New Challenges of Humanitarian Protection," BMJ vol.319

Published: 
Aug 1999

The fourth Geneva Convention, adopted 50 years ago, on 12 August 1949, describes the actions that warring parties must take to protect civilian populations from the worst excesses of war. Building on the concept developed in the previous three conventions—that certain activities and people, especially civilians, can be seen as hors de combat—the fourth Geneva Convention defines in detail the many ways in which civilians must be dealt with to shield them from the direct and indirect effects of conflict between combatant forces. Among the responsibilities that this convention sets for the warring parties are explicit actions that would grant medical personnel, and all aspects of the medical enterprise, complete protection from interference or harm. This neutral status for medical relief (and, by extension, all humanitarian aid) rests on the reciprocal assumption that those who deliver this relief are practising in accord with their professional ethics and will take specified steps to maintain their neutral posture vis à vis the warring parties.