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Reigning in brutality - how one man's outrage led to the Red Cross and the Geneva Conventions
The history of the Geneva Conventions tells us how the international community draws the line on brutality.
- Henry Dunant's work led to the Red Cross and conventions on treating prisoners humanely.
- Four Geneva Conventions defined the rules for prisoners of war, torture, naval and medical personnel and more.
- Amendments to the agreements reflect the modern world but have not been ratified by all countries.
Is history just a collection of barely-connected events that recur because humans can't really learn to do better or does it have an arc that bends towards progress and a better fate for humanity? One action people have taken that makes it seem like we are moving away from barbaric practices are the four Geneva Conventions – a set of international agreements on rules of conduct during wars, including how to treat prisoners of war and medical personnel humanely. The Conventions are also linked to the creation and work of the International Red Cross.
The first Convention was held in Geneva, Switzerland in 1864. Businessman and activist Henry Dunant, who won the first Nobel Peace Prize, is credited with the movement that led to the event. He was largely inspired by witnessing the horror following the Battle of Solferino in 1859, which involved 300,000 soldiers of French and Austrian armies fighting each other in in Northern Italy. Dunant was incredibly moved by the suffering of 40,000 wounded soldiers resulting from the French army's victory, who were just left on the field because of the absence of adequate facilities, personnel, and agreements that would allow them medical help.
In 1862, he published an account of his impressions called "A Memory of Solferino" ("Un Suouvenir de Solferino"), which called for nations to create trained volunteer relief groups that would treat the wounded on battlefields and provide other humanitarian assistance in war situations. Dunant's advocacy and influence resulted in the founding of the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1863.
1859 Battle of Solferino.
"Le Petit Journal", Paris, September 1901.
A year later, upon invitation of the Swiss government, sixteen countries sent delegates to Geneva for a conference that resulted in the adoption of the first Geneva Convention which called for "the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field."
The agreement, signed by 12 European nations, was relatively basic and asked for the following, as per Britannica:
- the immunity from capture and destruction of all establishments for the treatment of wounded and sick soldiers
- the impartial reception and treatment of all combatants
- the protection of civilians providing aid to the wounded
- the recognition of the Red Cross symbol as a means of identifying persons and equipment covered by the agreement
Henry Dunant, Swiss philanthropist and co-founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross ca. 1850-1860.
A second Geneva Convention in 1906 amended and expanded the original, especially with regards to the principle that the sick and wounded have a neutral status on the battlefield. The so-called Hague conventions of 1899 and 1907 carried over the same principle to maritime warfare and the Navy.
The third convention in 1929 related specifically to POWs. It made it a requirement for the warring parties to treat prisoners of war with humanity, provide information about them, and allow representatives from neutral states to officially visit prison camps.
After that, two of the worst wars ever to happen on this planet took place, rife with horrendous abuses of all written and unspoken agreements. In reaction, the fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 restated the principles of the agreements, protecting medical personnel, fighting civilians, banning torture, as well as laying out new rules for the safety of the wounded or shipwrecked in the naval forces. It also safeguarded hospital ships.
American prisoners of war carry their wounded and sick as they begin the Death March on Bataan in April of 1942, during which thousands died. (AP Photo/U.S. Army)
Two additional "protocols" were added to the Conventions in 1977. Protocol I gave more protection to civilians, journalists and military workers during armed conflicts.
Protocol II concerned civil war situations and forbade the taking of hostages, terrorism, "outrages upon personal dignity," collective punishment, executions without due process, and racial, religious and political discrimination.
In the years since, have the Geneva Conventions been successful? Certainly, the world has seen no shortage of regional armed conflicts and terrible abuses. But more than 190 states have become signatories to the 1949 conventions. 174 are on board with Protocol I, and 168 signed on to Protocol II (with the United States being a notable absentee in both cases).
Addition international organizations have arisen as a result of the influence of the Geneva Conventions - war crime tribunals and the International Criminal Court. The Conventions helped create boundaries for acceptable behavior in the international community, ultimately containing brutality.
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A recent study on monkeys found that stimulating a certain part of the forebrain wakes monkeys from anesthesia.
- Scientists electrically stimulated the brains of macaque monkeys in an effort to determine which areas are responsible for driving consciousness.
- The monkeys were anesthetized, and the goal was to see whether activating certain parts of the brain would wake up the animals.
- The forebrain's central lateral thalamus seems to be one of the "minimum mechanisms" necessary for consciousness.
Pixabay<p>When the team electrically stimulated a part of the brain called the central lateral thalamus, located in the forebrain, the monkeys woke up: they opened their eyes, blinked, reached out, made facial expressions and showed altered vital signs. </p><p>"We found that when we stimulated this tiny little brain area, we could wake the animals up and reinstate all the neural activity that you'd normally see in the cortex during wakefulness," Saalmann told Cell Press. "They acted just as they would if they were awake. When we switched off the stimulation, the animals went straight back to being unconscious."</p><p>This area of the brain may function as an "engine for consciousness," Redinbaugh told Inverse. Although past studies have shown that electrical stimulation can arouse the brains of humans and animals, the new findings are unique because they reveal which specific neural interactions appear to be minimally necessary for consciousness.</p><p>"Science doesn't often leave opportunity for exhilaration, but that's what that moment was like for those of us who were in the room," Redinbaugh told <a href="https://www.inverse.com/science/first-squid-mri-study-brain-complexity-similar-dogs" target="_blank"><em>Inverse</em></a><em>.</em></p>
Future applications<p>The team said the findings could have many applications down the road, but more research is needed.</p><p>"The overriding motivation of this research is to help people with disorders of consciousness to live better lives," Redinbaugh told Cell Press. "We have to start by understanding the minimum mechanism that is necessary or sufficient for consciousness, so that the correct part of the brain can be targeted clinically."</p><p>"It's possible we may be able to use these kinds of deep-brain stimulating electrodes to bring people out of comas. Our findings may also be useful for developing new ways to monitor patients under clinical anesthesia, to make sure they are safely unconscious."</p>
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.
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