Protocol I is a 1977 amendment protocol to the Geneva Conventions relating to the protection of victims of international armed 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 11 May 2011, it had been ratified by 170 countries, with the United States, Israel, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey being notable exceptions. However, the United States, Iran, and Pakistan signed it on 12 December 1977 with the intention of ratifying it. According to an appeal by the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1997, a number of the articles contained in both protocols are recognized as rules of customary international law valid for all states, whether or not they have ratified them.
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 original text and the commentary. In general, the protocol reaffirms the provisions of the original four Geneva Conventions. However, the following additional protections are added.
* 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 (ie, 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.