What is peace? Peace is an ideal we humans have been striving towards since the beginnings of mankind. On the micro level, peace is essential to a stable upbringing, whilst on the macro it is fundamental to a functioning world. Whilst Syria prepares for peace talks in Switzerland, by bringing the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition together to discuss the move towards a transitional government, we see conflict is still very much the bane of contemporary society. However, the heart of harmony has been shrouded by the mass of wars that have emerged in the 20th century. So we must question why Geneva? And when did it become the go-to destination for Peace?
It is well known that the Swiss are admired for their political stability and neutral stance on global affairs. Thus, it comes as no surprise that Switzerland’s second largest city is the European headquarters of the United Nations, formerly known as the League of Nations. However, Geneva’s grand title of ‘Peace Capital of the World’ has humble beginnings. It was the work of a Swiss businessman named Henry Dunant who paved the way to the possibility of Peace. He published the Memoir of the Solferino in 1862, exposing the war time horrors he experienced after visiting wounded soldiers at the Battle of Solferino, in Italy. He was outraged by the poor aid given to these soldiers so made propositions in his book, which were to see his country rise as the moral dictator of the world.
Dunant suggested permanent support for humanitarian aid in times of war, and a government treaty allowing it to provide aid and to recognize its neutrality. As a result, the 1864 Geneva Convention was born, followed by the establishment of the Red Cross in Geneva. For these influential achievements Dunant received the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901. Thus, Switzerland remains the go-to peace destination, as The Geneva Conventions was the first international treaty to set out rules for the wartime rights of prisoners and the wounded.
But is it fair to say The Geneva Conventions of 1864 have become outdated? With drastic changes in armed conflict, the terms of the document were updated 4 times. Yet, perhaps we shouldn’t see the original as antiquated, but as the sturdy foundation of humanitarian law. By negotiating in the place where it all began, the world desperately hopes Syria will be able transform Middle-Eastern peace from an impossible fantasy into attainable reality.