War Crimes in Afghanistan:  Background

Human rights are by no means a modern development. It was, in fact, the 19th century that saw some of the first advances in the realization of these rights. Among the early developments were the Hague Conventions and the Geneva Conventions, which outlined the behavior of governments and troops in order to protect humanity from the devastation of war. President Lincoln realized the importance of humane behavior during the Civil War, and had a pamphlet produced that was distributed to all the men of the Northern and Southern armies. In this pamphlet were the first rules that dictated the behavior of troops with respect to property, women, and places of worship during times of war. The 19th century also bore witness to the Geneva Convention of 1864, which covered the treatment of soldiers on the battlefield, and the Hague Convention of 1899. The Hague Convention made breakthroughs in human rights by establishing the individual as being responsible for his or her own actions.

The early foundations were built upon during the Hague and Geneva Conventions that took place in the first half of the 20th century. These conventions mostly dealt with the treatment of prisoners of war. They established that prisoners were to receive adequate nourishment, medical attention, and shelter. Prisoners were guaranteed humane treatment while in custody, including freedom from torture. As the century progressed, the world saw several conventions held that limited, and in some cases, banned weapons that caused unnecessary suffering and injury, including chemical and biological weapons, booby traps, and land mines.

For additional information on an assortment of the human rights treaties and conventions of the last two centuries, please visit the time line section of this site.

This page is copyright © 2002, C. T. Evans and A. Yates.
For information contact cevans@nvcc.edu