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Rakesh Neelakandan asked: Which all are the international laws/conventions that govern wars? Which institutions enforce them?

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  • Namrata Goswami replies: The international laws/conventions that govern wars at present are the four Geneva Conventions, and its three additional protocols. The Geneva Conventions of 1949, which revised the Xth Hague Conventions of 1907, are primarily aimed at protecting the victims of wars as they were conceptualised in the aftermath of the Second World War. The Conventions seek to protect the sick and the wounded, shipwrecked members of the armed forces, prisoners of wars (PoWs), and civilians caught in a war zone. While the Conventions consist of 417 articles to deal with these issues, there is no provision that deals with the conduct of war in the original four. The drafting of the Conventions were heavily influenced by the German concentration camps and the Japanese treatment of PoWs. The two additional protocols of 1978 however deal with the conduct of war, and provide provisions to even deal with internal armed rebellions. Protocol I sets limits on methods and means of attack, especially conventional weapons that led to limitless and indiscriminate destruction of life.

    The international bodies that debate on these Conventions and the protocols are the United Nations, the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. As far as international law is concerned, the weakness lies in the lack of a permanent implementing body. While cases can be tried in the International Criminal Court or the International Court of Justice, the implementation of judgments would then depend on a particular state. Since not all countries are members of these courts, most notably the US, their military personnel cannot be tried in these courts.