“The International Conventions contain a multitude of rules which specify the obligations of states in very precise terms, but this is not the whole story. Behind these rules are a number of principles which inspire the entire substance of the documents. Sometimes we find them expressly stated in the Conventions, some of them are clearly implied and some derive from customary law.
“We are acquainted with the famous Martens clause in the preamble to the Hague Regulations, referring to the “principles of the law of nations, as they result from usages established among civilized peoples”. A number of articles in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 also refer to such principles, which are as vitally important in humanitarian law as they are in all other legal domains. They serve in a sense as the bone structure in a living body, providing guidelines in unforeseen cases and constituting a complete summary of the whole, easy to understand and indispensable for the purposes of dissemination.
“In the legal sector now under consideration, the minimum principles of humanitarian law are valid at all times, in all places and under all circumstances, applying even to states which may not be parties to the Conventions, because they express the usage of peoples, […].
“The principles do not in any sense take the place of the rules set forth in the Conventions. It is to these rules that jurists must refer when the detailed application of the Conventions has to be considered.
“Unfortunately we live in a time when formalism and logorrhea flourish in international conferences, for diplomats have discovered the advantages they can derive from long-winded, complex and obscure texts, in much the same way as military commanders employ smoke screens on battlefields. It is a facile way of concealing the basic problems and creates a danger that the letter will prevail over the spirit. It is therefore more necessary than ever, in this smog of verbosity, to use simple, clear and concise language.
“In 1966, the principles of humanitarian law were formulated for the first time based in particular on the Geneva Conventions of 1949. […] (Pictet, 1985)
[Source: PICTET Jean S., Development and Principles of International Humanitarian Law, Geneva, M. Nijhoff, 1985, pp. 59-60; footnotes omitted.] (File photo from the archives, credits as stated in said archives)