International Committee of the Red Cross
Who we are
What we do
Where we work
War & Law
Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
Treaties and Documents
Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Additional Protocols, and their Commentaries
Historical Treaties and Documents
Convention (II) for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea. Geneva, 12 August 1949.
. -- PROTECTION OF MEDICAL
[p.163] This provision, which was introduced by the Diplomatic Conference of 1949, should be read in conjunction with Article 20 of the First Geneva Convention of 1949
, which is also new and its exact counterpart. The latter Article lays down that hospital ships are not to be attacked from the land.
These provisions may appear surprising and superfluous at first sight. For it is obvious that the undertaking given by the Powers to protect medical establishments on land, under the First Convention, is general and absolute in character and applies as much to artillery of the naval forces as to that of the land forces or aircraft. Article 1
specifies that the Convention is applicable "in all circumstances". In the same way, the Second Convention undoubtedly protects hospital ships against all attacks, whether from sea, land or air (1). One might also invoke the Ninth Hague Convention of 1907 respecting bombardment by naval forces in time of war.
The only value of the above Articles is therefore as a reminder; as such, they are useful. Article 23 should be read in conjunction with Article 4
, to which it is a supplementary provision, and the reader should refer to the commentary on that Article. It provides that in case of hostilities between land and naval forces, the Maritime Convention will apply only to forces on board ship, while forces put ashore will be subject to the First Convention. Each Convention therefore seems to have its own field of application: one on land and the other at sea. The purpose of the present Article is, so to speak, to link up the two fields of application, and make provision for any overlapping.
From the practical point of view, some experts expressed the fear -- which it is to be hoped will prove unjustified -- that certain members of the land forces might be conversant only with the First Convention, and that certain members of naval forces might only know the terms of the Second. That might lead to serious consequences in the event of amphibious operations. Article 23 is therefore a precautionary measure.
[p.164] There is one other provision of the present Convention which affords protection to installations on land, namely Article 27 paragraph 2
, and reference should be made to the commentary thereon.
* (1) [(1) p.163] The English text states that medical
establishments ashore "shall be ' protected ' from
bombardment or attack". This must obviously be taken as
prohibiting attack, and not as an obligation to afford
protection. Article 20 of the First Convention states:
"' Hospital ships '... shall ' not be attacked from the
land '", and that wording is more satisfactory;
Who we are
What we do
Where we work
War & law
Working for the ICRC
Doing business with the ICRC
Israel and the occupied territories
Global Partnership for Humanitarian Impact and Innovation
Republic of Korea (Korean)
Humanitarian law and policy
L'humanitaire dans tous ses états (French)
Somalia (English and Somali)
© International Committee of the Red Cross