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Convention (I) de Genève pour l'amélioration du sort des blessés et des malades dans les forces armées en campagne, 12 août 1949.
Article 48 : Translations. Implementing laws and regulations
Text of the provision
The High Contracting Parties shall communicate to one another through the Swiss Federal Council and, during hostilities, through the Protecting Powers, the official translations of the present Convention, as well as the laws and regulations which they may adopt to ensure the application thereof.
Reservations or declarations
B. Historical background
1. Obligation to communicate
3. Implementing laws and regulations
Article 48 requires the High Contracting Parties to communicate to one another the official translations they may have undertaken of the Convention, as well as of laws and regulations they may have adopted to ensure the Convention’s application.
This provision is common to the four Geneva Conventions.
Additional Protocol I contains an almost identical provision.
The purpose of the communication of official translations of the Geneva Conventions and of laws and regulations ensuring their application is to enable all High Contracting Parties to inform themselves of the way in which other States understand their obligations under the Conventions and how they have implemented them. Such knowledge may help to avoid or reduce discrepancies and may also encourage States to increase their efforts in the translation and implementation of the Conventions.
The broad reference to the translation and application of ‘the present Convention’ in Article 48 includes common Article 3. Since the adoption of the Geneva Conventions in 1949, High Contracting Parties have increasingly engaged as Parties to or in support of other States undergoing a non-international armed conflict in their territory. Knowledge of one another’s understanding of common Article 3 is therefore of particular importance.
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B. Historical background
The 1906 Geneva Convention and the 1907 Hague Convention (X) already required States Parties to communicate to one another, through the depositary, legislative measures for the repression and punishment of certain violations of these Conventions in time of war.
The 1929 Geneva Convention on the Wounded and Sick equally obligated them to communicate such measures through the depositary.
The time frame provided for communication in these three Conventions was five years after their respective ratification.
For its part, the 1929 Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War contained the obligation for States Parties to communicate official translations of the Convention, as well as of laws and regulations adopted for the application of the Convention, through the depositary but without defining a time frame.
The draft articles submitted by the ICRC to the 1948 International Conference of the Red Cross in Stockholm on the communication of information between High Contracting Parties largely reflected the existing provisions. The draft for the revision of the 1929 Geneva Convention on the Wounded and Sick and the 1907 Hague Convention (X) foresaw a reduction of the time frame for communication from five years to one year after ratification.
The Stockholm Conference adopted the proposed draft articles for the revision of the 1929 Geneva Convention on the Wounded and Sick and the 1907 Hague Convention (X) without a time limit for the communication of legislative measures, but set a maximum period of two years for taking the necessary legislative measures.
The draft articles for the revision of the 1929 Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War and for the new civilians convention were adopted with minor changes.
The 1949 Diplomatic Conference decided to adopt for all four Conventions the text used for the Convention on Prisoners of War, i.e. requiring the communication of translations and of laws and regulations without stipulating a time frame.
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1. Obligation to communicate
Under Article 48, States are required to make available their translations of the First Convention and of the laws and regulations adopted for its implementation to all other States Parties ‘through the Swiss Federal Council and, during hostilities, through the Protecting Powers’.
The use of the expression ‘shall communicate’ indicates that the communication is a legal obligation for States party to the First Convention. As is evident from Article 48’s requirement that translations be communicated ‘to one another’, the obligation exists towards all other High Contracting Parties.
Effective communication implies that the High Contracting Parties inform one another of the existence of translations and of laws and regulations adopted, and that they make their content available to one another.
The 1949 Geneva Conventions, unlike their predecessors,
prescribe no time frame for the communication of the measures adopted. In order to be effective, communication should therefore take place as soon as possible after official translations, laws or regulations have been issued or adopted.
In general, States are to communicate their translations, laws and regulations ‘through the Swiss Federal Council’, which is the depositary of the Conventions.
