Protocol II is a 1977 amendment protocol to the Geneva Conventions relating to the protection of victims of non-international armed conflicts. It defines certain international laws that strive to provide better protection for victims of internal armed conflicts that take place within the borders of a single country. The scope of these laws is more limited than those of the rest of the Geneva Conventions out of respect for sovereign rights and duties of national governments.
As of 11 May 2011, the Protocol had been ratified by 165 countries, with the United States, Israel, Iran, Pakistan, and Iraq 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.
Historically, international law of armed conflict addressed traditional declarations of war between nations. When the Geneva Conventions were updated in 1949 after the Second World War, delegates sought to define certain minimum humanitarian standards to situations that had all the characteristics of war, without being an international war.
These negotiations resulted in Article 3, common to all four of the basic treaties of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Common Article 3 applies to armed conflicts that are not of an international character, but that are contained within the boundaries of a single country. It provides limited protections to victims, including:
* Persons taking no active part in hostilities should be treated humanely (including military persons who have ceased to be active as a result of sickness, injury, or detention).
* The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.
By the 1970s, diplomats were attempting to negotiate clarifications to the brief language of Article 3, and to extend the scope of international law to cover additional humanitarian rights in the context of internal conflicts. These efforts resulted in Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions. The debate over this protocol centered on two conflicting ideas. First, that the distinction between internal and international armed conflict is artificial from the point of view of a victim. Humanitarian principles should apply regardless of the identity of the combatants. Second, that international law does not apply to non-international situations. A nation has sovereignty within its borders, and must not accept judgments by and orders from other countries.