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150 Years Later, Student Finds Relevance in Humanitarian Law

Julian Dreiman
The Geneva Conventions gave people rights and totally changed the rules surrounding wars and how they were fought.

Exactly 150 years ago, an ambitious idea became a reality with the establishment of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Relief Societies, more commonly known today as the Red Cross. With it came the birth of modern humanitarian law, the Geneva Conventions. A century and a half later and Julian Dreiman, a 14-year old student, is still finding relevance in the law and wants to make sure others know all about them.

Dreiman is like many teenage boys at his Boulder, Colorado middle school. He plays soccer, likes to ski and enjoys hanging out with his older brother. But he also has a maturity and passion for history and human rights that doesn’t often appear so prominently in eighth graders. When his history teacher Zach Crandall told his class about National History Day, Dreiman was immediately intrigued.

Each year more than half a million participate in National History Day. They choose a historical topic related to the annual theme and conduct primary and secondary research. The result can be presented in one of five ways: as a paper, an exhibit, a performance, a documentary, or a web site. Competitions are held at the school, regional and state levels with finalists competing nationally in June. Projects range from the history of Mickey Mouse to the assembly line to the Iron Curtain, and everything in between.

With this year’s theme focusing on “Turning Points in History,” Dreiman decided to do an exhibit on "The ICRC and Geneva Conventions: Turning Points in Human Rights." After all, as Dreiman said, it was the Geneva Conventions that created International Humanitarian Law, which started the Red Cross.

Dreiman wanted to write on the importance of the Geneva Conventions and their relevance today. One of his research stops took him to Professor Claude d’Estree, the Director of Center on Rights Development and the Human Trafficking Clinic at nearby University of Denver. d’Estree also teaches International Humanitarian Law classes for the American Red Cross. He spoke with Dreiman for several hours, answering questions about the impact the Geneva Conventions had on how wars are fought and the rights they provided.

“Before the Geneva Conventions, wars were excessively bloody and there were more vets attending to horses than doctors to soldiers,” said Dreiman. “The Geneva Conventions gave people rights and totally changed the rules surrounding wars and how they were fought.”

With youth like Dreiman continuing to promote issues around humanitarian law, the next 150 years of the Red Cross will surely be bright.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.