The Main Conventions

The Geneva Convention 1864 provided protection during armed conflict, including provision for sick and wounded military personnel.  In 1949  four new important Conventions were adopted in the wake of the Second World War.

Convention I makes provision to improve conditions of wounded and sick in armed forces in the field.

Convention II makes provision for the same at sea.

Convention III makes provisions relative to the treatment of prisoners of war.

Convention IV relates to the protection of civilian persons in times of war

A further convention in 1977 protects victims of international and non-international conflicts.

Offences in Irish Law

The Geneva Conventions are given effect in the state by the Geneva Conventions Act 1962 as amended.  Any person irrespective of his nationality, whether in or outside the state who commits or aids, abets or procures the commission of a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions is guilty of an offence.

He is liable on conviction to imprisonment for life if the offence involves murder, or in the case of an offence committed outside the State the killing is in such circumstances would constitute murder if committed in the State or if the term of life imprisonment would be justified by the extreme gravity of the offence or the individual circumstances.  In other cases, he is liable to imprisonment up to 30 years.

A person, whatever his nationality, who either inside or outside the State fails to act when under a duty to prevent the commission by another of a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions is guilty of an offence.  He is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for up to 10 years.

A person, whatever his nationality, who in the State commits, aids or abets or procures the commission in the State of minor breaches of the Conventions is guilty of an offence.  A person who fails to act when under a duty to prevent the commission of a minor breach of the Convention is guilty of an offence.

A person may be prosecuted in the State irrespective of his nationality if he commits the same in the State.  Any citizen of Ireland who commits the same outside the State may also be prosecuted.

Minor and Grave Breaches

The penalty for a minor breach is on summary conviction, a fine up to €1,905 or imprisonment for six months or on conviction on indictment up to €19,050 and up to two years imprisonment.

A minor breach is a contravention of the provisions of the Conventions, which is not a grave breach of that convention as is mentioned therein. Grave breaches involve any of the following if perpetrated against persons or property protected by the Convention.

  • wilful killing.
  • torture or inhuman treatment.
  • biological experiments wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health.
  • extensive destruction and appropriation of property not justified by any military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.

Occupying Power

The occupying power may not compel protected persons to serve in armed forces or auxiliary forces.  No pressure or propaganda for this objective to ensure voluntary enlistment is permitted.

The occupying power may not compel protected persons to work unless they are over 18 and then only on work necessary for the army of occupation, for public utility services or feeding and sheltering, clothing, transporting or providing for the health of the population of the country.

Protected persons may not be compelled to undertake work that would involve them taking part in military operations.  The military power may not compel protected persons to employ forcible means to ensure the security of installations where they are performing compulsory labour.

The physical or mental health and integrity of persons who are in the power of an adverse party or who are in turn detained or otherwise deprived of liberty as a result of this circumstance shall not be endangered by any unjustified act or omission.

Such persons may not be subject to medical procedures not necessitated by health considerations or following generally accepted medical standards. It is, in particular, prohibited to carry out even with consent, physical mutilation, medical or scientific experiments, or the removal of tissue or organs for transplantation.

There is an exception to the above in the case of blood donations for transfusion or skin for grafting, provided voluntarily or without coercion and done only for therapeutic purposes under conditions consistent with international medical standards. Each party to a conflict shall keep a medical record of every blood donation, transfusion or skin graft by persons above.

Other Grave Breaches

In addition to other grave breaches, the following are defined as grave breaches when committed willfully in violation of the relevant provisions of the protocol and causing death or serious injury to body or health.

  • making the civilian population or individuals, civilians the object of attack.
  • launching indiscriminate attacks affecting the civilian population or civilian objectives in the knowledge that such attack will cause excessive loss of life, injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects.
  • launching an attack against works or installations containing dangerous forces in the knowledge that such attack will cause excessive loss of life, injury to civilians, or damage to civilian objects.
  • making non-defended localities and demilitarised zones the object of attack.
  • making a person the object of attack in the knowledge that he is outside of combat.
  • the perfidious use of the distinctive emblem of the Red Cross, Red Crescent or Red Sun or other protected signs recognised by the convention.

The following are also grave breaches.

  • transfers by the occupying powers of parts of its civilian population into the territory it occupies or deportation of part of the population of the occupied territory.
  • unjustifiable delay in repatriation of prisoners of war or civilians.
  • practices of apartheid and other inhuman and degrading practices involving outrages upon personal dignity based on racial discrimination.
  • making the clearly recognised historic monuments, works of arts, places of worship which constitute the cultural and spiritual heritage of peoples and to which special protection has been given the object of attack or causing as a result, extensive destruction thereof where there is no evidence of a violation by the adverse party and they are not located in the immediate proximity of military objects.
  • depriving a person protected by the Convention of the rights of fair and regular trial.


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