Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
Treaties and Documents
Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Additional Protocols, and their Commentaries
Historical Treaties and Documents
Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.
. -- DENUNCIATION
[p.624] PARAGRAPH 1. -- RIGHT OF DENUNCIATION
This clause gives any Contracting Power the right to withdraw unilaterally from the community of States parties to the Convention. If there were no such provision, withdrawal would not be possible except by consent of the other Contracting Parties.
The clause might be said to be a matter of form; for since the first came into existence no State has ever denounced a Geneva Convention. Surely it is inconceivable that any Power would wish to repudiate such elementary rules of humanity and civilization.
Besides, even if a State were to denounce the Geneva Convention, it would still be bound by the principles of that Convention, which are to-day the expression of valid international law in this sphere (1).
PARAGRAPH 2. -- NOTIFICATION
Denunciations, like accessions, must be notified in writing to the Swiss Federal Council, in its capacity as depositary of the Geneva Conventions. The Federal Council will transmit them to the other High Contracting Parties.
PARAGRAPH 3. -- NOTICE
A denunciation will not take effect immediately; under normal peacetime conditions, it will take effect only after one year has elapsed.
[p.625] If the denouncing Power is involved in a conflict (2) the waiting period will be prolonged and the denunciation will not take effect until peace has been concluded (3), or even, where the case arises, until the release and repatriation of protected persons are completed (4). This clause is the counterpart of the preceding Article; it, too, is dictated by the best interests of the victims of war.
According to the actual letter of the Convention, the prolongation of the waiting period only affects denunciations notified "at a time when the denouncing Power is involved in a conflict" and not those notified before the conflict begins, which are subject to a waiting period of one year. The spirit of the Article, however, like that of the preceding one, demands that it should be applied in a broader sense and that a denunciation notified less than a year before a conflict breaks out should also have its effect suspended until the end of the conflict.
PARAGRAPH 4. -- EFFECT OF DENUNCIATION
The paragraph begins by stating that the denunciation is to have effect only in respect of the denouncing Power. That is self-evident.
The next sentence, which did not exist in the earlier Conventions but originated in a proposal by the XVIIth International Red Cross Conference, is no less logical. It lays down that the denunciation is not to impair the obligations which the Parties to the conflict remain bound to fulfil by virtue of the principles of the law of nations, as they result from the usages established among civilized peoples, from the laws of humanity and the dictates of the public conscience.
Vague, and obviously deliberately so, as it is, such a clause is nevertheless useful, as it reaffirms the value and permanence of the lofty principles underlying the Convention. Those principles exist independently of the Convention and are not limited to it. The clause shows clearly that a Power which denounced the Convention would nevertheless remain bound by the principles contained in it in so far as they are the expression of the imprescriptible and universal rules of customary international law.
The provision takes its whole significance from the fact that the Convention contains no Preamble (5).
[p.626] That is where it would have been most appropriately place Its affinity to the eighth paragraph of the Preamble to the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907 -- the so-called Martens clause -- is evident.
Notes: (1) [(1) p.624] See the commentary on Article 154;
(2) [(1) p.625] The word "conflict" must obviously be
understood in its broadest sense; it covers the various
situations described in Articles 2 and 3;
(3) [(2) p.625] The wording used shows clearly that it is the
formal conclusion of the peace treaty which is meant and
not merely the ending of military operations. In cases of
conflicts not of an international character, it will mean
the effective re-establishment of a state of peace;
(4) [(3) p.625] This provision may be compared with Article 6;
(5) [(4) p.625] See above, p. 14;