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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.
The procedural, formal and diplomatic provisions which it is customary to place at the end of any treaty are grouped under this heading. The final provisions, except for Article 55 (Languages), correspond largely to the provisions of the 1929 Conventions.
The final provisions are nearly identical in all four 1949 Geneva Conventions.
1. Purpose and content
Under this heading are grouped the technical clauses common to all treaties, which, in the Conventions, are very similar to those of all multilateral treaties. They concern the procedure for becoming a Party to the Conventions, entry into force, languages and depositary functions such as notification and registration. Like many other treaties, the Conventions are silent with regard to reservations; thus, these follow the rules of general international law.
Some special features in the final clauses are justified by the humanitarian aim of the Conventions. Examples would be the small number of Parties necessary for their entry into force, the immediate effect given to ratifications and accessions in certain circumstances, and the restrictions that apply to the effects of denunciation.
A treaty’s depositary is normally designated by the treaty. Before the establishment of the League of Nations and later of the United Nations, only States were depositaries. Since then, international organizations have increasingly been entrusted with depositary functions.
The Geneva Conventions designate Switzerland as the depositary.
To be more precise, the provisions under this heading, as well as the testimonium and signature clause, refer to the depositary by the name given to the government of Switzerland, the ‘Swiss Federal Council’.
The Swiss Federal Council has delegated the task of depositary to the Directorate of International Law of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.
3. Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties
The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties was adopted 20 years after the Geneva Conventions and therefore does not apply to the Geneva Conventions qua treaty law.
However, because the Vienna Convention generally reflects customary international law, it can be relied upon in relation to the Geneva Conventions. Further details are provided in the references to the Vienna Convention in the commentaries in this chapter.
- See the commentaries on the respective articles, the section on the historical background.
- Owing to differences in the treaties preceding the four individual Geneva Conventions, the two exceptions are the provision on signature (Article 56 of the First Convention, Article 55 of the Second Convention, Article 136 of the Third Convention and Article 151 of the Fourth Convention) and the provision on the Convention’s relation to previous Conventions (Article 59 of the First Convention, Article 58 of the Second Convention, Articles 134–135 of the Third Convention and Article 154 of the Fourth Convention).
- On the subject of reservations, see the commentary on Article 57, section C.2.
- See Articles 58, 62 and 63.
- See United Nations, Office of Legal Affairs, Treaty Section,
Summary of practice of the Secretary-General as depositary of multilateral treaties
, UN Doc. ST/LEG/7/Rev.l, United Nations, New York, 1999, p. 3, para. 2.
- Switzerland has always been appointed as depositary of the Geneva Conventions, though not explicitly in the 1864 Geneva Convention; see, nevertheless, Article 15(1) of the
Additional Articles to the 1864 Geneva Convention (1868
) that never entered into force. See also Geneva Convention (1906), Articles 28(2), 32(2), 33(1) and the testimonium; Geneva Convention on the Wounded and Sick (1929), Articles 29(2), 32, 36, 37, 38(1), 39 and the testimonium; and Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War (1929), Articles 85, 91, 94, 95, 96(1), 97 and the testimonium.
- See Article 55 (Languages), Article 57 (Ratification), Article 61 (Notification of Accessions), Article 62 (Immediate Effect), Article 63 (Denunciation) and Article 64 (Registration with the United Nations), as well as the testimonium and signature clause.
- See Switzerland, Conseil fédéral et administration fédérale,
Ordonnance sur l’organisation du Département fédéral des affaires étrangères
, RS 172.211.1, 20 April 2011, Article 8(3)(d)
(the Directorate of Public International Law ‘assume la fonction de dépositaire’).
- See Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969), Article 4.
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