Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
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Commentary of 2017 
Article 24 : Hospital ships utilized by relief societies and private persons of Parties to the conflict
Text of the provision*
(1) Hospital ships utilized by National Red Cross Societies, by officially recognized relief societies or by private persons shall have the same protection as military hospital ships and shall be exempt from capture, if the Party to the conflict on which they depend has given them an official commission and in so far as the provisions of Article 22 concerning notification have been complied with.
(2) These ships must be provided with certificates from the responsible authorities, stating that the vessels have been under their control while fitting out and on departure.
* Paragraph numbers have been added for ease of reference.
Reservations or declarations
None
Contents

  • A. Introduction
  • B. Historical background
  • C. Discussion
    A. Introduction
    2031  In addition to the ‘military hospital ships’ of Parties to the conflict regulated by Article 22, the Second Convention provides for the possibility that National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (hereinafter National Societies), officially recognized relief societies or private persons may operate, under the control of a Party to the conflict, a hospital ship for the benefit of wounded, sick or shipwrecked members of armed forces at sea.
    2032  There are two provisions in the Second Convention, modelled on similar provisions in the First Convention,[1] that regulate this possibility. Their respective scopes of application hinge upon the belligerent or neutral status of the entity that carries out the humanitarian activity:
    – Article 24 details the conditions under which hospital ships ‘utilized by National Red Cross Societies, by officially recognized relief societies or by private persons’ of the Parties to the conflict are entitled to ‘the same protection as military hospital ships’.
    – Article 25 details these conditions with regard to hospital ships utilized by the same three categories, but belonging to neutral Powers.
    2033  With these provisions, the High Contracting Parties have recognized that the hospital ships of National Societies, of officially recognized relief societies and of private persons may complement, or even substitute for, their own capabilities to meet the needs of wounded, sick and shipwrecked members of the armed forces at sea.
    2034  Once a vessel meets the definition of a hospital ship under the Convention (Articles 22, 24 or 25), it will be subject to the provisions of the Convention applicable to all three categories of hospital ships: Article 26 (tonnage); Article 29 (when in a port which has fallen into enemy hands); Article 30 (employment); Article 31 (right of control and search); Article 32 (stay in a neutral port); Article 34 (discontinuance of protection); Article 35 (conditions not depriving them of protection); and Article 43 (marking). Article 36 applies to the ‘religious, medical and hospital personnel of hospital ships and their crews’, as does Article 42 with regard to these persons’ identification. Lastly, warships of a belligerent Party are entitled to exercise the right conferred by Article 14 in relation to the wounded, sick or shipwrecked on board any of the three categories of hospital ships.
    2035  In view of the scope of protection of each of the Geneva Conventions, rendering assistance to wounded, sick or shipwrecked civilians (except those covered by Article 13(4)–(6)) does not constitute one of the core humanitarian functions of a hospital ship covered by Article 24.[2] Where only the Conventions apply, hospital ships of National Societies, of officially recognized relief societies and of private persons (belligerent and neutral alike) operated for the benefit of wounded, sick or shipwrecked civilians do so on the basis of the Fourth Convention.[3] However, for Parties to Additional Protocol I, this has changed, as Article 22(1) thereof states that hospital ships (including those covered by Article 24) are equally protected when they ‘carry civilian wounded, sick and shipwrecked who do not belong to any of the categories mentioned in Article 13 of the Second Convention’.
