Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
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Commentary of 1958 

1. ' Object and field of application '

A. ' Object. ' -- Part II is intended to provide the civilian population with general protection against certain consequences of war. Part III -- the main body of the Convention -- is intended to provide civilians with certain safeguards against arbitrary action on the part of an enemy Power in whose hands they are. Part II is much more general in intention. Its object is to bind belligerents to observe certain restrictions in their conduct of hostilities, by erecting protective barriers to shield certain categories of the population who, by definition, take no part in the fighting: children, women, old people, the wounded and the sick. To this end Part II provides for a whole series of practical measures which may limit the destruction caused by modern methods of warfare.

B. ' Field of application. ' -- In former times the need to protect the civilian population in wartime was not felt to the same degree as since the more recent wars. Military operations nowadays -- particularly bombing from the air -- threaten the whole population. Consequently the provisions in Part II are as general and extensive in scope as possible: Article 13, independently of the rest of the Convention, defines the field of application of Part II, by Specifying that it covers the whole of the populations of the countries in conflict. The provisions in Part II therefore apply not only to protected persons, i.e. to enemy or other aliens and to neutrals, as defined in Article 4 but also to the belligerents' own nationals; it is that which makes these provisions exceptional in character: the mere fact of a [p.119] person residing in a territory belonging to or occupied by a party to the conflict, is sufficient to make Part II of the Convention applicable to him. It was because of this derogation from the general principles of the Convention
that it was necessary, in Article 4 , to make an explicit reservation in regard to the provisions in Part II.
During the preliminary discussions and at the Diplomatic Conference itself, it was suggested that because of its special character, Part Il should be placed after Part III. The Diplomatic Conference considered, however, that the Articles of wider application should precede those of less general scope. The original order was therefore maintained.

2. ' Prohibited distinctions '

The list of certain adverse distinctions, such as those based on race, nationality, religion or political opinion, is declaratory but not limitative in character. By explicit mention of certain concepts -- race (a genetic quality), religion (a spiritual concept) and nationality (an idea with both physical and spiritual elements) -- the Convention aims merely at drawing attention to various particularly serious causes of discrimination. Other examples could be given -- language, for example or colour, social class, or financial position -- all of which might equally give rise to adverse distinctions.
It should be noted that the new Geneva Conventions only prohibit adverse distinctions: this is reasonable, since there are legitimate distinctions, even distinctions which must be made, such as those, in fact, which are based on suffering, distress, or the weakness of the protected person. It is in this very sphere that the Red Cross acts to assist suffering man in his distress. The Conference did not therefore prohibit distinctions in treatment, intended to take into account, for example, a person's age, state of health or sex. It is normal and natural to favour children, old people and women; the Geneva Conventions expressly stipulate that women are to be treated with all the respect due to their sex.