International Conference on “60 Years of the Geneva Conventions and the decades to come”

Bern, Press release, 09.11.2009

A conference of experts organised by Switzerland in collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) entitled “60 Years of the Geneva Conventions and the decades to come” began today at the International Conference Centre Geneva (CICG). Federal Councillor Micheline Calmy-Rey, ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger and the former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan attended the opening ceremony.

The 60th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions is seen by Switzerland as an opportunity for strengthening, and ensuring greater respect for International Humanitarian Law (IHL), with a view to offer greater protection to the victims of armed conflicts. Switzerland, which has a long humanitarian tradition, attaches particular importance to respect for International Humanitarian Law. 

Today IHL is confronted by developments and challenges that were scarcely heard of when the Geneva Conventions were adopted in 1949. Conventional wars between sovereign states have to a great extent given way to internal conflicts, combat zones are the domain of non-state actors, and a new panoply of military technology undreamed of in 1949 raises questions as to its conformity with IHL. 

The purpose of the conference, which will bring together experts from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds, is to discuss these challenges and what may be at stake for the international community. The experts will also consider the question of existing instruments for the implementation of IHL and their adaptation to the reality and challenges of today. 

The conference is the latest example of Switzerland’s efforts to play an active part at a variety of levels in meeting the challenges that currently face International Humanitarian Law.  

In an address opening the conference Federal Councillor Calmy-Rey stressed the importance of the 60th anniversary as an occasion to celebrate the universal recognition the Geneva Conventions have received. Above all however, she saw it as an opportunity to take stock and think about measures to ensure greater respect “on the ground” for International Humanitarian Law in the future.  

Jakob Kellenberger also spoke of the urgent need for effective mechanisms capable of ensuring greater respect for International Humanitarian Law, in view of the increasing complexity of armed conflicts. >The ICRC President spoke of the urgent need to begin reflecting on ways to improve the existing Conventions and extend their fields of application, notably with regard to non-international armed conflicts. 

The conference is open to diplomatic representatives and experts from the High Contracting Parties. The chair has also invited certain international organisations and non governmental organisations active in the area of International Humanitarian Law, as well as representatives from the academic world. 

At a parallel event entitled “Protection of civilians in armed conflicts: the role and responsibilities of states” on Monday 9 November, eminent persons knowledgeable in this field have been invited to share their experiences in an effort to stimulate further reflection on this issue. Their ideas will also inspire a debate on the instruments and mechanisms available to states to ensure better protection of civilians in armed conflicts. 

For additional information on the 60 years of the Geneva Conventions and the role of Switzerland: 

Information for the media 

Media representatives may attend the opening of the conference on 9 November, between 9.30 and 10.30. They are also invited to the parallel event, 12.30-14.00, in room 5/6 of the Geneva International Conference Centre (CICG), for a discussion on: “Protection of civilians in armed conflicts: the role and responsibilities of states”. 

A press conference to announce the conclusions will be held on Tuesday, 10 November at 14.30 in room 13 of the Conference Centre. 

Contact : Raphaël Saborit, spokesman, 0041 79 335 76 14, 

Further information:

60 Years of the Geneva Conventions

Address for enquiries:

Information FDFA
Bundeshaus West
CH-3003 Bern
Tel.: (+41) 031 322 31 53
Fax: (+41) 031 324 90 47


Federal Department of Foreign Affairs