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Humanitarian action under threat: Geneva Conventions turn 70, but aiding victims is more dangerous than ever

Ministry for Foreign Affairs 9.8.2019 11.28
Press release

Safety considerations have become a significant constraint on humanitarian action and relief in recent years. The Red Cross and UN emblems are no longer respected in conflicts. This hampers the work of humanitarian organisations and the distribution of humanitarian aid.

This year, 399 humanitarian workers have been subject to serious attacks, and 126 lost their lives trying to save victims of conflicts or natural disasters. Sexual violence against women, in particular, is increasingly widespread. And yet, according to the Geneva Conventions signed 70 years ago and forming the backbone of international humanitarian law, medical and other humanitarian aid should be considered impartial and given protection. 

“In recent years, we have seen the provisions of the Geneva Convention violated repeatedly and deliberately in numerous conflicts, including those in Syria and Yemen.  This leads to an escalation of violence and makes it increasingly difficult to resolve these conflicts. Finland stands ready to support the processes that strengthen awareness and respect for humanitarian law. The Finnish Red Cross plays a valuable role here,” says Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto

The Geneva Conventions, adopted after the ravages of the Second World War, set limits to warfare and established rules that guarantee protection to victims of war. They also gave the Red Cross a mandate to  assist and protect to victims of war.

“The International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in December will provide an opportunity to direct worldwide attention to the challenges of humanitarian law. As the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, Finland wants to contribute to ensuring that the EU sends a strong message in support of humanitarian law. Defending humanitarian law is an essential aspect of Finland’s role as a provider of humanitarian aid. Without it, we cannot ensure the fast, effective and safe delivery of aid to those in need,” says Ville Skinnari, Minister for Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade.

The Geneva Conventions were adopted on 12 August 1949. They contain provisions on the legal status and treatment of the wounded, of captured and escaped prisoners of war and of people living in occupied territories.

Virtually all of the world’s countries have ratified the Geneva Conventions. Any grave breach of these conventions is defined as a war crime.

As the Geneva Conventions celebrate their 70th anniversary, the world’s need for humanitarian aid keeps growing. The Geneva Conventions are a cornerstone of international law. They remain as topical as ever.

For further information about the Geneva Conventions: International Committee of the Red Cross

Inquiries: Riikka Mikkola, Senior Adviser, Development Policy, Humanitarian Assistance and Policy, tel. +358 295 350 138, and  Elina Lemmetty, Desk Officer, International Humanitarian Law and Counter-Terrorism Cooperation, tel. +358 295 350 389

The Foreign Ministry’s email addresses are in the format [email protected]

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