The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 are a series of international treaties and declarations negotiated at two international peace conferences at The Hague in the Netherlands. Along with the Geneva Conventions, the Hague Conventions were among the first formal statements of the laws of war and war crimes in the body of secular international law. A third conference was planned for 1914 and later rescheduled for 1915, but it did not take place due to the start of World War I.
Both conferences included negotiations concerning disarmament, the laws of war and war crimes. A major effort in both conferences was the creation of a binding international court for compulsory arbitration to settle international disputes, which was considered necessary to replace the institution of war. This effort, however, failed at both conferences; instead a voluntary forum for arbitration, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, was established. Most of the countries present, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, China, and Persia, favored a process for binding international arbitration, but the provision was vetoed by a few countries, led by Germany.
The First Hague Conference came from a proposal on 24 August 1898 by RussianTsarNicholas II. Nicholas and Count Mikhail Nikolayevich Muravyov, his foreign minister, were instrumental in initiating the conference. The conference opened on 18 May 1899, the Tsar's birthday. The treaties, declarations, and final act of the conference were signed on 29 July of that year, and they entered into force on 4 September 1900. What is referred to as the Hague Convention of 1899 consisted of three main treaties and three additional declarations:
(I): Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes
(III): Convention for the Adaptation to Maritime Warfare of the Principles of the Geneva Convention of 22 August 1864
This convention provides for the protection of marked hospital ships and requires them to treat the wounded and shipwrecked sailors of all belligerent parties. It too was ratified by all major powers.
(IV,1): Declaration concerning the Prohibition of the Discharge of Projectiles and Explosives from Balloons or by Other New Analogous Methods
This declaration provides that, for a period of five years, in any war between signatory powers, no projectiles or explosives would be launched from balloons, "or by other new methods of a similar nature." The declaration was ratified by all the major powers mentioned above, except the United Kingdom and the United States.
(IV,2): Declaration concerning the Prohibition of the Use of Projectiles with the Sole Object to Spread Asphyxiating Poisonous Gases
This declaration states that, in any war between signatory powers, the parties will abstain from using projectiles "the sole object of which is the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gases." Ratified by all major powers, except the United States.
(IV,3): Declaration concerning the Prohibition of the Use of Bullets which can Easily Expand or Change their Form inside the Human Body such as Bullets with a Hard Covering which does not Completely Cover the Core, or containing Indentations
This declaration states that, in any war between signatory powers, the parties will abstain from using "bullets which expand or flatten easily in the human body." This directly banned soft-point bullets (which had a partial metal jacket and an exposed tip) and "cross-tipped" bullets (which had a cross-shaped incision in their tip to aid in expansion, nicknamed "Dum Dums" from the Dum Dum Arsenal in India). It was ratified by all major powers, except the United States.
Parties to Convention number IV: Convention respecting the laws and customs of war on land
The Second Hague Conference, in 1907, resulted in conventions containing only few major advancements from the 1899 Convention. However, the meeting of major powers did prefigure later 20th-century attempts at international cooperation.
The second conference was called at the suggestion of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt in 1904, but it was postponed because of the war between Russia and Japan. The Second Peace Conference was held from 15 June to 18 October 1907. The intent of the conference was to expand upon the 1899 Hague Convention by modifying some parts and adding new topics; in particular, the 1907 conference had an increased focus on naval warfare. The British attempted to secure limitation of armaments, but these efforts were defeated by the other powers, led by Germany, which feared a British attempt to stop the growth of the German fleet. Germany also rejected proposals for compulsory arbitration. However, the conference did enlarge the machinery for voluntary arbitration and established conventions regulating the collection of debts, rules of war, and the rights and obligations of neutrals.
The treaties, declarations, and final act of the Second Conference were signed on 18 October 1907; they entered into force on 26 January 1910. The 1907 Convention consists of thirteen treaties—of which twelve were ratified and entered into force—and one declaration:
(I): Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes
This convention confirms and expands on Convention (I) of 1899. As of February 2017, this convention is in force for 102 states, and 116 states have ratified one or both of the 1907 Convention (I) and the 1899 Convention (I), which together are the founding documents of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
(II): Convention respecting the Limitation of the Employment of Force for Recovery of Contract Debts
(III): Convention relative to the Opening of Hostilities
(IV): Convention respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land
This convention confirms, with minor modifications, the provisions of Convention (II) of 1899. All major powers ratified it.
