Senior Legal Adviser
When international armed conflict breaks out and people find themselves in the power of belligerent States, the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 activate with full force. By requiring humane treatment and criminalizing abuse, the Conventions serve as a bulwark against cruelty and reaffirm the notion that, even in war, there are limits. But the focus on these universal prohibitions can obscure another central feature of how the Geneva Conventions operate: they manage to reach and protect all those in the power of the belligerents, not by treating everyone identically, but by explicitly taking their different situations into account.
In this post, ICRC Senior Legal Adviser Ramin Mahnad describes how the assignment of every individual to one or more categories set out under the Conventions forms the basis of an intricate legal system that determines how the parties must treat people who fall under their control.