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The Geneva Conventions taken together constitute more than one half of the total content of the law of war and bind some 77 States to its provisions.
The nations of the world who met in Geneva for the Diplomatic Conference of 1949 still held fresh in their minds the unlicensed fury and brutality with which the struggle of World War II was conducted. World War II had clearly exposed the inadequacy of the existing conventional and customary rules of the law of war to deal with the phenomena of horror disclosed by that conflict. The 1949 Conventions were a determined attempt to prohibit all these grave malpractices.
The delegates present at the Diplomatic Conference of 1949 were acutely aware that in the previous codes of war many factors were left entirely uncovered by any rules of law and many of the existing rules were of so vague and general a nature as to afford considerable loopholes when applied to concrete situations. The framers of the 1949 Conventions, therefore, scrutinized all the possible avenues where conflict would arise, the problems which would result and the basic human guarantees which would be required. The result was an all-encompassing code restricting the abuses and infringements of the humanitarian principles by established general and detailed rules to be applied to conflicts of both an external and internal character.
Taking into consideration the intended wide scope of the 1949 Conventions, the rationalization by France that these Conventions do not apply to the French-Algerian conflict cre
ates a retrogressive precedent. Can it be denied that a conflict which has existed for more than five years - which has made heavy claims on the lives of hundreds of thousands of Algerians and in which excesses such as tortures, reprisals and summary executions are a recurring pattern - should be entitled to the protection and guarantees of the Geneva Conventions?
It is interesting to note the part played by the French delegate to the Diplomatic Conference of 1949, Mr. Lamarle, in the inclusion of those provisions which provide the basic humanitarian principles of the Conventions. Mr. Lamarle expressed the willingness of the French Government to apply the basic humanitarian principles “even to bandits”. 1 Further, he added “
... The French Government was not in any way embarrassed by the prospect of abiding by the elementary humanitarian rules laid down, even in cases where the other party did not apply them." 2
Yet today France appears able to rationalize that the humanitarian guarantees of the Geneva Conventions do not apply to the Algerian people.
In this respect, the Provisional Government once more wishes to affirm its desire:
to accept and apply the Geneva Conventions to the
1 Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of 1949, op. cit.,
2 Ibid; p. 94.
The Geneva Conventions are intended to be an emphatic avowal before the world that the humanitarian principles of justice and compassion must govern and determine the treatment of man by man if our civilization is to be worthy of the name. To accept the argument that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to the Algerian conflict compromises the basic principles of this document. It threatens the very efficacy of the Conventions and opens the door to the creation of a precedent which would weaken the applicability of its humanitarian principles in the future. In this respect, it is to be noted that the armed conflicts in the world since World War II have been, for the most part, conflicts which did not have an international character or where this factor was not admitted by both sides.
Jean-Paul Sartre succinctly poses the chilling possibility of the behavior of nations in time of war if they cannot be guided strictly by unreserved commitment to the international laws of war. In referring to the atrocities committed by France in the Algerian conflict, he states:
"Appalled, the French are discovering this terrible truth: that if nothing can protect a nation against itself, neither its traditions nor its loyalties nor its laws, and if fifteen years are enough to transform victims into executioners, then its behavior is no more than a matter of opportunity and occasion. Anybody, at any time, may equally find himself victim or executioner."
ARTICLES 1 AND 3 COMMON TO ALL FOUR GENEVA CONVENTIONS
Article 1 of all four Conventions provides:
“The High Contracting Parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances.”
Article 3 of all four Conventions provides :
“In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions: “(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, in
cluding members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, color, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.
* Convention I - The Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded
and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field.
Convention II - The Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick "To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
and Shipwrecked Members of the Armed Forces at Sea.
Convention III - The Treatment of Prisoners of War.
The Protection of Civilian Persons In Time of War.
“(a) violence to life and persons, in parti
cular, murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
"(b) taking of hostages;
ticular, humiliating and degrading treat-
“(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying
out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispen
sable by civilized peoples. “(2) The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared