ICRC databases on international humanitarian law
Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
Treaties and Documents
Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Additional Protocols, and their Commentaries
Historical Treaties and Documents
Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977.
Personnel participating in relief actions
[p.831] Article 71
-- Personnel participating in relief actions
2870 This article did not appear in the draft, and the Conventions do not contain special provisions for the personnel engaged in relief
[p.832] 2871 Apart from personnel involved in actions under the responsibility of the ICRC, who consequently enjoy the protection of the red cross
emblem, (1) personnel participating in relief actions are only
protected, outside the régime of the Protocol, by general rules
applicable to civilians of States which are not Parties to the
conflict. Such persons certainly enjoy the general protection of
populations against certain consequences of war, (2) and, as
civilians, may not be attacked, but not all of them are covered by
the fourth Convention which excluded certain categories from its
field of application. (3) They do not have a ' right ' to carry out a particular task, and the reason for granting them a status in
international humanitarian law is to allow them to ' act '
effectively for the benefit of a civilian population lacking
2872 Personnel participating in relief actions was first mentioned in an amendment to draft Article 62 (present Article 70
-- ' Relief
actions '), aimed at including it amongst the elements for which the
Parties concerned must authorize transit, (4) together with relief
provisions and equipment.
2873 A proposal was then made to mention it as well in the paragraph devoted to the obligations of the receiving Party. (5)
2874 Finally, the question was taken up again by a Working Group of Committee II, which proposed the introduction of a new article
especially devoted to the personnel participating in relief actions.
This article was adopted with some modifications by Committee II, and
then by the Conference.
2875 The question of training such personnel already in peacetime is covered by Article 6
' (Qualified persons). '
Paragraph 1 -- Aims and conditions
2876 The participation of personnel in a relief action, as laid down in this Article 71
, covers both actions destined for occupied
territories, (6) and actions for other territories controlled by any
of the Parties to the conflict. (7)
2877 The participation of such personnel is not automatic. One could envisage relief consignments simply delivered to the receiving Party
at an airport, or a port, or in the case of transportation by land,
to the border, or simply postal consignments. However, without any
personnel involved in the action, the supervision which the
Protecting Power or its substitute must exercise is in danger of
becoming more difficult, and of requiring a large personnel if it is
to be effective.
[p.833] 2878 While relief personnel are involved in the action only ' where necessary, ' such necessity can therefore be not purely technical,
but must respond to the needs of an action conducted ' without any
adverse distinction. '
2879 The qualities required in this personnel are technical -- experts in transport, in relief administration, in organization -- to allow
the relief to be forwarded to its destination in good condition, and
to be distributed efficiently. However, there are also personal
qualities: in addition to understanding of human feelings required in
everyone engaged in humanitarian activity, relief personnel must be
capable, if this should be necessary, of cooperating closely with the
Protecting Power or the organization responsible for the supervision
of the relief distribution.
2880 Participation of medical or paramedical personnel is not explicitly mentioned, but it is not excluded, and it should certainly
be viewed in a favourable light. Often experts in hygiene and
nutrition, nurses, or even doctors, can provide useful -- if not
essential -- additional aid depending on the relief facilities and
personnel locally available. Nevertheless, the status of such
personnel raises a special problem which will be examined below. (8)
2881 Finally, participation of relief personnel "shall be subject to the approval of the Party in whose territory they will carry out
their duties". This should be interpreted to mean the Party which
exercises control over this territory, e.g., in the case of occupied
territories, the Occupying Power, and not the Party whose territory
2882 Thus the principle of the participation of personnel is subject to the approval of these Parties, like the principle of the action
itself. In fact, there are not two decisions but an overall
agreement, and it is understood that participation of personnel is in
itself an important element of such an agreement. Moreover, the
presence of such personnel may also be considered indispensable by
the Protecting Power or the substitute organization responsible for
the supervision of the aid distribution, and its refusal could
consequently also call into question the agreement of the donors or
of the Party authorizing the action.
2883 The expression ' relief personnel ' is quite general, but it should not exclude the possibility for the receiving Party to refuse
not the principle of participation of personnel, but participation by
a particular person, especially as the right to terminate the mission
of ' any ' member of the relief personnel is explicitly laid down in
paragraph 4. (9)
2884 It would be reasonable in this case to comply with such a demand, provided that it remains exceptional and is justified, and it does
not constitute a subterfuge to obstruct the action itself. In this
respect it should be recalled that the approval for action required
from the receiving Party does not give this Party the discretionary
power to refuse a relief action. (10)
[p.834] Paragraph 2 -- Protection
2885 The concepts of ' respect ' and ' protection ' have already been examined. (11) The obligation to respect and protect relief personnel
applies to all the Parties to the conflict, which should, in
particular, inform and instruct their armed forces not to attack such
2886 Nevertheless, movements which relief personnel may make into danger zones raise a special problem, since they do not have the
right -- apart from personnel participating in Red Cross
international relief action -- to display the protective red cross
2887 Two possible situations could be envisaged if the relief actions have to take place in danger zones, particularly in zones where
control is disputed by the Parties to the conflict: in the first
case, the action may have the benefit of the distinctive emblem of
the red cross. In the context of an armed conflict, this will, in
principle, be an action placed under the responsibility of the ICRC.
This problem has already been examined. (12)
2888 In the second case the convoy does not have the benefit of the protective emblem. In this case it is up to the instigators of the
action, the Protecting Power (or its substitute) responsible for its
supervision, and the receiving Party to the conflict to decide
whether or not they wish to attach an armed escort to the convoy;
such escort could certainly be envisaged in this case.
2889 Medical personnel participating in relief actions, except those taking place under the auspices of the Red Cross, are not authorized
to display the emblem, unless they are placed ' under the control '
of the receiving Party to the conflict. (13) If this condition is
met, they may enjoy the status of medical personnel. But there is a
risk that the instigators of the action or the Protecting Power (or
its substitute) responsible for its supervision will find such a
condition unacceptable. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that such
medical personnel, even though they are not entitled to the
protection of the emblem, are entitled to the respect and protection
due to all personnel taking part in relief actions.
2890 Finally, if personnel participating in relief actions were to fall into the power of the enemy of the receiving Party, they should
obviously still be entitled to respect and protection. There is no
special provision for their repatriation, but like any civilian of a
State not Party to the conflict, they should not be detained, but
should be put in a position to return to their own country as soon as
2891 Meanwhile, the personnel should be well treated and receive adequate supplies of food, shelter, and if necessary, care. (14)
[p.835] Paragraph 3 -- Obligations of the receiving Party
2892 This paragraph does not require a great deal of commentary. The general duty to assist should not be confused with the duty of
protection of paragraph 2, which was examined above. It is up to the
receiving Party to do its utmost to facilitate the task of relief
personnel, particularly by simplifying administrative formalities as
much as possible, by allowing the personnel to find accomodation if
there is any problem with this, and by informing the population and
the authorities concerned.
2893 Some limitations on the activities and movements of relief personnel are not excluded, but only "in case of imperative military
2894 For example, the limitation of activities could consist of prohibiting distribution to the population when it is known that they
are passing foodstuffs onto the armed forces of the adverse Party.
Nonetheless, such behaviour could not be permitted either by the
Protecting Power or the organization in charge of ensuring
supervision, which would also have the duty to intervene.
2895 In reality such limitations should be discussed and agreed upon by the receiving Party and the Protecting Power or the organization
in charge of ensuring supervision of the action, before any
unilateral decision is taken.
2896 A limitation on movements of personnel is obviously sometimes justified and it must be possible to make quick decisions to take
into account the development of hostilities. Nevertheless, it should
not be prolonged beyond what is necessary: it is explicitly stated
that the limitation is ' temporary ' and for any prolongation sound
reasons must be given.
Paragraph 4 -- Obligations of personnel
2897 Though Article 71
as a whole is intended to grant a special status to personnel participating in relief actions, paragraph 4
prescribes the limits of these rights and the obligations involved.
