Armed conflicts, people and assets protected

“In accordance with International Humanitarian Law, protected persons are those to whom a particular humanitarian treaty applies, that is, persons to whom the protection standards stipulated in that treaty apply and who, by virtue of these, enjoy certain rights when they are in the power of the enemy. In a broader sense, protected persons are those who, in time of war, benefit from the conventional norms or those that derive from customary International Law.” () The history of humanity has proven the devastating effect that armed conflicts have on societies and, especially, on people who, due to their circumstances, suffer these effects more intensely. Faced with this reality, the international community has established a series of regulations that, for humanitarian reasons, are intended to protect people who do not participate, or for whatever reason have ceased to participate directly in hostilities in an armed conflict. This set of rules is called International Humanitarian Law. International Humanitarian Law, through the different international treaties that comprise it, grants this specific protection to the following people:

Wounded and sick of the armies on land who, for these reasons, do not actively participate in hostilities (First Geneva Convention of August 12, 1949);

Wounded, sick and shipwrecked members of the armed forces of the sea who, for these reasons, do not actively participate in hostilities (Second Geneva Convention of August 12, 1949);

The combatants who, belonging to the Army of a State or to a regular armed force or, even without belonging to them, use some sign that distinguishes them from the civilian population or who load their weapons in sight, are captured by the enemy and acquire the status of prisoners of war (Third Geneva Convention of August 12, 1949);

The civilian population of a country party to an international armed conflict (Fourth Geneva Convention of August 12, 1949 and the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of 1949), and

The victims –including the wounded, sick, shipwrecked and the civilian population– in an armed conflict with non-international characteristics (Geneva Conventions of 1949: common article 3 and the Second Additional Protocol of said conventions).

In addition to the persons mentioned above, the aforementioned international instruments protect, among others, medical and religious personnel who accompany the armies, personnel who participate in relief or humanitarian aid work, and mediators who carry out their tasks within the framework of a conflict.

Likewise, there are certain norms of International Humanitarian Law that protect civil, cultural, relief goods or goods intended for medical care, to name a few examples. In this way, a prohibition is established on committing acts of robbery, looting, destruction, confiscation, etc., when said acts are not justified in accordance with the principles of military necessity and proportionality (see International Humanitarian Law, concept of).


In general terms it can be considered as a synonym of treaty (see International Treaty).

In particular terms, it has been used to designate multilateral agreements open to the participation of a large number of States. These conventions are generally sponsored by international organizations (UN Office of Legal Affairs, s/f).

In terms of human rights (Hanski and Suksi, 1999: 467), the conventions have been classified as:

General: They contemplate a long list of human rights that must be adopted at a global or regional level (v. gr. ACHR).

Specific: They are intended to protect human rights in particular (eg Convention against Torture or Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment; Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, etc.).

Protection of groups: They protect certain needs of groups that are in a situation of vulnerability (v. gr. Convention on the Rights of the Child; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; International Convention on the Protection of Children). Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families, etc.).