As in other provisions of the Convention,
the reference to ‘High Contracting Parties’ rather than ‘Parties to the conflict’, makes it clear that the obligation of communication already applies in peacetime.
‘During hostilities’, the High Contracting Parties are to communicate translations, laws and regulations ‘through the Protecting Powers’.
The wording of Article 48 seems to indicate that this applies to all High Contracting Parties, and not only to the States party to the conflict. Given the role of Protecting Powers to ‘safeguard the interests of the Parties to the conflict’,
the Protecting Powers are likely to concentrate on the communication of translations, laws and regulations between States party to the conflict, whereas the Swiss Federal Council would continue to transfer communications between States not party to the conflict.
When receiving copies of national laws and regulations relating to the adoption of the Convention from States pursuant to Article 48, the Swiss Federal Council is only obligated to communicate what it receives and is not responsible for translating the documents. The same applies to Protecting Powers when they communicate laws and regulations during hostilities.
Official translations of the Geneva Conventions and of national laws and regulations on their application are today usually made publicly available in the official gazettes of High Contracting Parties or in other publications issued by them. They are also increasingly made available on the internet. This usefully complements communication as provided for in Article 48. However, such availability and accessibility of translations, laws and regulations cannot be fully equated with the active communication of such documents, an obligation that ensures that all States are made aware of them.
In addition to the legal obligation under Article 48, it would be useful for such documents also to be communicated to the ICRC. Even though there exists no obligation in this respect under the Geneva Conventions, the usefulness of sharing such information with the ICRC has been noted.
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The Geneva Conventions are authenticated in English and French; in addition, the Swiss Federal Council was entrusted with arranging official translations of the Conventions into Russian and Spanish to ensure consistent texts in these two languages, without making these texts authentic.
For the Additional Protocols of 1977, meanwhile, the Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish texts are authentic.
The Geneva Conventions contain no explicit legal obligation for High Contracting Parties to translate the Conventions into their national language. However, the requirement to translate treaties to which a State has become party may exist under domestic legislation. Furthermore, it is difficult to see how States could fulfil some of the obligations under the Convention, for example to disseminate the text of the Convention under Article 47, without having such translations available.
Translations of the Conventions may be based on either the English or the French authentic text, although a translation will be most accurate if a comparison is made with both of the authentic texts.
States that share a national language may agree on a common translation or harmonize their translations, but have no obligation to do so.
Article 48 refers to ‘official translations’. These are translations undertaken by States themselves or by third parties, for example a National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society, and officially endorsed by the State.
Since the entry into force of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the Swiss Federal Council has received a number of official translations of the Geneva Conventions from High Contracting Parties and has notified the other Parties of the translations received. The procedure under Article 48 does not require any reaction by the other States Parties, and their silence cannot be interpreted as approving the validity of a translation transmitted to them. At the time of writing of this commentary, according to the information available to the Swiss Federal Council and the ICRC, there are some 60 official translations of the Geneva Conventions into national languages, even though not all of them were necessarily communicated as provided for in Article 48.
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3. Implementing laws and regulations
The ‘laws and regulations’ to be communicated under Article 48 should be understood in the widest possible sense to cover all rules emanating from the executive or legislative authorities relating to the application of the Convention.
Thus, States Parties are expected to communicate any laws or regulations adopted as part of the implementation of specific provisions of the Convention, for example measures adopted under Articles 26 and 27 (recognition and authorization by High Contracting Parties of National Societies and other voluntary aid societies),
Article 44 (legislation on the use of the emblem), Article 49 (legislation on penal sanctions for grave breaches and measures for the suppression of other violations) and Article 54 (measures for the prevention and repression of misuse of the emblem).
Since the entry into force of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the Swiss Federal Council has received from High Contracting Parties a number of laws and regulations on the application of the Geneva Conventions and has officially notified the other Parties of the documents received. At the time of writing of this commentary, however, the majority of such documents seem not to have been communicated by the High Contracting Parties as required by Article 48.
