ASSPLEN, ICRC Library.

115 See Minutes Meeting Civilian Commission Government Expert Conference, 1947, No. 37514, ICRC Library; Minutes Meeting Bureau, 1947, No. CEG_1947_BURCONF_PV, ICRC Library.

116 Cable Lamarle on Civilian Convention and Government Expert Conference, April 17, 1947, No. 160, Unions Internationales 1944–1960, LAD.

117 Note Pictet for Michel on UN Commission of Human Rights, March 17, 1947, No. CR-240-10, ACICR. In this note, Pictet admitted to have a serious interest in the Commission's work. Pictet, like Duchosal and Pilloud, attended the Commission's meetings as an observer. See Letter on ICRC Observers to UN Secretariat CDH in Geneva, November 21, 1947, No. CR-243-11, ACICR; Letter Martin Bodmer to Eleanor Roosevelt, November 3, 1947, No. CR-243-11, ACICR; Mémoire du CICR sur les droits de l'homme, April 30, 1948, No. CR-243-11, ACICR.

118 Draft Civilian Convention, 1948, No. CI_1948_B3_01_ENG_03, ICRC Library.

119 Minutes Prisoners of War Committee, June 25, 1948, No. 673, Provost Marshal General, NARA. No minutes of this meeting have been found in the ACICR.

120 In essence, Hitchcock draws a straight line between 1946 and 1949, thereby overlooking the significant changes in the ICRC's understandings of human rights during this period. Hitchcock, supra note 17, at 97.

121 The fear of UN interference (either through invitation or outside meddling) failed to materialize as the UN International Law Commission finally decided not to revise the existing rules for warfare. See Letter Dunand to Pictet, December 8, 1947, No. CR-243-11, ACICR; Summary Minutes of Meetings Sub-Committees, August 1948, No. CI_1948_COMJUR_SC, ICRC Library; Minutes Plenary Meeting, March 20, 1947, No. A PV A PI.18, ACICR; Yearbook of the International Law Commission 1949. Summary Records And Documents of the First Sessions Including the Report of the Commission to the General Assembly 51-53 (1956).

122 Cited from: Report Riegner Conference on the Study of Treaty Stipulations, supra note 104.

123 Summary Minutes of Meetings Sub-Committees, August 1948, No. CI_1948_COMJUR_SC, ICRC Library.

124 Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of 1949, supra note 11, Vol. II, Section A, at 696.

125 Revised and New Draft Convention for the Protection of War Victims, 1948, at 113, LOC.

126 William Schabas, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: The Travaux Préparatoires 1940–1942 (2013).

127 Following a request from the Geneva-based International Union for Child Welfare, the conference further agreed to ban corporal punishment for “persons under eighteen years of age,” in order to protect the “child partisan” of World War II, or the “child soldier” as such (a term coined only much later), a now largely forgotten page in the transnational history of protecting child soldiers. See David Rosen, Child Soldiers in the Western Imagination: From Patriots to Victims (2015).

128 Lewis, supra note 75, at 257–62.

129 Von Lingen, supra note 75, at 3.

130 Lewis, supra note 75, at 257–62.

131 Remarks and Proposals submitted by the ICRC, 1949, ICRC Library.

132 Letter Roseway to Kirkpatrick on Draft Texts, November 1, 1948, No. 3970, FO369, TNA.

133 Brian Simpson, Human Rights and the End of Empire: Britain and the Genesis of the European Convention (2001).

134 Briefing UK delegation for diplomatic conference, 1949, No. 4145, FO369, TNA.

135 Minutes Prisoners of War Committee, March 31, 1949, No. 673, Provost Marshal General, NARA.

136 A New Zealand report makes note of “Scandinavian countries.” Report of New Zealand Delegation to Diplomatic Conference of Geneva 1949, at 37–38, AAYS 8638 W2054 ADW2054/1220/3/3 (R18524114), Archives New Zealand (ANZ), Wellington.

137 Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of 1949, supra note 11, Vol. II, Section A, at 426–27.

