ICRC databases on international humanitarian law
  • Print page
Commentary - Art. 4. Annex I : Draft agreement relating to hospital and safety zones and localities
    ARTICLE 4. -- CONDITIONS


    This Article lays down the following four conditions which hospital zones must fulfil:

    (a) ' Size '. -- Hospital zones must occupy only a small part of the country's territory. It would obviously be inadmissible for a State [p.631] to establish a hospital zone covering half the country. The very idea of zones of refuge implies a relatively limited area, and in any case the adverse Party would be unlikely to accord recognition to very large zones which might seriously impede military operations.

    (b) ' Population '. -- The requirement that hospital zones should be thinly populated in relation to the possibilities of accommodation in them brings out the necessity for organizing such zones systematically in advance. It might otherwise be difficult to find an area fulfilling the conditions set here. Watering places or spas with numerous hotels and clinics would no doubt be suitable.
    If there were a sudden influx of persons to be protected, account should be taken of the opportunities offered by Article 15 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which permits the establishment of "neutralized zones" where wounded and sick combatants or noncombatants and able-bodied civilians could alike be given shelter.
    As already said, the permanent population of a hospital zone should be as small as possible; for if it were necessary to resort to transfers of population and evictions, serious difficulties might arise.

    (c) ' Remoteness from military objectives '. -- The essential condition -- the very essence of the whole scheme -- is that there should be no military objective either within the zones or in their vicinity.
    The term "military objective" is found also in paragraph 5 of Article 18 of the Convention, which recommends that hospitals be situated as far as possible from such objectives. Reference may be made to the Commentary on Article 18 for a discussion of the term, which must be understood in its broadest sense. As the whole object is to provide those enjoying the protection of the zones with the greatest possible measure of safety, it is necessary to remove from the zone and its neighbourhood anything which the enemy might regard as a military objective, in order to avoid objections when the question of the recognition of the zone arises.
    It is for that reason that the text also excludes "large industrial and administrative establishments", although that in no way implies that they are to be regarded as being military objectives. Lines of communication serving the zone, which will not, under the Agreement, be utilized for military purposes, must also not be considered possible objects of attack.
    The Draft Agreement does not say at what distance the zones must be from such objectives and establishments. Here again, the criterion will be the safety of the zone. States find no difficulty in solving a similar problem in peacetime when they fix the boundaries of the danger zone surrounding an artillery range.

    [p.632] (d) ' Choice of area '. -- The zones must not be situated in areas which, according to every probability, may become important for the conduct of the war. That condition sets States a particularly difficult problem. As a general rule, they do not know the strategic plans of the enemy, who will keep them secret for as long as possible. he most which the authorities responsible for deciding the position of the zones will know for certain will be the plans for their own armed forces. It will be difficult for them to fulfil the present condition if they intend to take into account all possible moves by the enemy.
    In most countries, however, there are certain areas which more or less answer this requirement by reason of their geographical configuration and lessons drawn from the past.
    In any case, the authors of the provision were wise enough to insert the words "according to every probability".
    If a zone, contrary to the expectations of the State which established it, happened to acquire real military importance as a result of events, the adverse Party would admittedly be justified in declaring that it would no longer recognize it after the expiry of a reasonable period.