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The Common Article 3 Debate: What's at Stake

Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2006

So, what is all the fuss about these Geneva Conventions? Considering that the subject of compliance with these treaties not only led every Sunday morning weekly news program, but also is the cause of the so called "rebellion" by a group of highly influential Republican Senators, many are no doubt asking this question. The answer is in some ways complex, in other ways quite simple, and now central to how the United States will frame the nature of the conflict we are struggling not only to win, but to understand.

The Geneva Conventions -- yes plural -- are four treaties that were offered to the international community for acceptance in 1949. The purpose of these treaties was clear and simple: to mitigate the suffering inevitably created by war. Each of the four treaties addressed a distinct group of potential war victims: the wounded and sick; the wounded, sick and shipwrecked at sea; prisoners of war; and civilians who fall under the authority of an enemy state. The first three categories had been the subject of prior versions of these treaties. The convention protecting civilians was a new addition to the "lineup," motivated in large measure by the widespread abuse of civilians subject to German and Japanese military occupation during World War II. All the treaties reflected a legacy of humanitarian protection that began in 1864 with the development of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the organization which to this day represents the interests of all victims of war. ...

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