Protocol I is a 1977 amendment protocol to the Geneva Conventions relating to the protection of victims of international conflicts, where "armed conflicts in which peoples are fighting against colonial domination, alien occupation or racist regimes" are to be considered international conflicts. It reaffirms the international laws of the original Geneva Conventions of 1949, but adds clarifications and new provisions to accommodate developments in modern international warfare that have taken place since the Second World War.
As of June 2013, it had been ratified by 174 states, with the United States, Israel, Iran, Pakistan, India, and Turkey being notable exceptions. However, the United States, Iran, and Pakistan signed it on 12 December 1977, which signifies an intention to work towards ratifying it.
Summary of provisions
Protocol I is an extensive document, containing 102 articles. Following is a basic overview of the protocol. For a comprehensive listing of all provisions, consult the text and the commentary. In general, the protocol reaffirms the provisions of the original four Geneva Conventions. However, the following additional protections are added.
- Article 42 outlaws attacks on pilots and aircrews who are parachuting from an aircraft in distress. Once they landed in territory controlled by an adverse party, they must be given an opportunity to surrender before being attacked unless it is apparent that they are engaging in a hostile act or attempting to escape. Airborne troops who are parachuting from an aircraft, whether in distress or not, are not given the protection afforded by this Article and, therefore, may be attacked during their descent.
- Articles 51 and 54 outlaw indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations, and destruction of food, water, and other materials needed for survival. Indiscriminate attacks include directly attacking civilian (non-military) targets, but also using technology such as biological weapons, nuclear weapons and land mines, whose scope of destruction cannot be limited. A total war that does not distinguish between civilian and military targets is considered a war crime.
- Articles 56 and 53 outlaw attacks on dams, dikes, nuclear generating stations, and places of worship. The first three are "works and installations containing dangerous forces" and may be attacked but only in ways that do not threaten to release the dangerous forces (i.e., it is permissible to attempt to capture them but not to try to destroy them).
- Articles 76 and 77, 15 and 79 provide special protections for women, children, and civilian medical personnel, and provide measures of protection for journalists.
- Article 77 forbids conscription of children under age 15 into the armed forces. It does allow, however, for persons under the age of 15 to participate voluntarily.
- Articles 43 and 44 clarify the military status of members of guerrilla forces. Combatant and prisoner of war status is granted to members of dissident forces when under the command of a central authority. Such combatants cannot conceal their allegiance; they must be recognizable as combatants while preparing for or during an attack.
- Article 35 bans weapons that "cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering," as well as means of warfare that "cause widespread, long-term, and severe damage to the natural environment."
- Article 85 states that it is a war crime to use one of the protective emblems recognized by the Geneva Conventions to deceive the opposing forces (perfidy).
- Articles 17 and 81 authorize the ICRC, national societies, or other impartial humanitarian organizations to provide assistance to the victims of war.
- Article 90 states that "The High Contracting Parties may at the time of signing, ratifying or acceding to the Protocol, or at any other subsequent time, declare that they recognize ipso facto and without special agreement, in relation to any other High Contracting Party accepting the same obligation, the competence of the [International Fact-Finding] Commission to enquire into allegations by such other Party, as authorized by this Article." 74 states have made such a declaration.