2898 The obligation that "under no circumstances may relief personnel exceed the terms of their mission" underlines the necessity for such
personnel to allow only legitimate beneficiaries to benefit from
relief consignments. This is quite explicitly the aim of their
mission. In particular they should not pass any foodstuffs or any
other supplies to combatants.
2899 On the other hand, relief personnel should not be reproached if such supplies are extorted by combatants. In such a case it would be
the action itself or the way in which it is carried out, which would
be put into question.
2900 Medical care, given by medical personnel participating in a relief action, to wounded combatants they happen to encounter,
regardless of the Party to which they belong, should not give rise to
reproach either, even if such care does not [p.836] exactly fall
within the context of the mission. In fact medical duties enjoy a
general protection. (16)
2901 On the other hand, the duty of discretion for this personnel should be emphasized, particularly if their mission gives them access
to information of a military nature. The transmission of such
information would certainly exceed the terms of their mission.
2902 The security requirements of the Party in whose territory the action is taking place are mentioned in this context. They also
imply, on the part of the personnel participating in relief actions,
that they must comply with the technical requirements which the
authorities could impose (route, schedule, curfews etc.). Naturally
these requirements should not be aimed at obstructing the relief
action, and the activity of the personnel, as we saw above, should
not be limited except in the case of imperative military necessity.
However, once these limits have been negotiated and determined, it is
no longer up to each member of the personnel participating in the
action to make his own judgment about them. He must comply with them.
2903 The sanction which may be imposed as a result of actions by a member of personnel which exceed the terms of the mission, is clear:
his mission may be terminated. In concrete terms, this means that the
member of the personnel concerned may be requested to leave the
territory of the receiving Party immediately.
2904 This individual application of the measure is a good thing, in the sense that individual behaviour which is in conflict with the
Protocol does not necessarily put into question the entire action.
2905 Nevertheless, to avoid abuse, such a decision should in principle be taken after the persons responsible for the action have been
consulted, and should be duly justified. It is a matter of trust
which must survive between the receiving Party and those responsible
for the action.
2906 The possibility of prosecuting personnel participating in a relief action by the receiving Party is not explicitly excluded.
However, it should be avoided as much as possible, in view of the
disastrous consequences this could have on the action as a whole.
2907 Moreover, it is desirable to provide in the framework of the agreement concerning such action that personnel participating in
relief action should enjoy immunity before the courts.
' Y. S. '
(1) [(1) p.832] On this subject cf. infra, p. 834;
(2) [(2) p.832] Cf. Fourth Convention, Part II;
(3) [(3) p.832] Cf. Fourth Convention, Art. 4, para. 2. The personnel participating in relief actions in territories
other than occupied territories are in fact not covered by
the Fourth Convention, save the exceptional case where the
State of which the relief personnel are nationals does not
have normal diplomatic representation in the receiving
(4) [(4) p.832] Cf. O.R. III, p. 280, CDDH/II/398 and Add.1, para. 2;
(5) [(5) p.832] Cf. O.R. XII, p. 319, CDDH/II/SR.84, para. 46;
(6) [(6) p.832] Cf. Art. 69, para. 2;
(7) [(7) p.832] Cf. Art. 70, para. 1;
(8) [(8) p.833] Commentary para. 2, infra, p. 834;
(9) [(9) p.833] On this subject, cf. commentary para. 4, infra, pp. 835-836;
(10) [(10) p.833] Cf. commentary Art. 70, para. 1, supra, p. 819;
(11) [(11) p.834] Cf. commentary Art. 10, supra, p. 146;
(12) [(12) p.834] Cf. commentary Art. 70, para. 4, supra, pp. 828-829;
(13) [(13) p.834] Cf. Art. 27, para. 1, First Convention;
(14) [(14) p.834] In this respect the example should be followed of Article 32 of the First Convention, which
deals with the return of medical personnel of States not
Parties to the conflict, who have fallen into the hands of
the enemy of the Party for whose benefit they were carrying out their mission;
(15) [(15) p.835] On the meaning to be given to this expression, cf. commentary Art. 54, para. 5, supra, pp.
(16) [(16) p.836] Cf. commentary Art. 16, para. 1, supra, pp. 199-202;