After the successful termination of the Geneva Conference of 1863, the Swiss Federal Council, on the initiative of the Geneva Committee, invited the governments of all European and several American states to a diplomatic conference for the purpose of adopting a convention for the amelioration of the condition of the wounded in war. The conference, at which 16 states were represented, lasted from 8-22 August 1864. The draft convention submitted to the conference, which was prepared by the Geneva Committee, was adopted by the Conference without major alterations. The main principles laid down in the Convention and maintained by the later Geneva Conventions are:
A second diplomatic conference was convened at Geneva in October 1868 in order to clarify some provisions of the Convention of 1864 and, particularly, to adapt the principles of the Convention to sea warfare. The Additional Articles, which were adopted on 20 October 1868 were, however, not ratified, and did not enter into force.
The Convention of 1864 was replaced by the Geneva Conventions of 1906, 1929 and 1949 on the same subject. However, it ceased to have effect only in 1966 when the last state party to it which had not yet acceded to a later Convention (Republic of Korea) acceded to the Conventions of 1949.
- relief to the wounded without any distinction as to nationality;
- neutrality (inviolability) of medical personnel and medical establishments and units;
- the distinctive sign of the red cross on a white ground.