What are the Geneva Conventions?

The Geneva Convention was a series of international diplomatic meetings that produced a number of agreements, in particular the Humanitarian Law of Armed Conflicts, a group of international laws for the humane treatment of wounded or captured military personnel, medical personnel and non-military civilians during war or armed conflicts. The agreements originated in 1864 and were significantly updated in 1949 after World War II.

Henry Dunant

For much of mankind’s history, the ground rules of warfare were hit or miss, if they existed at all. While some civilizations showed compassion for the injured, helpless or innocent civilians, others tortured or slaughtered anyone in sight, no questions asked.

In 1859, Genevan businessman Henry Dunant traveled to Emperor Napoleon III’s headquarters in northern Italy to seek land rights for a business venture. He got much more than he bargained for, however, when he found himself a witness to the aftermath of the Battle of Solferino, a gory battle in the Second War of Italian Independence.

The horrific suffering Dunant saw impacted him so greatly he wrote a first-hand account in 1862 called A Memory of Solferino. But he didn’t just write about what he’d observed, he also proposed a solution: All nations come together to create trained, volunteer relief groups to treat battlefield wounded and offer humanitarian assistance to those affected by war.