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Commentary - Art. 20. Chapter III : Medical units and establishments
    ARTICLE 20 -- PROTECTION OF HOSPITAL SHIPS


    This provision, which was introduced by the Diplomatic Conference of 1949, should be read in conjunction with Article 23 of the Second Geneva Convention, which is also new and its exact counterpart. The latter Article lays down that medical establishments ashore entitled to the protection of the First Geneva Convention, are not to be attacked or bombarded from the sea.
    These provisions may appear surprising and superfluous at first sight. For it is obvious that the protection accorded to hospital ships under the Second Convention is general and absolute in character and applies as much to artillery of the land forces as to naval guns or aircraft. In the same way the First Convention undoubtedly protects medical establishments on land against all attacks, whether from land, sea or air.
    The only value of the above Articles is therefore as a reminder; it is as such, and for practical reasons, that they have been maintained. It was feared that certain members of naval forces might only be conversant with the Second (Maritime Warfare) Geneva Convention, and that certain members of the land forces might only know the terms of the First Convention. Such cases, which would, we hope, be exceptional, [p.200] might lead to serious consequences when military operations took place close to the coast. The two Articles were therefore adopted as a precautionary measure.