The diplomatic conference for the revision of the Geneva Conventions held in Switzerland (taken on 12 August 1949). Photo copyright: ICRC Archives/J. Cadoux
The Four Geneva Conventions of 1949 are adopted. This marks the end of a diplomatic conference at which governments met to revise the existing Geneva Conventions and add a fourth convention dedicated to the protection of civilians. This signals the beginning of contemporary international humanitarian law (known as the laws of war, or IHL).
These laws limit how wars can be fought and help, among other things, to protect civilians, medical personnel and prisoners of war. They prohibit torture and limit the means and methods of warfare. They give the red cross emblem – which means ‘don’t shoot’ – its protective power. Since then, the Conventions have been ratified by every country in the world, reaching universal acceptance.