On 5 August, the Rt Honorable Jacinda Ardern hosted a reception at Parliament celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions. Speaking to MPs, judges, ambassadors, New Zealand Red Cross members and young humanitarian leaders, the Prime Minister recalled the importance of the Conventions.

“The heart of the Red Cross global action is International Humanitarian Law, and its modern foundations, the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols. Together, they are a great legal, moral and political achievement. They seek to reduce human suffering, limit the effects of armed conflict, protect civilians, and restrict the means and methods of warfare. They also record a baseline for our common humanity – that no matter what conflicts divide us, we are united in basic shared dignity and treatment of our fellow humans,” the Prime Minister said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the IHL Parliament event.

People and their needs are at the centre of the Geneva Conventions. Following the theme of ‘human stories,’ the event featured a range of speakers describing their own experiences of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in action.

New Zealand nurse Judy Owen spoke about assisting with the return of prisoners in Somalia and Ethiopia, Judge Advocate General Kevin Riordan described the role of IHL in conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Felicity Gapes spoke about her experience encouraging non-state armed groups to respect the Geneva Conventions in South Sudan. Two young humanitarian leaders, Sakhr Munassar and Saba Afrasyabi, spoke about their experiences of war and conflict in their home countries, Yemen and Afghanistan.

All the stories shared brought home the necessity of the Geneva Conventions’ mission to protect people’s safety, dignity and wellbeing during armed conflict. 

Right Honourable Jacinda Ardern greets NZRC Youth Activator Sakhr Munassar.

The Prime Minister spoke proudly of the role New Zealanders have played in the human story of IHL, describing the role Kiwi politicians, diplomats and lawyers have played in the development of laws to protect human dignity and the important role of the Red Cross as the ‘guardians’ of the Geneva Conventions.

Hearing the Prime Minister reaffirm her support for IHL served as a reminder that every day, IHL works to save lives around the world. However, some of the stories shared reminded us that when the law is not respected, there can be devastating consequences.

Alongside the high-profile reception at Parliament, New Zealand Red Cross organised a range of themed events to honor the contribution of the Geneva Conventions to saving lives and reducing suffering over the last 70 years. These included a two-day workshop for young humanitarian leaders, an IHL storytelling competition, and an IHL moot court in which university students debated a fictional war crimes case.

These events were an opportunity to reflect on the enduring influence of the Geneva Conventions after 70 years, as not only the fundamental laws of war, but also as symbolic of an unwavering commitment to humanity, even in the worst of times.