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Protection of the wounded, sick and shipwrecked

31-12-1988

Extract from "Basic rules of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols"

 Geneva Convention for the amelioration of the condition of the wounded and sick in armed forces in the field (Convention I of 12 August 1949)

 Geneva Convention for the amelioration of the condition of wounded, sick and shipwrecked members of armed forces at sea (Convention II of 12 August 1949)

 Additional Protocol I, Part II  

1. Field of application of the two Conventions and the Protocol 

2. Definition of protected persons 

3. Protection, treatment and care 

4. Search for the wounded, dead and missing 

5. Recording and forwarding of information 

6. Role of the civilian population and relief organizations; role of neutral ships 

7. Medical units 

8. Medical transport 

9. Medical personnel 

10. Medical mission 

11. Emblem and signals 

 (Please note: Roman numerals indicate the number of the Convention or the Protocol (designated by the letter  

 P), Arabic numerals refer to the articles of these instruments.)  

 1. Field of application of the two Conventions and the Protocol  

Generally speaking, the Second Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949 is almost identical with the First. The

main difference between the two is that the second concerns the wounded, sick and shipwrecked members of

armed forces at sea while the first relates to the wounded and sick in armed forces in the field. Otherwise, the

principles underlying the two Conventions are identical and the same rules apply to protected persons and

property, taking into account the different conditions prevailing on land and at sea.[I, 13; II, 13 ]

Protocol I, Part 11, extends this protection to all wounded, sick and shipwrecked persons, whether they be

civilians or members of the armed forces.[P. I, 8, 34 ]

 2. Definition of protected persons I (1)

The terms " wounded " and " sick " mean military or civilian persons in need of medical care and who refrain from any act of hostility.[P. I, 8 ]

The term " shipwrecked " means military or civilian persons in a peri lous situation at sea or on any other waters following a misfortune which has befallen them and who refrain from any act of hostility.

 3. Protection, treatment and care  

 All wounded, sick and shipwrecked, to whichever Party they  belong, shall be respected and protected. [P. I, 10 ]

    

In all circumstances, they shall be treated humanely and shall receive, to the fullest possible extent and with the least possible delay, the medical care and attention required by their condition. There shall be no distinction between them on any other grounds. Women shall be treated with all the particular consideration due to their sex.[I, 12; II, 12; P. I, 10 ]

Wounded, sick and shipwrecked combatants who are captured become prisoners of war. Until their recovery or their disembarkation they will benefit from the provisions of Conventions I or II and III.

 4.  Search for the wounded, dead and missing  

The general principle governing this section is, first and foremost, the right of families to know the fate of their relatives. [P. I, 32 ]

    

At all times, and particularly after an engagement, Parties to a conflict must immediately take all possible measures to search for and collect the wounded, sick and shipwrecked, to protect them against pillage and ill-treatment and ensure their adequate care, as well as to search for the dead and prevent their being desp oiled.[I, 15; II, 18; IV, 16 ]

The Conventions specify that Parties to a conflict must ensure that burial, cremation or burial at sea of the dead, carried out individually as far as circumstances permit, is preceded by a careful and, if possible, medical examination of the bodies with a view to confirming death, establishing identity and making possible a report.[I, 17; II, 20 ]

In addition, as soon as circumstances permit, and at the latest from the end of active hostilities, each Party to the conflict must search for persons who have been reported missing by an adverse Party.[P. I, 33 ]

 5.  Recording and forwarding of information  

 Parties to a conflict must record all available particulars which  could help to identify the wounded, sick and dead who have fallen  into their hands: the Power on which they depend or nationality, regimental number, surname and first name, date of birth, date and place of capture and the nature of actions taken with regard to the individuals concerned, etc. This information is to be forwarded as soon as possible to the Information Bureau provided for in Convention III for transmission to the adverse Party, particularly through the intermediary of the Central Tracing Agency  of the International Committee of the Red Cross (CTA). When this information is not channelled through the ICRC and its central Agency, each Party to the conflict will ensure that this information is also supplied to the Central Agency provided for in Convention III. [I, 16; II, 19; P. I, 33; III, 122; IV, 136 ]

 6. Role of the civilian population and relief organizations; role of neutral ships  

 The civilian Population must respect the wounded, sick and  shipwrecked, even if they belong to the adverse Party, and shall  commit no act of violence against them. The civilian population and relief organizations, such as National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, will be authorized, even in invaded or occupied regions, to collect and care for the wounded, sick and ship wrecked, even if they are enemy parachutists or guerillas. Nobody may be harassed, prosecuted or convicted for such humanitarian action.[I, 18; P. I, 17 ]

Furthermore, the competent authority may appeal to the civilian population and the relief organizations to collect the wounded, sick and shipwrecked, to search for the dead and report where they were found.

