Top 10 Warfare Practices Banned by the Geneva Convention

Throughout history, factions of war have done anything in their power to swiftly win battles through any means necessary, even if it meant killing and tormenting civilians and prisoners of war (POWs) for the supposed greater good of achieving their wartime aspirations. But in 1864, a convention was held by Henry Dunant, a Swiss businessman, who was disgusted and appalled by the nature of war after he visited a battlefield in Solferino, Italy. This visit prompted him to advocate for better care of wounded soldiers, leading to the formation of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Attempts to alleviate the burdens of war didn't stop there. The conventions held in The Hague in 1899 and 1907 were instrumental in the development of international humanitarian law and helped raise awareness of the atrocities committed in the name of war. Today, most nations are signatories of the Geneva Conventions, which stand as monumental achievements in the values of humanitarianism and pacifism during times of war, with the rights of civilians and prisoners of war being protected under these conventions. However, being bound to the convention does not necessarily mean that nations will always put such ideas into practice. The International Criminal Court and other tribunals play a crucial role in dealing with war criminals who have violated human rights and the laws of war, and in bringing them to justice.

With October 18 just around the corner, I felt it was right to commemorate the ratification of the Hague Convention of 1907 by making this list to raise awareness of these important historical developments.
The Top Ten
1 Chemical Weapons

The use of lethal chemical substances as weapons, such as mustard gas, sarin, chlorine, hydrogen acid, and tear gas, was employed with great effect and in large quantities. These can come in the form of toxic explosive projectiles like artillery shells, missiles, or mortars. Because of the harm these chemicals can pose to a person's health, these types of weapons were banned during the signing of the Chemical Warfare Convention in the 90s. However, this hasn't stopped several rogue nations from stockpiling their supplies of such weapons. These types of weapons were popular in WWI, WWII, and the Iran-Iraq War.

2 Scorched Earth Policy

Scorched Earth Policy is a military strategy that involves destroying civilian infrastructure such as agricultural or industrial resources, water supplies, public transportation, and communications. These infrastructures are obliterated to prevent the enemy faction from fully utilizing them in future battles or to drive the population away from the area. This strategy is employed in either enemy or home territory when the enemy is advancing or retreating.

It is banned because such methods hamper reconstruction efforts and add unnecessary suffering to the local populace. The tactic was used during Operation Barbarossa and the Napoleonic Invasion of Russia.

3 Rape

Rape is often used as a method of psychological warfare to demoralize the enemy by asserting dominance over defeated opponents. It is frequently practiced upon civilians, often female, though there have been cases of rape on captured soldiers. Isolated cases of rape, including gang rape, are common during warfare, as seen during the Congo Wars and in many conflicts throughout history.

Because of wartime rape, many women have given birth to children deemed illegitimate, for which they often face shame from their family or local community. Sometimes, this forces them to resort to abortion or abandonment to rid themselves of the burden of having a child that reminds them of the humiliation experienced during rape. The Nanking Massacre was an infamous example of this.

4 Human Shields

What is meant by "Human shields" is the exploitation of civilians or captured POWs by deliberately placing them in the front lines in the enemy's line of sight. Parties of war would utilize this to protect themselves as it provides cover, as well as discouraging the enemy from attacking them to avoid killing non-combatants. It is banned under the Geneva Convention as it is deemed immoral, since it unnecessarily throws the lives of many by dubbing them as "collateral damage". The North Korean military is known for employing this tactic.

5 Child Soldiers

In many conflicts throughout the world, children are often vulnerable to the utter chaos of war, especially when supplies to sustain a family become scarce or if their parents and guardians are killed. Some have found use in these children by exploiting their naivety and emotions, serving in the front lines as child soldiers. These child soldiers are often considered a source of disposable manpower because they're frequently used for petty yet dangerous jobs, such as clearing out land mines. However, with children serving in war, they are often exposed to the brutality that comes with it. This exposure can mentally scar or traumatize a child, potentially cementing a mindset deprived of moral integrity or a lack of sensitivity towards violence. The most notorious cases of using child soldiers include the civil war in Liberia and the Iran-Iraq War.

6 Killing of Medical Personnel

Being a medical worker (either a military medic or a member of an NGO) can prove to be a dangerous task in a war zone. These personnel are responsible for the treatment of injured civilians and soldiers, which makes them a priority target by parties of war to disrupt efforts in aiding the injured, especially fallen enemy soldiers. Under the Geneva Convention, it is considered a war crime to kill medical staff, and they are protected under the convention.

Unless the medic has committed a crime or is armed, why kill the medic?

7 Killing of Prisoners of War

It is unlawful for a soldier to kill an enemy soldier who has surrendered or been captured as a POW. Though cases of executions or ill-treatment of POWs are rather common during war out of sheer revenge. According to the Geneva Convention, they are to be treated well by providing them with food, running water, medical supplies, sanitation, and a settlement as temporary internment.

Execute the mafia, not soldiers.

8 Physical and Mental Torture

Torture comes in all forms, with categories such as physical and mental. Examples include castration, constant beatings, waterboarding, forced nudity, and more, especially towards POWs and civilians. The practice of torture as a way to crush the spirit of the enemy has been a widespread tactic and thus proves to be an issue when it comes to the gentlemanly conduct of war. This practice could potentially have the effect of permanently damaging a person's mental and physical health. These practices are illegal after the ratification of the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

9 Aerial Bombings on Civilian Areas

A widespread practice in both World Wars, the Yugoslav War, and the Vietnam War involved employing bomber airplanes to conduct aerial bombardments on areas with high concentrations of civilians. These bombings mostly targeted civilian infrastructures to disrupt economic activity but came at the expense of the lives of non-combatants. These aerial operations must comply with these three principles of the humanitarian laws of the convention: military necessity (it must be a military objective), distinction (it should separate combatants from passive civilians), and proportionality (it shouldn't be excessively intense).

10 Summary Executions

Summary executions are relatively common in times of national emergency or martial law, where a person's constitutional rights are suspended, and they fall to the mercy of state authorities to restore order. It is arguably legal when the suspect is directly endangering another person's life, except when it involves senselessly killing civilians who pose no threat to authorities.

However, what is illegal under the convention is the summary execution of captured POWs. These POWs are captured, accused, and executed in a short amount of time without having the right to defend themselves in a trial that should have been full and fair. It is often carried out by the police, military, and paramilitaries during times of guerrilla warfare, counter-insurgency, and terrorism. These POWs have the right to present their cases and defend themselves in front of a military tribunal. The Geneva Convention protects the rights of prisoners of war when it comes to summary executions, except for spies, pirates, and guerrilla fighters.

The Contenders
11 Landmines

They kill anyone, even when the war is over.

12 Cluster Munition Bombing
13 Expanding Munitions
14 Radioactive Weapons
15 Weather Altering Weapons
16 Napalm/Fire Munitions and Firebombs
17 Earthquake Inducing Weapons
18 Tripwire Explosives
BAdd New Item