ICRC databases on international humanitarian law
  • Print page
Commentary - Art. 56. Final provisions
    ARTICLE 56 -- SIGNATURE


    The procedure resorted to in order to make the Geneva Conventions a part of positive international law is the one normally adopted -- the so-called compound procedure. It comprises two successive stages -- namely, the conclusion of the treaty and its entry into force. (1) The first stage is complete when representatives of the Parties have drawn up a final text (2) and when this text has been signed (3) in the name of at least two States. It is the act of signature which is the subject of the Article under consideration. The procedure for bringing the Convention into force is dealt with in the subsequent Articles.
    Article 56 begins by laying down that the Convention is to bear the date of the day of signature, viz. 12 August 1949. It should be noted that the other three Geneva Conventions born of the Diplomatic Conference of 1949 also bear this date.
    [p.403] The Article then gives States an opportunity of having the Convention signed in their name up to 12 February 1950, or within a period of six months. (4) This opportunity is, moreover, extended not only to Powers represented at the Conference but also to those which, although absent from Geneva, were. party to the 1864, 1906 or 1929 Conventions. (5) The few States which are not covered by this provision may become parties to the Convention by acceding to it.
    As we shall see when discussing the next Article , States are not bound by the Convention until they have ratified it. But the actual act of signature marks the agreement of their Plenipotentiaries to a text, which cannot thereafter be altered. The importance of this act cannot therefore be disregarded. Moreover, the Swiss Federal Council assumes its responsibilities as depositary of the Geneva Conventions, as from the date of signature.
    Another point which should be mentioned is that certain delegations made reservations at the time of signature. (6) These reservations will not remain in force, however, unless they are confirmed when the instrument of ratification is deposited. (7)


    * (1) [(2) p.402] Certain writers consider, however, that a
    treaty is not actually "concluded" until it has entered
    into force;

    (2) [(3) p.402] Attention should be drawn here to the words
    introducing the Convention: "The undersigned... have
    agreed as follows". See above, page 18;

    (3) [(4) p.402] When the signatures are given ad referendum,
    they are subject to confirmation;

    (4) [(1) p.403] Eighteen States signed the Convention on 12
    August 1949. Twenty-seven did so on 8 December of the same
    year at a ceremony organized for the purpose by the Swiss
    Federal Council, and sixteen did so later within the time
    limit laid down. The total number of signatory States is
    thus sixty-one;

    (5) [(2) p.403] Five States availed themselves of this
    opportunity, two of them having been represented at the
    Conference by Observers;

    (6) [(3) p.403] For the text of these reservations, see
    ' Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva,
    1949 ', Vol. I, pages 342-357;

    (7) [(4) p.403] See below, page 404;