Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
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Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Additional Protocols, and their Commentaries
Historical Treaties and Documents
Convention (I) for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field. Geneva, 12 August 1949.
-- MARKING OF UNITS OF NEUTRAL COUNTRIES
This Article has been amended to bring it into line with the new Article 42
PARAGRAPH 1 -- THE FLAG OF THE BELLIGERENT
The Article concerns units belonging to neutral countries, which have been authorized to lend their services to a belligerent under the conditions laid down in Article 27. Paragraph 1
states that such units shall fly, along with the flag of the Convention, the national flag of the belligerent, if the belligerent commander has decided that his medical units shall do so. (Under the terms of Article 42, paragraph 2
, this is not compulsory.)
This is commonsense. If a belligerent is flying his national flag over his medical units and establishments, it should also be flown by neutral units attached to his Medical Service; if he does not fly it, there is no reason why neutral units in his service should do so.
[p.323] PARAGRAPH 2 -- THE FLAG OF THE NEUTRAL COUNTRY
The right of a neutral unit to fly its own flag in addition to those of the Convention and of the belligerent with whom it is working, was introduced in 1929. It has been objected to for reasons of principle which are not, in our opinion, convincing. (1)
Under the 1949 text, a neutral unit may fly its national flag even -- and this is new -- if captured. (1)
A proviso is, however, added by the words: "subject to orders to the contrary by the responsible military authorities". Unlike the solution adopted in the case of the national flag of the belligerent, this phrase does not mean that the belligerent can decide whether or not neutral units generally are to fly their own flags. It implies a restriction made, in particular cases and for a limited period only, for tactical reasons, such as the necessity for concealing medical units in forward areas.
That is, we believe, the only interpretation that can be given to this provision. Moreover, it corresponds to the intention of those who drafted the provision. With any other interpretation, the phrases "subject to orders to the contrary" and "they may on all occasions" would represent a contradiction in terms and the paragraph would have no real meaning.
* (1) [(1) p.323] See Paul DES GOUTTES, Commentaire de la
Convention de Genève du 27 juillet 1929, Geneva 1930, page
See the Commentary of 2016