(V): Convention relative to the Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers and Persons in case of War on Land
(VI): Convention relative to the Legal Position of Enemy Merchant Ships at the Start of Hostilities
(VII): Convention relative to the Conversion of Merchant Ships into War-ships
(VIII): Convention relative to the Laying of Automatic Submarine Contact Mines
(IX): Convention concerning Bombardment by Naval Forces in Time of War
(X): Convention for the Adaptation to Maritime Warfare of the Principles of the Geneva Convention (of 6 July 1906)
This convention updated Convention (III) of 1899 to reflect the amendments that had been made to the 1864 Geneva Convention. Convention (X) was ratified by all major states except the United Kingdom. It was subsequently superseded by Second Geneva Convention.
(XI): Convention relative to Certain Restrictions with regard to the Exercise of the Right of Capture in Naval War
(XII): Convention relative to the Establishment of an International Prize Court
This convention would have established the International Prize Court for the resolution of conflicting claims relating to captured ships during wartime. It is the one convention that never came into force. It was ratified only by Nicaragua.
(XIII): Convention concerning the Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers in Naval War
(XIV): Declaration Prohibiting the Discharge of Projectiles and Explosives from Balloons
This declaration extended the provisions of Declaration (IV,1) of 1899 to the close of the planned Third Peace Conference (which never took place). Among the major powers, this was ratified only by China, United Kingdom, and the United States.
Though not negotiated in The Hague, the Geneva Protocol to the Hague Conventions is considered an addition to the Conventions. Signed on 17 June 1925 and entering into force on 8 February 1928, its single article permanently bans the use of all forms of chemical and biological warfare. The protocol grew out of the increasing public outcry against chemical warfare following the use of mustard gas and similar agents in World War I, and fears that chemical and biological warfare could lead to horrific consequences in any future war. The protocol has since been augmented by the Biological Weapons Convention (1972) and the Chemical Weapons Convention (1993).
Many of the rules laid down at the Hague Conventions were violated in World War I. The German invasion of Belgium, for instance, was a violation of Convention (III) of 1907, which states that hostilities must not commence without explicit warning.Poison gas was introduced and used by all major belligerents throughout the war, in violation of the Declaration (IV, 2) of 1899 and Convention (IV) of 1907, which explicitly forbade the use of "poison or poisoned weapons".
Writing in 1918, the German international law scholar and neo-KantianpacifistWalther Schücking called the assemblies the "international union of Hague conferences". Schücking saw the Hague conferences as a nucleus of a future international federation that was to meet at regular intervals to administer justice and develop international law procedures for the peaceful settlement of disputes, asserting that "a definite political union of the states of the world has been created with the First and Second Conferences".
After World War II, the judges of the military tribunal of the Trial of German Major War Criminals at Nuremberg Trials found that by 1939, the rules laid down in the 1907 Hague Convention were recognised by all civilised nations and were regarded as declaratory of the laws and customs of war. Under this post-war decision, a country did not have to have ratified the 1907 Hague Convention in order to be bound by them.
Although their contents have largely been superseded by other treaties, the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 continue to stand as symbols of the need for restrictions on war and the desirability of avoiding it altogether. Since 2000, Convention (I) of 1907 on the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes has been ratified by 20 additional states.
Barcroft, Stephen. "The Hague Peace Conference of 1899". Irish Studies in International Affairs 1989, Vol. 3 Issue 1, pp 55–68.
Bettez, David J. "Unfulfilled Initiative: Disarmament Negotiations and the Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907". RUSI Journal: Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies, June 1988, Vol. 133 Issue 3, pp 57–62.
Scott, James Brown, ed. The Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907, Vol. 1, The Conferences. (The Johns Hopkins Press 1909).