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Commentary - Art. 47. Chapter VIII : Execution of the convention
    ARTICLE 47 -- DISSEMINATION OF THE CONVENTION


    [p.348] In subscribing to Article 1 the Powers undertook to respect and to ensure respect for the Convention in all circumstances. But a knowledge of law is an essential condition for its effective application. One of the worst enemies of the Geneva Conventions is ignorance.
    It was important, therefore, that the Contracting Parties should be required to disseminate the text of the Convention as widely as possible in their respective countries. This is the purpose of Article 47 which originated in a provision of the 1906 Convention (Article 26 ); this provision was reproduced in 1929, and was amplified and made more specific during the last revision of the text.
    The obligation imposed on States under Article 47 is general and absolute. It has to be complied with both in time of peace and in time of war. Two specific measures are to be taken -- namely, military instruction and civil instruction, on both of which the Convention lays special emphasis.
    The very first essential is that the Convention should be known by those who will be called upon to apply it -- by those who may have to account for their lapses in so doing before the courts, but may, on the other hand, reap the benefits of it in certain eventualities. The study of the Convention should accordingly find a Place in the training programmes of the whole of the armed forces, the instruction given being adapted to the rank of those for whom it is intended. It may be sufficient to teach recruits and members of the rank and file the guiding principles -- namely, protection of the wounded and of medical units and personnel, and respect for the distinctive emblem. On the other hand, Commanding Officers must have a very thorough knowledge of the Convention. Refresher courses in the essential elements of the instruction given should be held on mobilization, so as to implant a knowledge of the Convention firmly in the minds of the troops called up.
    In certain countries the essential provisions of the Convention are printed in the Army Book of every member of the armed forces. This arrangement should be general. (1)
    Article 47 expressly mentions two classes of persons other than combatants, who require special instruction -- namely, medical personnel [p.349] and chaplains. As these persons enjoy ' rights ' under the Convention, they ought to make a special point of scrupulously observing the corresponding ' duties ' which the Convention imposes on them.
    It is also necessary to disseminate the Convention widely amongst the civilian population; for civilians are concerned in certain of its provisions (2). Moreover it is from among civilians that the armed forces are recruited. But there is a further consideration: man should be made familiar from childhood with the great principles of humanity and civilization, so that they may become deeply rooted in his consciousness.
    Here again, therefore, in the case of civilians, provision is made for the inclusion of the study of the Convention in programmes of instruction.
    The provision is, however, qualified by the words "if possible", not because the Diplomatic Conference of 1949 thought civilian instruction any less imperative than military instruction, but because education comes under the provincial authorities in certain countries with federal constitutions, and not under the central Government. Constitutional scruples, the propriety of which is open to question, led some delegations to safeguard the freedom of provincial decisions. (3)
    Everyone, whether military or civilian, should have a good knowledge of the Convention, and should themselves be imbued with the sentiments of which it is so profound an expression. That is the best means of guaranteeing that the Convention will be respected. No stone should be left unturned in the pursuit of so all-important an aim. The States, to whom the fulfilment of the practical tasks which the Article imposes presents few difficulties, will assuredly be alive to their duty in this respect.
    Widespread dissemination of the Geneva Conventions will not merely facilitate their application in time of war. It will also spread the principles of humanity, and thus help to develop a spirit of peace among the nations.


    * (1) [(1) p.348] In 1951 the International Committee of the Red
    Cross arranged for the publication of a short summary of
    the Geneva Conventions of 1949 for the use of military
    personnel and of the general public, in the form of a
    booklet issued in French, English and Spanish;

    (2) [(1) p.349] e.g. Articles 13, 18, 22, 26, 27, 35 and 44;

    (3) [(2) p.349] See ' final Record of the Diplomatic
    Conference of Geneva, 1949 ', Vol. II-B, pages 70 and 112;