The IHL and Geneva conventions are mainly known as the organizations that keep morals and sense in armed conflicts otherwise known as wars. These organizations place laws during war, if these laws hadn't been put in place during 1949 I don't think many of us would be here today.
The main international agreements are the four Geneva Conventions of 1949. Nearly every country in the world is part of these treaties, they protect four different categories of war victims the wounded and sick; people who are shipwrecked; prisoners of war, and civilians, particularly those in enemy territory.
There are also two other Protocols of 1977 which develop the Geneva Conventions, especially by increasing the protection of civilians against the effects of dangers from the war. Protocol I is concerned with international wars, while Protocol II addresses high intensity non -international wars, mostly civil wars, such as in El Salvador from the late 1970s to early 80s, and at least some of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.
It has become internationally accepted that there must be constraints during war. IHL prohibits those actions which go beyond what is necessary to achieve military objectives, or that make it more difficult to keep peace after the conflict ends. It also reinforces military discipline. Also, the basic rules of IHL show a universal humanitarian instinct, and overlap with human rights law. During war, such rules include care for the wounded, regardless of whether they are friends or enemies; fare treatment of prisoners and civilians, and limiting attacks to military targets.
Customs regulating armed conflicts can be found since early times, in many cultures. They are part of the first rules of international law. Many ancient texts, such as the Bible, the Koran and the Mahabharata, contain rules advocating respect for the adversary. Humanitarian principles can also be identified in African customary traditions and in the Bushi-Do'. Respectn for the law has been uneven, and the wars of religion at the start of modern times were very harsh methods of warfare.
The development of the law has been influenced by religious concepts and philosophical ideas. Modern IHL is based by the principle voiced by the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau: "that the purpose of using force is to overcome an enemy State, and that to do this it is sufficient to disable enemy combatants".
The codification of the law did not begin until the 19th century. Although bilateral treaties applied to specific wars, the first multilateral treaty the Geneva Convention of 1864 applied to all wars. It clarified and strengthened old laws and customs of war protecting the wounded and the people caring for them. Only States may become part of international agreements, and to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Additional Protocols. But, non-State entities may accept the laws or rules contained in IHL treaties.
There are certain basic rules are said to apply to all armed groups as well, those contained in Article 3 common to all four Geneva Conventions, relating to non-international wars. Such rules, which don't allow torture and the taking of hostages, are also part of the law.
States are primarily responsible for enforcing IHL. They are required to take preventive measures to follow the law, spreading knowledge of it and encouraging the legislation to protect the red cross and red crescent emblems. These protective signs let the medical services of the armed forces and religious and humanitarian people to assist the wounded and other vulnerable people during armed conflicts, including on the battlefield.
States must ensure that the special protective force of the emblems is not used too much through misuse, taking legal and practical measures to uphold the emblems' integrity. States are also required to prosecute and punish those members of their armed forces who have committed serious violations of IHL.
The United Nations, diplomatic efforts and pressure from the media and public opinion can promote compliance with the law. There is also an International Fact-Finding Commission established under Protocol I, and it is hoped that the International Criminal Court (ICC), once created, will help make sure that those who commit the gravest crimes will be punished.
It is sometimes said that IHL is less respected now than ever before. This may be true, although it is also true that advances in telecommunications mean that we now know more about armed conflicts in all parts of the world than in previous times. Making both combatants and civilians aware of the law is a great step in encouraging more respect for it.