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Convention (I) for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field. Geneva, 12 August 1949.
Chapter II : Wounded and sick
This chapter is one of the most important in the Convention. The Convention may even be said to rest upon it, since it embodies the essential idea championed by the founders of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, an idea that has dominated all of the Geneva Conventions since 1864 – namely, that the person of the soldier who is wounded or sick, and who is therefore
hors de combat
, is from that moment inviolable. The wounded and sick, whether friend or foe, must be tended with the same care.
Article 12 is the foundation on which today’s legal protection of the wounded and sick is built. It lays down a system of complementary positive and negative obligations pertaining to the wounded and sick and establishes the fundamental provisions on how they are to be treated and cared for. It also imposes certain obligations with respect to the dead.
Article 15 complements Article 12 by imposing an obligation ‘to search for and collect’ the wounded and sick in order to remove them from the immediate danger zone and to enable them to receive the necessary medical treatment and care. This is further complemented by Article 18, which contains the kernel of Henry Dunant’s idea for civilians to take action to assist and care for wounded and sick members of the armed forces, whether in response to an appeal by the military commander or spontaneously. A Party to the conflict must consider these options when taking ‘all possible measures’ to search for and collect the wounded and sick and in ensuring that they receive the medical care their condition requires.
The purpose of Article 13 is to specify which persons, on their being wounded or falling sick, the First Convention protects. The list includes members of the armed forces and other categories of persons who, while not being members of the armed forces, either have combatant status or are otherwise entitled to prisoner-of-war status.
Article 14 defines the status of a wounded or sick member of the armed forces who falls into enemy hands. In that situation, a member of the armed forces is both a wounded or sick person needing treatment and an individual who is entitled to become – and thus becomes – a prisoner of war.
Article 16 regulates three cardinal issues: the recording and forwarding of information concerning wounded, sick and dead persons who have fallen into the hands of the adverse Party; the preparation and forwarding of death certificates; and the collection and forwarding of the deceased’s personal items. The importance of this provision cannot be underestimated, as without identification and reporting requirements and procedures it is difficult, if not impossible, to account for persons who are missing or to provide information to their families.
Article 17 deals exclusively with the treatment of the dead; it sets out a number of rules regarding burial or cremation, examination of the body prior to burial or cremation, and the maintenance and marking of graves. This provision is essential to guarantee respect for the dignity of the dead and to ensure that they do not go missing.
Some of these provisions were already included in the 1864, 1906 and 1929 Conventions, but they were greatly clarified in 1949 and further complemented by Part II, Section I, of Additional Protocol I.
See the Commentary of 1952
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