Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
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Commentary of 1958 


The neutralized zones mentioned in Article 15 are based on the same idea as the hospital and safety zones covered by the previous Article . They too are intended to protect people taking no part in the hostilities or placed ' hors de combat, ' from the effects of military operations by concentrating them in a given area. It has already been pointed out however, that neutralized zones differ from hospital and safety zones in that they are established in the actual regions where fighting is taking place and are intended to give shelter to both civilian and military wounded and sick, as well as all civilian persons who take no part in hostilities. Furthermore, they are generally set up on a temporary basis to meet the tactical situation at a particular moment, whereas hospital and safety zones tend to be more permanent in character.
The historical outline at the beginning of Article 14 holds good for Article 15 too, since neutralized zones are merely one instance of what are described generally as places of refuge (1). It need only be said that Article 15 is the result of a certain amount of practical experience: it will be remembered that at the instance of the International Committee of the Red Cross a neutralized zone was established in a district in Madrid during the Spanish Civil War; that during the conflict in Palestine in 1948, two, and at one time three, neutralized zones, directed and administered entirely by the International Committee of the Red Cross, were set up in Jerusalem and that, in 1937, during the Sino-Japanese war, a neutralized zone was also established in Shanghai (2). It was called the Jacquinot Zone, in honour of the man who organized it.
The experience gained on these occasions, especially in Jerusalem, led the Diplomatic Conference to adopt this Article, which reproduced, without any change of importance, a draft text submitted by the International Committee of the Red Cross.


1. ' Procedure '

The speed with which the tactical situation often changes and the urgency of the measures to be taken means that the procedure adopted must be practical and simple. There can be no question of setting up neutralized zones in peace time; that is why this provision refers only to the Parties to the conflict.
A proposal to one of the Parties to the conflict that a neutralized zone be set up may be direct or indirect. In the first case it comes from the other Party to the conflict; in the second it is made by a neutral State or by a humanitarian organization.

A. ' Direct method. ' -- Recourse will be had to the direct method, which in an emergency will be the most suitable, to ensure that those in danger as a result of the fighting are given speedy assistance. Since arrangements will have to be made in the combat zone itself, it will obviously be military authorities, the commanders of forward units, for example, who will be in the best position to take the necessary protective measures, which will depend on the operations in progress and on the terrain.
Article 15 takes this fact into account when it uses the adverb "direct", letting it be understood that the rules of diplomatic procedure need not be applied, but that the military authorities on the spot are competent to negotiate. This interpretation of the text has some claim to validity, as it appears in the minutes of the discussions at the Diplomatic Conference (3).

B. ' Indirect method. ' -- The indirect method which may also be adopted consists in diplomatic negotiations through a third Party. This slower procedure will be adopted when the establishment of a neutralized zone can brook a certain delay, and when the size of the zones and their organization are likely to raise problems. The intervention of a third Party may make agreement easier to reach.
The Convention here mentions a neutral State or a humanitarian organization as intermediaries, while in Article 14 dealing with the establishment of hospital and safety zones and localities, the reference is confined to the Protecting Powers and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The term "neutral state" obviously includes the Protecting Powers, while the International Committee of the Red [p.131] Cross, owing to its experience and independence, is particularly qualified among humanitarian organizations to act as intermediary. Moreover, any other neutral state or any humanitarian organization, such as a National Red Cross Society, could also lend its good offices.
Although the Convention does not say so in so many words, it must be assumed that neutral States and humanitarian organizations may intervene not only when invited to do so, but also of their own accord, with a view to the establishment of neutralized zones. The intermediaries may also assume the role of Contracting Parties by concluding separate, but complementary agreements with each of the countries concerned. This method has its advantages, especially in armed conflicts which are not international in character (4). It may also be applied successfully, in international wars, when circumstances so demand.

2. ' Those who benefit '

Reference to the categories of persons who by virtue of this Article may take refuge in neutralized zones will show that those zones serve at one and the same time as hospital zones for wounded and sick combatants and non-combatants and as safety zones for civilians who take no part in hostilities and who, while they reside in the zones, perform no work of a military character.
There can be no doubt that the words "wounded and sick, combatant or non-combatant" mean wounded and sick members of the armed forces and civilian wounded and sick.
So far as civilians are concerned the whole of the population in the combat area is authorized to take refuge in the neutralized zones, and not only certain categories as envisaged in Article 14 in the case of safety zones. This is due to the different purposes of the two types of place of refuge (5). The persons who take no part in hostilities or are no longer taking part in them would be protected temporarily in the neutralized zones from dangers arising from fighting close at hand, while the hospital and safety zones give permanent shelter in areas away from the front to the weakest categories among the population.
The two restrictions on access to neutralized zones are self-explanatory. Civilians taking part in the hostilities are quite naturally excluded from the zones, whether they are obeying an order for a levy in mass or whether they belong to an organized resistance movement within the meaning of Article 4 (2) and (6) of the Third Geneva [p.132] Convention. The question of evacuation to a neutralized zone does not even arise in the case of such people, who have of their own free will relinquished their title to be treated as peaceful civilians and will enjoy prisoner-of-war status should they be captured (6). They nevertheless retain the right to be sheltered there, should they be wounded or fall sick.
The second condition, that no work of a military character may be performed in a zone, is just as easy to understand, for any activity which helped current military operations, directly or indirectly, would be incompatible with the very idea of neutralized zones.
The Convention also says that people authorized to take refuge in neutralized zones must be taken in without distinction, thus reaffirming the absolute prohibition of discrimination, proclaimed in Article 13 for the whole of Part II.


Care has been taken to mention certain essential points on which the Parties concerned must come to an understanding before the agreement can be finally concluded -- the delimitation, administration, food supply, and supervision of the zone, and the beginning and duration of its period of neutralization. It is of the greatest importance that there should be regulations dealing as precisely as possible with all these arrangements, which involve many technical details. It is to be hoped that subsequent disputes which might jeopardize the effectiveness of a zone will thus be avoided.
That too is a reason for the two stipulations in the Convention concerning the form of the agreement -- that it is to be in writing, and signed by representatives of the Parties to the conflict.
The stipulation that the agreement must be in writing and signed must not, however, be regarded as compulsory in all circumstances. It is merely a general provision which the Parties are recommended to observe. In an emergency, therefore, demanding a minimum of formalities, the agreement could be concluded verbally -- a procedure fully admissible in international law. The agreement might even conceivably be negotiated and concluded by telegram or by radio, especially in cases where it is desired to neutralize a limited area very quickly, and for a short time.
An important question which is not mentioned in the Convention but must be settled in an agreement setting up a neutralized zone, is that of marking. The Contracting Parties may adopt a solution [p.133] similar to that proposed in the Draft Agreement relating to Hospital and Safety Zones and Localities (annexed to the Convention) (7), and mark the zones with the red cross emblem (when they are reserved entirely for the wounded and sick), or with oblique red bands on a white ground (when they are also used by able-bodied civilians, as will most often be the case).

Notes: (1) [(1) p.129] See above, p. 122;

(2) [(2) p.129] For further details concerning these
precedents, see ' Hospital Localities and Safety Zones, '
published by the International Committee of the Red Cross,
Geneva, 1952;

(3) [(1) p.130] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, p. 817;

(4) [(1) p.131] Precedents for this can be found in the
Spanish Civil War and in the Palestine conflict;

(5) [(2) p.131] See above, p. 127;

(6) [(1) p.132] With the exception, however, of snipers;

(7) [(1) p.133] See p. 640;