The same applies in naval warfare to neutral merchant vessels, yachts or other craft which may be called upon, by the Parties to the conflict, to take on board and care for the wounded, sick and shipwrecked and also to collect the dead.[II, 21 ]

 7. Medical units  

 Military(2) or civilian medical units are protected by the Conventions and the Protocol. Such units comprise all buildings or fixed installations (hosp itals and other similar units, blood transfusion and preventive medicine centres, medical depots and stores) and mobile units (quarantine stations, tents, open air installations, vehicles assigned to medical purposes) [I, 19; P. I, 8, 9, 12 ] :

 a) which belong to a Party to the conflict or which are recognized  and authorized by a Party to the conflict  

 (naturally including  the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and other  authorized Societies);  

    

 b) which are placed at the disposal of a Party to the conflict  

 - by a neutral State,  

 - by an impartial international organization of a humanitarian nature.  

    

 Assigned to medical purposes means units devoted to searching for evacuating, transporting, diagnosing or

treating the wounded, sick and shipwrecked, as well as to disease prevention.

It is however specified that the protection to which these medical units are entitled may cease if they are used to

commit acts harmful to the enemy (for example, sheltering unwounded soldiers or installing a military observation

post). Protection may only cease, however, after a warning has been given, setting a rea sonable time limit, and

after such warning has remained unheeded.[I, 21, 22;P, I, 13 ]

    

 The equipment (stretchers, surgical apparatus, medicines, dressings, etc.) of mobile military units seized by the

army will be reserved for the care of the wounded and sick.[I, 33 ]

 In occupied territory, the occupant cannot requisition civilian medical units, their equipment, material or personnel

so long as these resources are required for the needs of the civilian population and the wounded and sick already

under treatment.[P. I, 14 ]

    

 The real and personal property of Red Cross Societies and other authorized aid Societies will always be regarded

as private property. The army or the occupant can, however, requisition them in case of urgent necessity, but only

after the welfare of the sick and wounded has been assured.[I, 34 ]

 8.  Medical transport  

" Medical transport " means the conveyance by land, water or air of the wounded, sick and shipwrecked, medical

and religious personnel and medical equipment protected by the Conventions and the Protocol. Any means of  

 transport may be used, whether  military or civilian, permanent or temporary, assigned exclusively  to this purpose  

 and placed under the control of a Party to the conflict. [P. I, 8 ]

    

 Medical transport by land (ambulances) must be respected and protected in the same way as mobile medical

units. Military ambulances falling into enemy hands are subject to the laws of war on condition that the Party

capturing them assumes responsibility for the sick and wounded they contain.[I, 35; P. I, 21 ]

 Medical transport by water is carried out either by hospital ships or other medical ships and craft. The following

vessels are protected by the Conventions and the Protocol on condition that their names and descriptions have

been notified to the Parties to the conflict:[II, 22 ]

- military hospital ships of the Parties to the conflict;

- hospital ships used by National Red Cross Societies or other officially recognized aid Societies or by private

persons, including those from neutral countries;[II, 24, 25 ]

- hospital ships made available to a Party to the conflict by a neutral State or by an impartial international

organization of a humanitarian nature.[P. I, 22 ]

Hospital ships may not be attacked and may not be captured. The same applies to ships chartered for the

transport of medical equipment. However, the Parties to the conflict have the right to board and inspect these

ships.[II, 22, 31, 38 ]

Any hospital ship in a port which falls into enemy hands will be authorized to leave the port.[II, 29 ]

Other medical ships and craft shall be respected and protected in the same way as mobile medical units.[P. I, 23 ]

 Medical transport by air (medical aircraft) carried out in areas not controlled by an adverse Party shall be

respected and protected. In contact or similar zones, medical aircraft operate at their own risk, unless prior

agreement has been reached between the Parties concerned. They must, however, be respected, even in the

absence of such agreement, after they have been recognized as medical aircraft. When flying over an area

controlled by an adverse Party, protection is subject to the prior agreement of this Party.[P. I, 24, 25, 26, 27 ]

Medical aircraft must not be used to attempt to acquire a military advantage over an adverse Party nor, without the

prior agreement of this Party, to search for the wounded, sick and shipwrecked.[P. I, 28 ]

Medical aircraft flying over areas not controlled by the Party to which they belong may be ordered to land or to

alight on water and must obey such an order. If inspection reveals that the aircraft has not infringed any rule of the

law of armed conflicts, it must be authorized to continue its flight without delay.[P. I, 30 ]

 Medical aircraft must not fly over the territory of neutral States except by previous agreement or in an emergency.

