ICRC databases on international humanitarian law
  • Print page
Commentary - Art. 144. Part IV : Execution of the convention #Section I : General provisions
    ARTICLE 144. -- DISSEMINATION OF THE CONVENTION


    In signing the first Article of the Convention, the Powers undertook to respect and ensure respect for it in all circumstances. Now if legal provisions are to be properly applied a thorough knowledge of them is necessary. It was important, therefore, that the Contracting Parties should undertake to disseminate the text of the Convention as widely as possible in their respective countries. That is the aim [p.581] of this Article, which is worded in almost identical terms in all four Conventions.
    The duty incumbent upon States by virtue of Article 144 is general and absolute in character. It must be carried out in peacetime and wartime alike. It is made clear by the mention of measures on which the Convention puts particular emphasis: military and civil instruction.
    In the first place, the Convention must be known by those who will have to apply it, who may have to render an account of their shortcomings before the courts and who, in some cases, are likely to become beneficiaries. The study of the Conventions must therefore be included in the syllabuses of military instruction, the teaching being adapted to the rank of those addressed. Article 144 mentions explicitly categories of persons for whom it is particularly necessary to receive instruction: any civilian, military, police or other authorities who in time of war assume responsibilities in respect of protected persons, must have a thorough knowledge of the Conventions.
    In case of mobilization, the essential points must be gone through again so that they are fresh in the minds of those concerned (1).
    The Convention must also be widely disseminated among the population so that its principles are known to all those who may benefit from it. It is possible to go even further and to say that men must be trained from childhood in the great principles of humanity and civilization, so that those principles take deep root in their conscience.
    Provision has therefore been made for the inclusion of the study of the Convention in syllabuses of civil instruction.
    This requirement is preceded, however, by the words "if possible". It is not that the 1949 Diplomatic Conference thought it any the less imperative to instruct civilians than to teach the military. The only reason for the addition is that in certain countries with a federal structure public education is the responsibility of the provinces and not the central authorities. Some delegations, therefore, having a scrupulous regard for constitutional niceties which may be thought unfounded, considered that they must deal tenderly with provincial liberties (2).
    Finally, the whole population should have a real knowledge of the Convention and themselves be inspired with the sentiments which [p.582] inspire it. No effort should be neglected to achieve this supremely important aim. The governments, which can easily make the practical efforts required will be anxious, no doubt, to fullfil this duty.
    A wide dissemination of the Geneva Conventions means not only that it would be easier to apply them in wartime but also that the principles of humanity will be disseminated and thus contribute towards the development of a pacific spirit among the peoples.
    It is here that the Red Cross as a whole and each of its national and international components have an important part to play in helping the public authorities to ensure ever wider dissemination among the peoples of the principles it has championed since 1863 and whose sacred character it has persuaded the governments of the whole world to recognize. The Red Cross has a tremendous rĂ´le to play in this dissemination.
    The provisions of the second paragraph echo Article 99 among others, which states that the officer in charge of a place of internment must have in his possession a copy of the Convention and that the text of the Convention must be posted inside the place of internment. Every place of any size should be given a text of the Convention, which may be of great importance if the territory is occupied.


    Notes: (1) [(1) p.581] In 1951 the International Committee of the Red
    Cross issued for the use of military personnel and the
    public a summary of the Conventions of Geneva of 1949, in
    the shape of a booklet in French, English and Spanish;

    (2) [(2) p.581] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
    Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-B, pp. 70 and 112;