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What you need to know about the Geneva Conventions

February 1st, 2023
Véronique Stenger & David Glaser

Sounds of History invites you to discover its second episode devoted to the history of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols.

The Geneva Conventions contain the essential rules of international humanitarian law, which set limits to the barbarity of war. The first Geneva Convention was adopted in 1864 and since then the international humanitarian law has continued to adapt to the reality of international conflicts.

With the help of readings from Henry Dunant's book A memory of Solferino and archives, most of which come from geneveMonde.ch partner institutions, historian Véronique Stenger and journalist David Glaser explain the history and evolution of these Conventions and their usefulness in the context of armed conflicts.

Research and presentation : Véronique Stenger and David Glaser

Readings : Laurent Burkhalter

Production: David Glaser and Christophe Gaberel

Translations : Justin Araya

Special thanks to the Geneva Public Library, the Swiss Diplomatic Archives (DODIS), the RTS archives, Memoriav and the ICRC archives.


  • Henry Dunant, Un souvenir de Solférino, Geneva, Jules-Guillaume Fick, 1862.
  • Letter from Gustav Moynier to the President of the Federal Council, 3 July 1864. Swiss Diplomatic Archives (DODIS), dodis.ch/63135.
  • Letter from F. Wanner to Gustav Moynier, 9 September 1863. Ref Ms. fr. 2109. Fonds Henry Dunant, Bibliothèque de Genève.
  • Internal note by Jacques Moreillon. Saigon, 28 May 1966. Note n° 355. ICRC Archives, Geneva.
  • Relations between the Operations Department and the Doctrine and Law Department. Memorandum from Jacques Moreillon. Undated. NS 1899, ICRC Archives, Geneva.
  • Attitude to be observed towards rebels taken prisoner with arms in their hands. Memorandum by Jacques Moreillon. 24 November 1957. 816/RN/1/6/S/C. ICRC Archives, Geneva.
  • Codification of humanitarian practice: from the Algerian war to Art. 44.3 of Protocol I, via the Vietnam conflict (1966). Internal note by Jacques Moreillon. Note - A/SECR 09/22 - 02.04.2009 - JMO/MBA. ICRC Archives, Geneva.
  • Max Huber, president of the ICRC. Extract from a speech given at the Alabama Hall, 22 August 1944. RTS archives.
  • Official speech by the President of the Confederation, Max Petitpierre, on Radio Sottens in 1949. RTS archives.
  • Interview with Jean Pictet by George Gordon-Lennox on the application of the Geneva Conventions in Africa in 1969. V-S-10041-B-01. ICRC audiovisual archives, Geneva.
  • Interview with Jean Pictet by Ingrid Flaks, 1 April 1969, on the application of the Geneva Conventions in Africa. V-S-10041-A-05. ICRC Audiovisual Archives, Geneva.
  • Geneva Conventions: Two Additional Protocols of 1977. Extract from the speech of Alexandre Hay, 13 June 1977. V-S-10109-A-01. ICRC Audiovisual Archives, Geneva.

Secondary literature :

  • Bogaïewsky P., "Convocation de la Conférence du 22 août 1864", Bulletin International Des Sociétés De La Croix-Rouge, 34(133), 1903, pp. 4-15.
  • Bretton Philippe, "De quelques problèmes du droit de la guerre dans le conflit indopakistanais", Annuaire Français de Droit International, 18, 1972, pp. 201-224
  • Bugnon François, The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Protection of War Victim, ICRC and Macmillan, Geneva, 2003.
  • Bugnon François, "Naissance d'une idée : la fondation du comité international de la Croix-Rouge et celle du mouvement international de la Croix-Rouge et du Croissant-Rouge. De Solférino à la première Convention de Genève (1859-1864)", International Review of the Red Cross, n°888, 2012, pp.
  • Durand André, Histoire du Comité international de la Croix-Rouge, De Sarajevo à Hiroshima, ICRC, Geneva, 1978.
  • Favez Jean-Claude, Une mission impossible? Le CICR, les déportations et les camps de concentration nazis, Nadir Payot, Lausanne, 1988.
  • Harouel Véronique, Genève-Paris, 1863-1918. Le droit humanitaire en construction, Société Henry Dunant/CICR/Croix-Rouge Française, Geneva, 2003.
  • Moreillon Jacques, Moments with Madiba, 2015.
  • Palmieri Daniel, "Une institution à l'épreuve du temps ? A look back at 150 years of history of the International Committee of the Red Cross", International Review of the Red Cross, n°888, 2012, pp. 85-111.
  • Schindler D., 'International humanitarian law and internationalised internal armed conflicts', International Review of the Red Cross, 64(737), 1982, pp. 263-272.

Audiovisual resources :

  • 150 years of humanitarian action: the battle of Solferino. ICRC documentary film. icrc.org/fr/doc/resources/docu...
  • When the ICRC visited Nelson Mandela in detention. ICRC podcast. icrc.org/fr/document/podcast-q...
  • From Man to Man, film made by Christian Jaque in 1948. youtube.com/watch?v=3pwAOIGEVg...
  • Red on the Cross, film directed by Dominique Othenin-Girard in 2006.
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