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.
Chapter II : Wounded, sick and shipwrecked
This chapter is one of the most important in the Convention. The Convention may even be said to rest upon it, since it embodies the essential idea championed by the founders of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, an idea that has dominated all of the Geneva Conventions since 1864 – namely, that the person of the member of the armed forces who is wounded, sick or shipwrecked, and who is therefore
hors de combat
, is from that moment inviolable. The wounded, sick and shipwrecked, whether friend or foe, must be tended with the same care.
Article 12 is the foundation on which today’s legal protection of the wounded, sick and shipwrecked is built. It lays down a system of complementary positive and negative obligations pertaining to the wounded, sick and shipwrecked and establishes the fundamental provisions on how they are to be treated and cared for. It also imposes certain obligations with respect to the dead.
Article 18 complements Article 12 by imposing an obligation ‘to search for and collect’ the wounded, sick and shipwrecked in order to remove them from their situation of peril and to enable them to receive the necessary medical treatment and care. A Party to the conflict must take ‘all possible measures’ to search for and collect the wounded, sick and shipwrecked after an engagement and must take steps to ensure that they receive the [medical] care their condition requires. Such measures may include making an appeal to neutral vessels, dealt with under Article 21.
The purpose of Article 13 is to specify which persons, on their being wounded or shipwrecked, or falling sick, the Second Convention protects. The list includes members of the armed forces and other categories of persons who, while not being members of the armed forces, either have combatant status or are otherwise entitled to prisoner-of-war status.
Article 16 defines the status of a wounded, sick or shipwrecked member of the armed forces who falls into enemy hands. In that situation, a member of the armed forces is both a wounded, sick or shipwrecked person needing treatment and an individual who is entitled to become – and thus becomes – a prisoner of war.
Article 14 regulates the handing over of wounded, sick and shipwrecked persons to a warship, while Article 15 deals with the treatment due to them if they are picked up by a neutral warship. Article 17, for its part, deals with the situation of wounded, sick and shipwrecked persons who are landed in a neutral port.
Article 19 regulates three cardinal issues: the recording and forwarding of information concerning wounded, sick, shipwrecked or dead persons who have fallen into the hands of the adverse Party; the preparation and forwarding of death certificates; and the collection and forwarding of a deceased’s personal items. The importance of this provision cannot be overestimated, as without identification and reporting requirements and procedures it is difficult, if not impossible, to account for persons who are missing or to provide information to their families.
Article 20 deals exclusively with the treatment of the dead; it sets out a number of rules regarding burial at sea and examination of the body prior to burial or cremation so that the person can be identified and a report made. This provision is essential to guarantee respect for the dignity of the dead and to ensure that they do not go missing.
This chapter contains numerous additions to the corresponding provisions in the 1907 Hague Convention (X). The purpose of these and other modifications is to afford increased protection to the victims of armed conflicts, similar to that provided by the First Convention in the case of war on land.
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