Brussels Conference of 1874

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The Brussels Conference of 1874 was held from July 27th to August 27th, 1874 with the aim of reaching an international agreement on the laws and customs of war . The initiative came from the Russian Tsar Alexander II , and representatives from 15 European countries took part in the conference. The resolutions of the conference formulated in the “Declaration on the Laws and Customs of War” did not subsequently lead to a binding international treaty , but provided an important basis for later developments in the field of international humanitarian law . The impetus for this conference was Bombardment of Valparaíso , an important and unfortified port city in Chile , by Spain during the Spanish-South American War .

Legal and historical importance

The focus of the negotiations at the Brussels Conference of 1874 was a draft convention that had been drawn up by the Russian international law expert Friedrich Fromhold Martens . The document originally consisting of 71 articles was accepted by the participants with several changes and abbreviations, but the “Declaration on the Laws and Customs of War”, which ultimately comprised 56 articles, never achieved the status of a binding international agreement due to lack of later ratifications . However, together with the Oxford Manual of 1880 drawn up by the Geneva lawyer Gustave Moynier , it formed the basis for the Hague Agreements , especially for the Hague Land Warfare Regulations, adopted in the context of the Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907 . The Hague Agreement on the Laws and Customs of Land Warfare , to which the Hague Land Warfare Regulations are annexed, refers in its versions from 1899 and 1907 to the resolutions of the Brussels Conference.

The Brussels Declaration contained, among other things, requirements for the administration of occupied territories and definitions of combatants and non-combatants . It also imposed restrictions on the means of harming the opponent, such as a ban on the use of toxic substances in warfare, as well as a ban on the killing of a defenseless or surrendering opponent and orders not to pardon . The declaration also prohibited the misuse of the parliamentary flag, the national flags of the conflicting parties and the symbol of the Geneva Convention of 1864 . The declaration also contained rules for sieges and bombings , such as a requirement to spare hospitals and buildings with cultural, scientific or other charitable significance as far as possible, as well as a requirement to avoid looting . When dealing with prisoners of war , the principle applied that they must be treated humanely. With regard to the treatment of wounded and sick soldiers, the declaration referred to the Geneva Convention of 1864. Other rules related to the surrender of a conflict party and the conclusion of an armistice .


  • Dietrich Schindler , Jiří Toman (Eds.): The Laws of Armed Conflicts: A Collection of Conventions, Resolutions, and Other Documents. Third revised edition. Sijthoff & Noordhoff International Publishers, Alphen aan den Rijn 1988, ISBN 9-02-473306-5 , pp. 22-34

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