ICRC databases on international humanitarian law
  • Print page
Commentary - Chapter IV : Personnel
    [p.199] CHAPTER IV


    PERSONNEL

    1. ' The various categories of personnel '

    Personnel protected by the present Convention comprise the following five categories:

    (a) Medical personnel of the navy and the merchant marine exclusively
    engaged in the care of the wounded, sick and shipwrecked (Articles 12
    and 13 );

    (b) Personnel of the navy and the merchant marine exclusively engaged in
    the administration of medical services, including members of the crew
    of hospital ships;

    (c) Chaplains attached to the navy and the merchant marine;

    (d) The staff of National Red Cross Societies and other recognized relief
    societies, employed on the same duties as the personnel mentioned
    under (a) to (c) above and subject to military laws and
    regulations (1);

    (e) Personnel of relief societies of neutral countries who lend their
    assistance to a belligerent and are duly authorized to do so (1).

    In view of the scope of the Maritime Convention, the medical and religious personnel covered by it are mainly and normally those attached to the naval forces. Pursuant to Article 4 and Article 35, sub-paragraph (5) , however, medical personnel attached to the land or air forces may on occasion be transported by sea, and would be entitled to like protection.
    [p.200] By virtue of the reference in Article 37 to Articles 12 and 13 , the Convention now applies, as we have already seen (2), to the medical personnel and chaplains of the merchant marine. This extension, which was recommended by the International Committee of the Red Cross, is important and is to the advantage of one category of personnel whose status was previously not well defined.

    2. ' The general principles applicable '

    Only a summary definition of the status of medical personnel is given in the two Articles which will now be commented upon and which constitute Chapter IV, dealing with personnel. For the rest, one must refer to the provisions of the First Convention which by tradition governs this subject (Chapter IV). This is not actually specified in the Geneva Conventions, but results implicitly from their general structure and historical development: although they constitute separate legal instruments, the Conventions are nevertheless inseparable from one another on certain points. Thus, we repeat, from the outset the Convention under consideration constituted the ' adaptation ' to maritime warfare of the principles of the Convention applicable to hostilities on land. The First Geneva Convention, which governs the main subject, contains certain general principles to which one must refer in regard to medical personnel, the red cross emblem, etc. and certain details relating to application.
    In the light of the foregoing, it therefore seems appropriate here to repeat certain concepts which arise from the First Convention and are equally valid in the case of war at sea. We shall do so in connection with each category of protected personnel.
    The ' medical personnel proper ' are those who give direct care to the wounded, sick and shipwrecked of the navy and the merchant marine: doctors, surgeons, dentists, chemists, orderlies, nurses, stretcher-bearers, etc.
    It is for each Power to decide the composition of its Medical Service and say who shall be employed in it. To be assured of protection, however, they must be exclusively employed on medical [p.201] duties. This exclusive assignment to certain duties applies only to medical personnel, and it was at this price that the States agreed in the Geneva Conventions to accord special immunity, even in combat areas, to members of the enemy's armed forces.
    The duties of medical personnel consist not only of giving medical treatment to war victims, but also of searching for and collecting them, feeding them, etc.
    The ' administrative staff ' are persons who, without being directly concerned in the treatment of the wounded and sick, contribute to it by looking after the administration of the hospital services. They include office staff, cooks, cleaners, etc. and in particular the crew of hospital ships to whom Article 36 refers. Like the previous category, they form part of the Medical Service, and accordingly had to be given the same immunity as the personnel actually giving treatment, for without their contribution the hospital services could not carry out their task. The persons in this category too must be exclusively assigned to those duties.
    ' Chaplains ' are priests or ministers of any religion who are attached to the navy or merchant marine and whose task in regard to war victims and the sick is not medical but spiritual in nature, although they are frequently called upon to give material aid as well as religious assistance to the wounded. They hold services, comfort the dying, hear any requests the latter may have to make, officiate at burials, etc. Unlike medical personnel, chaplains need not be exclusively or even partially assigned to the wounded and sick. They are protected solely in their capacity as chaplains, even when -- as most often happens -- their duties extend to a whole ship or to a whole naval unit. Like medical personnel, they must obviously abstain from all hostile acts.
    On the other hand, to be accorded immunity, chaplains must be attached in that capacity to the navy or the merchant marine. The decision will rest with the competent authorities and the relationship must be an official one. Accordingly, ministers of religion who wish to serve voluntarily and in a private capacity are not covered by the Convention. Until such time as they have been regularly appointed, they act at their own risk and peril.
    The ' personnel of National Red Cross Societies and other recognized relief societies ' belong to the private relief societies (the so-called [p.202] voluntary aid societies) which have undertaken to assist the Medical Service of the armed forces. The expression "voluntary aid societies" does not mean that the staff of such societies are necessarily unpaid. It means that their work is based not on any obligation to the State, but on an engagement of their own free will.
    The 1949 Conventions, like their forerunners, grant the staff of Red Cross Societies and other relief societies the same legal status as medical personnel of the armed forces, both categories being placed on the same footing in all aspects. They will have the same right to protection, and the same treatment in the event of capture. The reader should therefore refer to what has already been said in connection with the personnel of the Medical Service and also to the commentary on Article 24 of the present Convention.
    In order that the staff of voluntary aid societies may be placed on the same footing as medical personnel of the armed forces, such societies must have been duly recognized by the Government of their home country and must have been authorized to lend their assistance to the Medical Service of the armed forces.
    In addition, the staff must be employed on the same duties as the personnel of the Medical Service, and exclusively so. Those duties consist mainly of the care of the wounded, but also include administrative tasks (for instance in the case of the crew of hospital ships). It may also be noted that chaplains may sometimes belong to a recognized relief society, in the sense of the Geneva Conventions.
    The ' personnel of a relief society of a neutral country ' which gives assistance to a belligerent, who are employed on the tasks mentioned above, are also protected by the present Convention.
    The society must obviously fulfil the same conditions as the society of a belligerent which assists the Medical Service of its own country, as mentioned above. Thus, it must be recognized by its Government, and be authorized by it to assist the Medical Service of a nation at war.
    The society must also obtain authorization from the two States concerned. This is indicated in Article 25 , which sets forth the rules relative to the provision of a hospital ship -- the only case of assistance by neutral societies expressly provided for in the present Convention.
    [p.203] Moreover, the personnel made available in this manner will be subject to military authority ("under the control of one of the Parties to the conflict..."states Article 25 ) and will in practice act as part of the Medical Service of the belligerent. For obvious reasons of order and discipline, such personnel cannot retain an autonomous status.
    Lastly, as already mentioned in connection with Article 25 , the principle laid down in Article 27, paragraph 3 , of the First Geneva Convention is equally valid here -- that is to say, in no circumstances may neutral humanitarian assistance be considered as interference in the conflict.


    * (1) [(1) p.199] Including the medical personnel of hospital
    ships belonging to private persons (Articles 24 and 25).
    In this connection, reference should be made to the
    commentary on Article 36;

    (2) [(1) p.200] See the commentary on Article 13, paragraph 5;