Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
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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.
[p.257] ARTICLE 48
. -- DISSEMINATION OF THE CONVENTION
In subscribing to Article 1
, the Powers undertook to respect and ensure respect for the Convention in all circumstances. If a Convention is to be properly applied, however, a thorough knowledge of it is necessary. One of the worst enemies of the Geneva Conventions is ignorance.
It was important, therefore, that the Contracting Parties should be required to disseminate the text of the Convention as widely as possible in their respective countries. That is the purpose of the present Article, which is worded in almost identical terms in all four Conventions.
Article 48 originated in Article 20 of the Tenth Hague Convention of 1907
, and Article 27 of the Geneva Convention of 1929
The obligation imposed on States under Article 48 is general and absolute. It has to be complied with both in time of peace and in time of war. Two specific measures are to be taken -- namely military instruction and civil instruction, on both of which the Convention lays special emphasis.
In the first place, the Convention should be known to those who will be called upon to apply it; the latter may have to render an account of their deeds or shortcomings before the courts, or may even benefit by the provisions of the Convention. The study of the Convention must therefore be included in the training programme of the armed forces, the instruction given being adapted to the rank of those for whom it is intended (1).
[p.258] In case of mobilization the essential points must be gone through again, so that they are fresh in the minds of all those who are called up. In certain countries, the essential provisions of the Convention are printed in the army book of each member of the armed forces. That arrangement should be general.
Article 48 expressly mentions two classes of persons other than combatants, who require special instruction -- namely, medical personnel and chaplains. As those persons enjoy rights under the Convention, they must make a special point of scrupulously observing the corresponding duties which the Convention imposes on them.
With a view to dissemination among the armed forces, the text of the Conventions should first be distributed to the officers, who, in case of war, would be responsible for applying the Conventions, and courses of instruction should also be organized; this has already been done by some Governments (2). It means that the necessary translations must first be prepared. In the light of the experience of the Second World War, such courses should be accompanied by practical training, particularly in regard to the marking of hospital ships and rescue craft.
The Conventions must also be widely disseminated among the population. Provision has therefore been made for the study thereof to be included in syllabuses of civil instruction, but this is an optional requirement (3).
Action should be taken first by the National Red Cross Societies, which must train a staff with specialized knowledge of the Conventions (4).
The general public can be informed by extracts or summaries of the Conventions, articles in the press, radio talks which might be given some topical interest, to enable a courageous and independent press to speak in the name of humanity and in a manner devoid of all partiality.
[p.259] Lastly, it would be most advantageous to introduce the study of humanitarian law into the syllabuses of faculties of law.
Certain provisions of the Conventions also affect civilians, and it is from among the latter that the military personnel are recruited. It is possible to go even further, however, and say that men must be trained from childhood in the great principles of humanity and civilization, so that those principles may take deep root in their conscience.
Here again, provision has therefore been made for the inclusion of the study of the Convention in syllabuses of instruction.
The requirement is, however, preceded by the words "if possible". It is not that the 1949 Diplomatic Conference thought it any less imperative to instruct civilians than to teach the military. The only reason for the addition is that in certain countries with a federal structure, public education is the responsibility of the provinces and not the central authorities. Some delegations, therefore, having a scrupulous regard for constitutional necessities which may be thought unfounded, considered that they must safeguard the freedom of decision of the provinces (5).
Lastly, everyone, whether military personnel or civilians, should have a good knowledge of the Convention and themselves be imbued with the sentiments of which it is so profound an expression. That is the best means of guaranteeing that the Convention will be respected. No effort should be spared to achieve this supremely important aim. The States, which can easily make the practical efforts which the Article requires, will be anxious, no doubt, to fulfil this duty.
Widespread dissemination of the Geneva Conventions will not merely facilitate their application in time of war; it will also spread the principles of humanity and thus help to develop a spirit of peace among the nations.
* (1) [(2) p.257] In 1951, the International Committee of the
Red Cross issued for the use of military personnel and the
public a summary of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, in the
form of a booklet in French, English and Spanish. In 1956,
it also published an illustrated booklet, printed in nine
(2) [(1) p.258] At the 1949 Diplomatic Conference, it was
suggested that such courses should be organized. See J. de
PREUX: "The Dissemination of the Geneva Conventions of
1949", ' Revue internationale de la Croix-Rouge, '
Supplement, April 1955, pp. 59-60. See also ' Report on
the Work of the Conference of Government Experts, '
(3) [(2) p.258] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-B, pp. 70 and 112;
(4) [(3) p.258] See J. de PREUX: op. cit., p. 60 ff.;
(5) [(1) p.259] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-B, pp. 70 and 112;