138 While some authors have pointed to the Holocaust in explaining the Conventions’ genealogy, the drafters stayed mostly silent on this topic. This adds another layer to Duranti's critical analysis of the silence of the UDHR's drafters with respect to the Holocaust as an inspiration or formative experience for their work. Duranti, Marco, The Holocaust, the Legacy of 1789 and the Birth of International Human Rights Law: Revisiting the Foundation Myth, 14 J. Genocide Res. 159 (2012); Cohen, Daniel, The Holocaust and the “Human Rights Revolution”: A Reassessment, in The Human Rights Revolution: An International History 5372 (Iriye, Akira, Goedde, Petra & Hitchcock, William eds., 2012). For examples of the “Holocaust argument,” see Leslie Green, Grave Breaches or Crimes Against Humanity, U.S.A.F. Acad. J. Legal Stud. 19, 21 (1997); and Alexander Gillespie, A History Of The Laws Of War Vol. II, at 183 (2011).

139 These basic rules, set by Article 23 of the Hague Regulations of 1907, banned the use of poisoned weapons and the killing of wounded soldiers, for instance.

140 The last point connects with Knut Dörmann's argument about the Civilian Convention's legal potential for so-called “unlawful combatants.” Dörmann, Knut, The Legal Situation of ‘Unlawful/Unprivileged Combatants,’ 85 Int'l Rev. Red Cross 4574 (2003). Most drafters agreed that the POW Convention's scope-defining article, with its reference to “resistance movements,” was not so much meant as a robust legal safeguard, as some have suggested previously, but rather as a means to break a diplomatic impasse. Raymund Yingling & Robert Ginnane, The Geneva Conventions of 1949, AJIL 393, 402 (1952). Castberg, too, admitted euphemistically that the “solution offered by the Conventions … was by no means in accord with the hopes of many members of the Conference.” Frede Castberg, Franc Tireur Warfare, Neth. Int'l L. Rev. 83–84 (1959). For the view that “the new 1949 Conventions went considerably further by extending Geneva protections to long-term resistance movements,” see Hitchcock, supra note 17, at 99.

141 Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of 1949, supra note 11, Vol. II, Section A, at 696.

142 Id. at 693.

143 Report of Irish Delegation at Geneva Diplomatic Conference 1949, 25 November 1949, at 22–25, No. Series DFA-5-341-137-2, National Archives of Ireland (NAI), Dublin.

144 Report of New Zealand Delegation to Diplomatic Conference of Geneva 1949, supra note 136.

145 Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of 1949, supra note 11, Vol. II, Section B, at 78.

146 Letter UK Delegation to Caccia, 10 June 1949, No. 4152, FO369, TNA.

147 It is unclear whether this was done first by the French, or later by the delegates together, although it seems that the former explanation is more plausible than the latter.

148 For the highly complex drafting debate of CA3, see Mantilla, Giovanni, Forum Isolation: Social Opprobrium and the Origins of the International Law of Internal Conflict, 72 Int'l Org. 317–49 (2018).

149 See Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocal I), June 8, 1977, Art. 1.

150 Convention (IV) Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, August 12, 1949, Art. 5 [hereinafter Civilian Convention].

151 Id. Art. 27.

152 Convention (III) Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, August 12, 1949, Art. 105 [hereinafter POW Convention].

153 Civilian Convention, supra note 150, Art. 72.

154 POW Convention, supra note 152, Art. 78.

155 Id. Art. 106.

156 Civilian Convention, supra note 150, Art. 27.

157 Id. Art. 3.

158 Id. Art. 8.

159 Id. Art. 32. In a savvy move, a U.S. delegate had revised the Soviet proposal banning group extermination (i.e. nuclear holocaust) by making it applicable to merely individual protected persons, rather than the whole civilian population, as the original text did. By focusing on individual rights, the U.S. delegation had banned Nazi-style extermination while leaving the destruction of groups and cities deregulated.

160 Minutes Meeting UK delegation, May 3, 1949, No. 4150, FO369, TNA.

161 Conference Diplomatique. Rapport Spécial Etabli par Pilloud, September 16, 1949, No. CR-254-1, AICRC.

162 At the same time, it is important to treat the war-declarations-argument carefully and to stress the historical importance of drafting agency. The Allied wartime declarations were hardly mentioned by the drafters during the drafting process. Nor did the previous Allied wartime declarations automatically lead to a Civilian Convention after 1919. For the war-declarations-argument, see Karma Nabulsi, Traditions of War: Occupation, Resistance and the Law 12–13 (1999).

163 Lauterpacht, supra note 13, at 360.

164 On the legality of reprisals and collective penalties: Id. at 361. On the legality of summary executions: Kevin Jon Heller, The Nuremberg Military Tribunals and the Origins of International Criminal Law 207–12 (2012).