In the latter case, the medical aircraft will make e very effort to identify itself and the neutral State will refrain from

attacking it as soon as it has recognized it as such. If wounded, sick or shipwrecked persons are collected or

disembarked on neutral territory, they will be cared for and detained by this State if they belong to the fighting

armed forces of a Party to the conflict, so that they cannot again take part in the hostilities.[II, 40; P. I, 31 ]

 9.  Medical personnel  

 Medical and religious personnel of the Parties to the conflict,  whether military or civilian, shall be respected and  

 protected. [I, 24, 25; P, I, 15 ]

    

Such personnel (doctors, nurses, stretcher-bearers, etc.) should be assigned, either on a permanent or

temporary basis, exclusively to medical purposes (see Point 7, Medical Units) or to the administration and

operation of medical units or medical transport facilities (administrators, drivers, cooks, etc.). Religious personnel

comprise military or civilian persons, such as chaplains, who are exclusively engaged in the work of their ministry.

Medical and religious personnel benefit from special protection and are designated as " protected personnel " .(3) [I,

24, 25, 26, 27; II, 36, 42; P. I, 8 ]

    

 Protected personnel are the following:

 a) Military or civilian medical personnel of the Parties to the conflict, including those belonging to civil defence  

 organizations;  

b) medical personnel of National Red Cross and Red Crescent  Societies and other national aid Societies  

 recognized by a Party  to the conflict;  

c) religious personnel attached, either permanently or temporarily, to the armed forces, to medical units or  

 transport, or to  civil defence organizations.  

If military medical personnel fall into enemy hands, they may be retained so as to care for prisoners of war. They will not themselves be regarded as prisoners of war. They will nevertheless benefit at least from all the provisions of the Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949 relative to the treatment of prisoners of war.[I, 28; II, 37; III, 33 ]

 In occupied territory, civilian medical personnel may not be requisitioned if their services are necessary to provide for the medical needs of the civilian population and the care of the wounded and sick already under treatment.[P. I, 14 ]

 10. Medical mission  

Finally, the Protocol provides that nobody may be punished for having carried out medical activities compatible with medical ethics, regardless of the beneficiaries of this activity, nor be compelled to carry out acts contrary to the rules of medical ethics or to refrain from carrying out acts required by these rules.[P. I, 16 ]

 1 1.  Emblem and signals  

The sign of the red cross(4) or red crescent must be displayed on the flags, buildings, installations and mobile formations of medical units, on their means of transport, as well as on armlets, clothes and headgear of medical and religious personnel. It will be as large as the circumstances require.[I, 39; P. I, 18 ]

An important regulation: the distinctive emblem of the Convention and the Protocol may be displayed only on medical units and  by medical personnel protected by the Convention and the Protocol, and only with the consent of the competent authority. Strict   observance of this rule is essential to respect the Convention the Protocol.[I, 42; P. II, 18 ]

In naval warfare, ships and craft entitled to the protection the Convention will be marked as follows:[II, 43 ]

a) all exterior surfaces must be white,.  

 b) one or more dark red crosses, as large as possible, must  painted on each side of the hull as well as on  

 horizontal surfaces, so as to afford the greatest possible visibility from the sea and from the air. A white flag with a  

 red cross shall  be flown at the mainmast, as high as possible.  

 The international Red Cross organizations and their duly authorized personnel are permitted to use the emblem of the red  cross on a white ground at all times. [I, 44 ]

Apart from these regulations, the use of the emblem or the designation " red cross " or " Geneva cross " , or any sign or designation constituting an imitation, shall be prohibited at all times; the necessary measures will be taken to prevent and repress any abuse of these distinctive signs. The perfidious use of the emblem of the red cross (and other protective signs or signals) is a grave breach.[I, 53, 54; II, 45; P. I, 18, 85 ]

In addition to the distinctive emblem, the Parties to the conflict may authorize the use of distinctive signals (light, radio and secondary radar signals, internationally recognized codes and signals).[P. I, 18 and Annex I ]

    

 Notes  

1. For protected medical personnel, see point 9.

2. As far as Possible, military medical units and especially civilian medical units should be placed

well out of the way of military objectives.

3. Protected personnel must carry identity cards and make themselves known by means of the

distinctive emblem of the red cross or red crescent (1, 40, 41; 11, 42; P. 1, 18 and Annex 1, Chapter I

and II). They may be armed for their own defence and that of the wounded in their charge (I, 22; II, 35; P. 1, 13).

4. The form of the cross is not specified but it has become customary to use a so-called Greek cross, i.e. a cross with four arms of equal length not touching the edge of the shield, comprising the inverted colours of the Swiss flag. Instead of the red cross, some countries use the red crescent. The red lionand-sun emblem is no longer in use.

 
Basic rules of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols