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Commentary of 1987 
[p.1413] Article 8 -- Search

General remarks

4648 Article 8 develops and reaffirms the obligation to collect for the wounded and sick, which is already contained in common Article 3, paragraph 1, sub-paragraph 2 , and which reads as follows: "The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared [p.1414] for". There is no corresponding provision in Protocol I, as this question is already dealt with by the Conventions (Article 15 , first Convention; Article 18 , Second Convention; Article 16 , fourth Convention). The text reflects Article 15 of the first Convention with slight differences in the wording and with the addition of the shipwrecked.

4649 Following the example of the Conventions, the ICRC draft (1) provided for the possibility of concluding local arrangements for the removal of the wounded and sick, elderly persons and children from the combat zone and from besieged or encircled areas. This provision, which was retained by Committee II, (2) was eliminated in the final version of the Protocol as some considered it to be rather unrealistic in the context of a non-international armed conflict. Nevertheless, this does not detract from the fact that evacuation measures should be encouraged whenever they are feasible.

4650 To search for and collect the wounded, sick and shipwrecked constitutes the implementation of the fundamental principle of protection and care set out in Article 7 ' (Protection and care). ' There is a duty to do so. All possible measures must be taken to fulfil this duty, "whenever circumstances permit, and particularly after an engagement". It is particularly after an engagement that it is necessary to search for victims, but the obligation goes further: it applies whenever circumstances permit. Article 15 of the first Convention provides that the Parties to the conflict must take all possible measures "at all times, and particularly after an engagement"; Article 18 of the Second Convention contains the same obligation, though it is limited by the words "after each engagement".

4651 These words were already contained in the corresponding provision of Hague Convention X of 1907 and in the Geneva Convention of 1906. The 1949 Conference substituted them in the first Convention by the words "at all times", but left the original expression in the Second Convention unchanged, in accordance with the views expressed by the experts in 1947. They considered that the expression "after each engagement" corresponded more closely to the specific conditions at sea. (3)

4652 Article 8 of the Protocol covers search for the wounded and sick, as well as the shipwrecked and the formula "whenever circumstances permit", which was adopted, takes into account the above-mentioned provisions of the first and Second Conventions; (4) it reflects the concrete possibilities of taking action.

4653 In 1949 the first Convention therefore extended the obligation in time, as the 1929 Convention, of which the formula was retained in the Second Convention, only laid down the duty to search for the wounded and sick "after each engagement", and only for those on the battlefield. In modern armed conflicts hostilities are more flaring up in varying degrees and moving from place to place; it would often be difficult to determine where exactly the battlefield is in place and in time. Therefore the obligation to respect the [p.1415] wounded and sick has a general scope. It applies to civilians, taking into account Article 18 ' (Relief societies and relief actions), ' paragraph 1, of the Protocol. (5) The obligation includes search operations as far as the authorities are concerned, also for medical and religious personnel and for armed units present in the area of military operations after an engagement.

4654 Victims must be protected against pillage and ill-treatment and they must receive adequate care. Such protection measures are particularly important during the period before the victims are able to be evacuated, when they are especially vulnerable. They reinforce the prohibition on pillage and violence to the life, health and physical or mental well-being which is already contained in Article 4 ' (Fundamental guarantees), ' paragraph 2(g) and (a), respectively. (6)

4655 "Adequate care" is first aid given on the spot, which may be of the utmost importance to avoid wounded, sick or shipwrecked succumbing during evacuation, which must take place as quickly as possible. Obviously such care includes ensuring the transport of the wounded to a place where they can be adequately cared for. 4656 It is prohibited to despoil the dead. They must be searched for, and they are entitled to be paid their last respects, i.e., they must be decently buried (apart from cases of disposal of the body at sea and cremation) after a religious service, if required.

4657 Protocol I contains a section on missing and dead persons, (7) which contains, in particular, the obligation to search for persons reported missing by the adverse Party. In addition, the latter must transmit all relevant information in order to facilitate such searches (Article 33 -- ' Missing persons, ' paragraph 1, Protocol I). Article 34 ' (Remains of deceased) ' provides, in particular, that gravesites must be marked. It would not have been realistic to lay down such detailed rules for the specific circumstances resulting from non-international armed conflicts. However, it is worth noting how important it is for families to be informed of the fate of their missing relatives and, when appropriate, the location of their graves, particularly in an internal fratricidal conflict. It may also be a factor facilitating a return to peace at the end of the confrontation. Experience shows the importance of such information about missing persons; in fact, in countries engaged in conflict where an ICRC delegation is carrying out activities of assistance and protection in accordance with the humanitarian mandate entrusted to it, the number or requests for searches received from families is always extremely high. The responsible authorities should, as far as possible, inform families about the fate of their relatives, or when appropriate facilitate the task of the ICRC in this field, which is a fundamental humanitarian activity for the benefit of the victims of armed conflicts of any kind.

' S. J. '

* (1) [(1) p.1414] Cf. ' Commentary Drafts, ' pp. 146-147 (Art. 13);

(2) [(2) p.1414] O.R. XIII, p. 228, CDDH/II/287;

(3) [(3) p.1414] See ' Commentary II, ' p. 133 (Art. 18);

(4) [(4) p.1414] O.R. XI, p. 268, CDDH/II/SR.26, paras. 70-73, and pp. 269-271, CDDH/II/SR.27, paras. 5-18;

(5) [(5) p.1415] Unfortunately Art. 18, para. 1, merely authorizes the civilian population to ' offer ' to collect the wounded and sick. Cf. the commentary on this article, infra, p. 1477;

(6) [(6) p.1415] Cf. commentary Art. 4, supra, p. 1367;

(7) [(7) p.1415] Cf. Part II, Section III, Protocol I, and the commentary thereon, supra, p. 339;