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Commentary of 1987 
Use of international codes
    [p.1265] Annex I, Article 10 -- Use of international codes

    4238 Provision was made for the use of international codes in Article 13 of the ICRC's draft of Annex I, which was adopted by the Conference subject to editorial amendments. The text does not place the Parties to the conflict under any obligation; they may unilaterally authorize the use of such codes or not, as they wish.

    [p.1266] 4239 The international codes published by the ITU, IMO and ICAO are designed to facilitate the communications in respect of which these three organizations issue international regulations. Their purpose is to provide ways and means of communicating when language difficulties exist, in order to enhance the safety of sea and air navigation as well as of life.

    4240 The ITU Radio Regulations contain a number of codes, abbreviations and signals for use in radiocommunications alongside the compulsory procedures applied in the maritime and aeronautical mobile services. These provisions apply to sea and air medical transports in peacetime and it is advisable that they should be used also in time of armed conflict, subject to the agreement of the competent authority. (1)

    4241 The Q code, which is used by all three organizations for radiocommunications, consists of groups of three letters, the first of which is always Q. The groups are arranged in series, as follows:

    -- QAA to QNZ = for use in the aeronautical service,
    -- QOA to QQZ = for use in the maritime service,
    -- QRA to QUZ = for use in all services.

    4242 The series QAA to QNZ, allocated to the aeronautical radiocommunication service, are not part of the ITU Radio Regulations; they are found in ICAO document 8400/3 under the heading "The Q Code". (2)

    4243 The series QOA to QQZ to be used for radiocommunications in the maritime mobile service are set out, together with their meaning and procedures, in the ITU Radio Regulations, Vol. II, Appendix 14; they are followed by the abbreviations and signals to be used with the Q code.

    4244 The series QRA to QUZ, which may be used by all services, are found in the Radio Regulations, Vol. II, Appendix 13, followed by the abbreviations and signals to be used with the Q code.

    4245 Each of the three parts of the Q code comprises series of groups set aside for urgency, distress and search and rescue radiocommunications.

    4246 It would be advisable to select Q code groups for use by medical units and transports on land and at sea in time of armed conflict, in order to facilitate their communications with the adverse Party in notifying the information required to ensure the safety of their missions.

    4247 ICAO document 8400/3 referred to above contains all the abbreviations and codes for use in aircraft operation, with the exception of certain abbreviations published in other documents and listed in the foreword to document 8400/3.

    4248 There would be some advantage in extracting from document 8400/3 all the material that might facilitate the task of medical aircraft in time of armed conflict, in particular as regards co-ordination with medical units and transports on land and at sea.

    [p.1267] 4249 The IMO International Code of Signals may be used by all existing communication media for the transmission of messages: flags, signalling lamps using the Morse code, sound signalling, signalling by arms (semaphore) and radiocommunications. The document comprises fourteen chapters describing the methods and procedures for the transmission of the groups of letters and digits listed in the General Section, the Medical Section and the Appendices. Chapter XIV is entitled "Identification of Medical Transport in Armed Conflict and Permanent Identification of Rescue Craft". (3)

    4250 The General Section of the Code comprises groups of letters and digits for use in distress and emergency situations as well as in search and rescue operations. Appendices 1 and 3 contain distress signals and signals for use during rescue operations.

    4251 In principle, the International Code of Signals is carried on board all ships. However, it would be useful for the information and provisions meeting the specific needs of hospital ships, coastal rescue craft and other vessels protected by the Convention and Protocol in time of armed conflict to be extracted from the Code and collated for their use.

    4252 Any extract from an international code must contain a reminder to the effect that the compulsory transmission procedure is to be observed in all circumstances. The increasingly widespread use of radiotelephony does not make the Q code any less valuable, since its groups may be transmitted in spoken form using the spelling table in the Radio Regulations. This facility enables language difficulties to be overcome.

    ' Ph. E. '

    NOTES (1) [(1) p.1266] ITU, ' Radio Regulations ', Vol. I, Arts. 52, 53, 63-65; Vol. II, Appendices 13-14, Q code; Appendix 24, Phonetic alphabet;

    (2) [(2) p.1266] ICAO, Document 8400/3, ' Procedures for Air Navigation Services, ICAO Abbreviations and Codes ', Montreal;

    (3) [(3) p.1267] French and Spanish language editions are available. Cf. supra, p. 1169, note 5 and p. 1170;