Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
  • Print page
Commentary of 1952 

This Article fixes the conditions which hospital zones must fulfil. We shall consider in turn the four conditions laid down.

(a) Size. -- Hospital zones must only occupy a small part of the country's territory. It would obviously be inadmissible for a State to establish a hospital zone covering half the country. The very idea of zones of refuge implies a relatively limited area, and in any case the [p.419] adverse Party would be unlikely to accord recognition to very large zones which might seriously impede military operations.

(b) Population. -- The requirement that hospital zones should be thinly populated in relation to the possibilities of accommodation in them brings out the necessity for organizing such zones systematically in advance. It might otherwise be difficult to find an area fulfilling the condition set here. Watering-places or spas with numerous hotels and clinics would no doubt be suitable.
Should there be a sudden increase in the number of persons requiring protection, it will be necessary to bear in mind the possibilities opened up by the Fourth Geneva Convention which, in its Article 15 , authorizes the establishment of neutralized zones where wounded or sick combatants or non-combatants and able-bodied civilians can both be concentrated.
As we have already said, the permanent population of a hospital zone should be as small as possible; for if it were necessary to resort to transfers of population and evictions, serious difficulties might arise.

(c) Remoteness from military objectives. -- The essential condition -- the very essence of the whole scheme -- is that there should be no military objective either within the zones or in their vicinity.
There was no reason to insert a definition of a military objective here; it was enough to use the term, which must be understood in its broadest sense. As the whole object is to provide those enjoying the protection of the zones with the greatest possible measure of safety, it is necessary to remove from the zone and its neighbourhood anything which the enemy might regard as a military objective, in order to avoid objections when the question of the recognition of the zone arises.
It is for this reason that the text also excludes "large industrial and administrative establishments" -- which in no way means that they are to be regarded as being military objectives. Nor can lines of communication which serve the zone, and will not, under the Agreement, be utilized for military purposes, be considered possible objects of attack.
The Draft Agreement does not say at what distance the zones must be from such objectives and establishments. Here again, the criterion will be the safety of the zone in actual practice. States find no difficulty in solving a similar problem in peacetime when they fix the boundaries of the danger zone surrounding an artillery range.

[p.420] (d) Choice of area. -- The zones must not be situated in areas which, according to every probability, may become important for the conduct of the war. This condition sets States a particularly difficult problem. As a general rule, they do not know the strategical plans of the enemy, who will keep them secret for as long as possible. Often they do not even know which countries they will have to face. The most which the authorities responsible for deciding the location of the zones will know for certain, will be the plans of their own armed forces. It will be difficult for them to fulfil the present condition if they intend to take into account all possible moves by the enemy.
In most countries, however, there are certain areas which more or less answer this requirement by reason of their geographical configuration and lessons drawn from the past. The authors of the provision have, moreover, been wise enough to insert the words "according to every probability".
If a zone, contrary to the expectation of the State which established it, happened to acquire real military importance as a result of events, the adverse Party would admittedly be justified in declaring that it would no longer recognize it after the expiry of a reasonable period.