165 Civilian Convention, supra note 150, Art. 64.

166 See Humanizing the Laws of War, supra note 4, at 117.

167 Contrary to a view in recent scholarship, this was the first post-1945 binding provision seeking to break state sovereignty in domestic affairs. The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) did so one year later as well, although its temporal and spatial dimensions were far more limited. Duranti, supra note 107, at 384. Some historians appear to be unaware of the existence of CA3, arguing that the 1949 Geneva Conventions are concerned with “international conflict” alone. Steven Jensen, The Making of International Human Rights 206 (2016).

168 Mark Mazower, No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations (2009).

169 Duranti, supra note 108.

170 Moyn, supra note 87.

171 It is often ignored in the literature that the original version of CA3, i.e. the Civilian Convention's preamble, had a distinct history featuring a reference to human rights. Most accounts only recognize an overlap between CA3 and human rights law for the period from the 1960s onward. See Sivakumaran, supra note 32, at 42–46; Mantilla Casas, supra note 2, at 194. Some scholars who have drawn attention to this connection between both fields of international law are Rosemary Abi-Saab and Theodor Meron. See Rosemary Abi-Saab, Droit Humanitaire et Conflits Internes: Origines et Évolution de la Réglementation Internationale 59–60 (1986); Meron, Theodor, The Humanization of Humanitarian Law, 94 AJIL 239, 246 (2000).

172 This point draws upon Marco Duranti's excellent analysis of the ECHR's drafting history. Duranti, supra note 108, at 392.

173 Weitz, Eric, Self-Determination: How a German Enlightenment Idea Became the Slogan of National Liberation and a Human Right, 120 Am. Hist. Rev. 462, 464–65 (2015).

174 Moyn, supra note 21, at 196.

175 Pictet, Jean, The Principles of International Humanitarian Law, 48 Revue Internationale de la Croix-Rouge et Bulletin International des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge 455 (1966).

176 Kinsella, supra note 37, at 136.

177 Sarat, Austin & Kearns, Thomas, Introduction, in History, Memory, and the Law 56 (Sarat, Austin & Kearns, Thomas eds., 2002).

178 Benvenisti & Lustig, supra note 30, at 47.

179 Purushotham, Sunil, World History in the Atomic Age: Past, Present and Future in the Political Thought of Jawaharlal Nehru, 14 Modern Intellectual Hist. 837, 847 (2017).

180 Fabian Klose, Menschenrechte im Schatten Kolonialer Gewalt: Die Kolonisierungskriege in Kenia and Algerien, 1945–1962 (2009); Brian Drohan, Brutality in an Age of Human Rights: Activism and Counterinsurgency at the End of the British Empire (2018).

181 Mégret, supra note 10.

182 Siordet, Frédéric, Croix-Rouge et Droits de l'Homme, 50 Revue Internationale de la Croix-Rouge et Bulletin International des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge 104, 118–19 (1968).

183 Mégret, supra note 10, at 775–76.

184 Lora Wildenthal, The Language Of Human Rights In West Germany 8–9 (2012).

185 This principle represented a break with the 1929 POW Convention's legalizing of racial segregation, a matter that had created significant controversy both during World War II, with the segregation of Jewish POWs, and during the post-1945 negotiations, with Jewish survivors asking for a total ban. See Timothy L. Schroer, The Emergence and Early Demise of Codified Racial Segregation of Prisoners of War Under the Geneva Conventions of 1929 and 1949, 15 J. Hist. Int'l L. 53–76 (2013); Report Riegner Conference on the Study of Treaty Stipulations, supra note 104.

186 One prominent example of animal suffering around World War II was the mass killing of British pets in late 1939. Hilda Kean, The Great Cat and Dog Massacre: The Real Story of World War Two's Unknown Tragedy (2017). For the law of animal protection in wartime, see Nowrot, Karsten, The Status of “Animals Soldiers” Under International Humanitarian Law, 40 Hist. Soc. Res. 128 (2015).

187 See Samuel Moyn, Civil Liberties and Endless War, Dissent (2015); David Cole, A Defense of Civil Libertarianism, Dissent (2018).

188 Lauterpacht, supra note 13, at 371–72.

189 Id. at 382.

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Human Rights in War: On the Entangled Foundations of the 1949 Geneva Conventions

  • Boyd van Dijk (a1)


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