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ICRC, Advisory Service on International Humanitarian Law, Domestic law and IHL,
- See Second Convention, Article 49; Third Convention, Article 128; and Fourth Convention, Article 145.
- See Additional Protocol I, Article 84.
- See Geneva Convention (1906), Article 28, and Hague Convention (X) (1907), Article 21.
- See Geneva Convention on the Wounded and Sick (1929), Article 29.
- See Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War (1929), Article 85.
Draft Conventions submitted to the 1948 Stockholm Conference
, draft first convention, article 39, p. 28, and draft second convention, article 37, p. 49.
Draft Conventions adopted by the 1948 Stockholm Conference
, draft first convention, article 39, p. 25, and draft second convention, article 43, p. 47.
draft third convention, article 118, p. 99, and draft fourth convention, article 129, p. 159. The phrase ‘during hostilities, through the Protecting Powers’ was added.
Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of 1949
, Vol. II-B, pp. 70, 112 and 354.
- For details, see section B.
- See in this respect Article 84 of Additional Protocol I regulating the communication of official translations of the Protocol and of laws and regulations adopted for its application, which expressly requires that communication take place ‘as soon as possible’.
- For further details on the role of the Swiss Federal Council as the depositary, see the commentaries on Articles 55–58, 60–64 and on the testimonium and signature clause.
- See e.g. Articles 1, 47, 49 and 54.
- This presupposes the appointment of Protecting Powers in a given armed conflict, an option rarely chosen in the decades following the adoption of the 1949 Geneva Conventions; for further details, see the commentary on Article 8. Parties to a conflict may also agree to entrust other intermediaries with the communication of documents between them; for further details, see the commentary on Article 10.
- See common Article 8 (Article 9 in the Fourth Convention).
- In 1995, the Intergovernmental Group of Experts convened by the Swiss Government requested,
, that the ICRC be provided with any information that might be of assistance to other States in their efforts to disseminate and implement IHL and that the ICRC collect, assemble and transmit that information to States and to the Conference. The Intergovernmental Group of Experts further recommended that ‘the ICRC, with the assistance of National Societies, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies … and academic institutions, … strengthen its capacity to provide advisory services to States, with their consent, in their efforts to implement and disseminate IHL’. These recommendations were subsequently endorsed by Resolution 1 of the 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 1995. Established in 1995 and fully operational since 1996, the ICRC’s Advisory Service on International Humanitarian Law has been systematically collecting national laws, regulations and case law and has been making this information available on the ICRC website (
), as well as through updates on national legislation and case law published in the
International Review of the Red Cross
- See the commentary on Article 55, section C. The official character of the translations into Russian and Spanish resides in the fact that the source from which they are derived is specified in the Convention itself.
- See Article 47. See also Article 99(1) of the Fourth Convention, according to which the ‘officer in charge of [a] place of internment must have in his possession a copy of the present Convention in the official language, or one of the official languages, of his country’. The availability of translations of the Geneva Conventions into national languages will make it easier for States to comply with their obligations under the Third and Fourth Conventions to make the texts of those Conventions available in prisoner-of-war/internment camps in a language that the prisoners of war/internees understand; see Third Convention, Article 41, and Fourth Convention, Article 99(2).
- See Article 33 of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties on the interpretation of treaties authenticated in one or more languages; see also the commentary on Article 55, section B.2, for details on the resolution of potential divergences between the two authentic language versions of the Conventions.
- For example, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Lichtenstein do not have a uniform official translation of the First Convention into German and differences can be found in the translations of the title, of specific terms (e.g. ‘armed forces’ is translated as ‘Streitkräfte’,
or ‘bewaffnete Streitkräfte’)
and of certain articles (e.g. Article 62)
These differences are stylistic rather than substantive, however.
- See Pictet (ed.),
Commentary on the First Geneva Convention
, ICRC, 1952, p. 350.
- See the commentaries on Article 26, para. 23 and on Article 27, para. 36.
Voir le Commentaire de 1952
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