Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
  • Print page
Commentary of 2016 
Chapter IV : Personnel
1935  The medical and religious personnel referred to in this chapter are those forming part of the armed forces in the field. The chapter also covers certain civilians working under the auspices of the armed forces in the field. It does not include civilian staff not working under the auspices of the armed forces in the field or medical personnel and chaplains of forces at sea, such personnel being dealt with in the Second and Fourth Geneva Conventions, as well as in Additional Protocol I.
1936  The personnel protected under this chapter comprise the following six categories:
1. Medical personnel of the armed forces exclusively engaged in the search for, or the collection, transport or treatment, of the wounded or sick, or in the prevention of disease (Article 24).
2. Personnel of the armed forces exclusively engaged in the administration of medical units and establishments (Article 24).
3. Religious personnel of the armed forces (Article 24).
4. The staff of National Red Cross Societies and other recognized relief societies, who are employed for the benefit of their own State’s armed forces on the same duties as the personnel mentioned under 1, 2 and 3, and are subject to military laws and regulations (Article 26).
5. Personnel of relief societies of a neutral country who lend their assistance to a Party to the conflict and are duly authorized to do so (Article 27).
6. Members of the armed forces specially trained for employment, should the need arise, as hospital orderlies, nurses or auxiliary stretcher-bearers (Article 25).
1937  The personnel in the last of these categories are known as ‘auxiliary personnel’, as opposed to ‘permanent personnel’– a term which is sometimes used to describe the personnel in the first five categories.
1938  These personnel are protected because of the functions they perform: attending to the wounded and sick, or meeting the spiritual needs of members of the armed forces. They must be respected and protected in all circumstances. Articles 24, 25, 26 and 27 delineate which persons are covered by the protection they confer, what that protection entails and under what conditions they may benefit from that protection. Protection may also be lost, namely when these persons commit, outside their humanitarian duties, acts harmful to the enemy.
1939  Article 30 contains the basic rule which must be complied with when military medical or religious personnel (covered by Article 24) or staff of National Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies, or of other voluntary aid societies, assisting the medical services of their own State’s armed forces (covered by Article 26), fall into enemy hands: they must be returned to the Party to the conflict to which they belong. The purpose of this provision is to ensure that medical and religious personnel can continue at all times to provide their services to those who need them.
1940  Article 31 sets out the criteria for determining which medical or religious personnel should be returned on the basis of Article 30 and provides for the possibility for the Parties to the conflict to conclude special agreements covering the practical aspects of their retention.
1941  Article 28 is the centrepiece of the regime for the retention of persons covered by Articles 24 and 26, in that it sets forth the conditions under which retention is permissible. It also clarifies the status of retained personnel, their role, and the treatment and facilities to which they are entitled, so as to ensure that prisoners of war receive the necessary medical and spiritual care. Retention is contemplated as an exception to Article 30, requiring the return of such personnel to the Party to the conflict to which they belong. The retention regime rests on the principle that medical and religious personnel may not be retained unless the state of health, the spiritual needs and the number of prisoners of war so require.
1942  Article 29 applies to all ‘[m]embers of the personnel designated in Article 25 who have fallen into the hands of the enemy’, whether or not they are carrying out their medical duties ‘at the time when they come into contact with the enemy or fall into his hands’. When this occurs, they are prisoners of war covered by the Third Convention, but they ‘shall be employed on their medical duties in so far as the need arises’. The aim is to avoid the possibility that medical expertise which may be needed for the care of prisoners of war will remain unused.
1943  Finally, Article 32 deals with the scenario in which the medical personnel of a recognized society of a neutral country, covered by Article 27, fall into the hands of the adversary of the Party to the conflict they are assisting. They may not be detained but must, in principle, be permitted to return to their country.
1944  The rules of this chapter are complemented by a number of provisions contained in Part II, Section I, of Additional Protocol I.
1945  For ease of reference, the table below gives an overview of the interlinkages between all provisions of the First Convention dealing with medical and religious personnel.
1946  For table, see PDF file in margin.