Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
Treaties and Documents
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.
PARAGRAPH 1 -- AUTHENTIC TEXTS
This provision begins by noting that the Convention has been drawn up in English and in French. It is a fact that throughout the Diplomatic Conference of 1949, and earlier during the preparatory work, two versions of the same Convention were drawn up simultaneously, French and English both being recognized, on an equal footing, as official working languages. The 1929 Convention had, on the other hand, been concluded in French only, as French was still the leading diplomatic language at that time.
[p.401] The paragraph then lays down that both texts are equally authentic -- in other words, that each carries the same weight and is as valid as the other. It was to the English version just as much as to the French that the Plenipotentiaries of 1949 appended their signatures. In the same way, ratifications and accessions will be valid for the two versions. States which are party to the Convention are thus bound by one as much as by the other.
The solution thus adopted conforms to the most recent international practice. What will its effect be? On the one hand, the interpretation of the Convention will be made easier, as the two texts can be compared and one will throw light on the other. There will, on the other hand, be an awkward problem to solve when the texts are divergent.
We know how difficult it is, generally, to give exact expression to the same idea in different languages. Moreover, owing to force of circumstances, the Diplomatic Conference was unable to ensure that the two versions corresponded exactly. To overcome the difficulty the International Committee of the Red Cross had proposed, in the drafts prepared by it, that where doubt existed as to the interpretation of a provision, the French version should be taken as the correct one. But this suggestion was not adopted by the Diplomatic Conference.
Where divergencies exist, those responsible for applying the Convention will have to find out what is known in municipal law as the intention of the legislator; in the case in point, this will be the joint will of the parties represented at the Conference. The method adopted will therefore have to be that of legal interpretation with the help of the Final Record of the Conference and the preliminary texts. (1)
PARAGRAPH 2 -- OFFICIAL TRANSLATIONS
After drawing up the two authentic texts itself, the Diplomatic Conference entrusted the preparation of official translations into Russian and Spanish to the Swiss Federal Council. (2) This too is an innovation so far as the Geneva Convention is concerned, and has the particular advantage [p.402] of avoiding the production of a variety of different versions in the numerous Spanish-speaking countries.
The official character of these translations resides in the fact that the source from which they are derived was specified in the Convention itself. But the Russian and Spanish texts, unlike the French and English, are not authentic. Should they vary from the French and English versions, it is the latter which will be regarded as correct.
* (1) [(1) p.401] This procedure is generally followed in
countries which, like Switzerland, promulgate their
national legislation in several languages, each version
being equally valid;
(2) [(2) p.401] There is also a translation into German made
by the Swiss Federal Council, not at the request of the
Diplomatic Conference, but under an obligation of Swiss
See the Commentary of 2016