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    B. Historical background
    2036  During the discussions leading to the 1864 Geneva Convention, the High Contracting Parties were not ready to recognize in law that the ‘Red Cross Societies’, only recently established at the time, could play a role in caring for the wounded and sick on the battlefield.[4] It is therefore surprising to note that, only four years later, a direct predecessor of Article 24 of the Second Convention can be found in Article 13(1)–(2) of the 1868 Additional Articles relating to the Condition of the Wounded in War, an instrument which sought to adapt the 1864 Geneva Convention to the conditions of maritime warfare.[5] These paragraphs are in all but a limited number of aspects identical to Article 24 of the Second Geneva Convention.[6] This is all the more surprising considering that, at the time, no ‘aid society’ actually possessed a hospital ship that would have been capable of applying this new rule.[7] This was to change during the 1898 Spanish-American War, in which the American Red Cross operated hospital ships as envisioned by Article 13.[8]
    2037  After 1868, the treaties regulating naval warfare preserved the possibility for private relief societies and individuals to operate hospital ships for the benefit of wounded, sick and shipwrecked members of armed forces at sea. By the time of the 1899 Hague Convention (III), and later in the 1907 Hague Convention (X), international humanitarian law distinguished between hospital ships of relief societies of the Parties to the conflict and those of neutral Powers.[9] While the relevant differences, as compared with contemporary rules, are explored below, the 1899 and 1907 provisions governing hospital ships of relief societies of Parties to the conflict are nearly identical.[10] Whereas the 1868 rules only conceived of hospital ships of ‘aid societies’, as of 1899 mention is made of hospital ships of ‘private individuals’,[11] an option not provided for in the parallel provisions of Articles 26 and 27 of the First Convention.
    2038  The Commission of Naval Experts, convened by the ICRC in 1937, introduced only one modification to the text of the 1907 Hague Convention (X).[12] The Preliminary Conference of National Societies in 1946 introduced one further change: instead of referring generically to hospital ships operated by ‘officially recognized relief societies’, it explicitly added those operated by ‘National Red Cross Societies’.[13] Thus modified, the provision was adopted by both the 1948 International Conference of the Red Cross in Stockholm[14] and the 1949 Diplomatic Conference[15] without further substantive changes.
    2039  Since 1949, in contrast to the practice of the preceding decades, no instance has been reported in which Article 24 was invoked. Indeed, the number of armed forces that possess hospital ships has declined, and only a few non-governmental organizations are currently known to operate such vessels. This is especially the case since, in order to qualify as a hospital ship, a vessel needs to comply with stringent conditions.[16] Moreover, the few organizations that operate hospital ships do so under their own control, not making them – so far at least – available to a Party to an armed conflict.
    2040  The fact that there are few reported examples currently of National Societies, officially recognized relief societies or private persons owning a hospital ship that is ready to be deployed and that can be made available to the armed forces of a Party to the conflict, does not mean that, in the event of an international armed conflict, Article 24 is merely of theoretical relevance. Depending on the needs that resulting from such a conflict, National Societies, officially recognized relief societies or private persons may decide to invest in the transformation of merchant vessels into hospital ships.[17] They may also have initially developed such capabilities in response to a humanitarian emergency unrelated to an armed conflict, and subsequently make such ships available within the context of an armed conflict. For these vessels to have the same protection as military hospital ships, the conditions of Article 24 must be complied with.
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    C. Discussion
    1. Hospital ships covered by Article 24
    2041  Article 24 applies to ‘hospital ships’ without defining the concept. The meaning of ‘hospital ship’ in Article 24 must be interpreted in a manner consistent with its meaning in Article 22. In line with that definition, hospital ships in the sense of Article 24 are thus ships that have been ‘built or equipped … specially and solely with a view to assisting the wounded, sick and shipwrecked, to treating them and to transporting them’.
    2042  Initially, the 1907 Hague Convention (X) spoke of hospital ships ‘equipped wholly or in part at the expense of private individuals or relief societies’. The 1937 Commission of Naval Experts suggested changing this wording to hospital ships ‘operated by’ such individuals or societies. Eventually, the drafters of Article 24 settled on the substantively identical term ‘utilized by’. Thus, it is immaterial who owns or has built, equipped or paid for the hospital ship.[18]
    2043  In contrast to Article 25, which deals with hospital ships utilized by National Societies, officially recognized relief societies or private persons of neutral countries, Article 24 does not clarify the issue of the hospital ship’s flag State or the nationality of its crew. One may nonetheless conclude that Article 24 applies only to hospital ships flagged in the State Party to an armed conflict receiving their assistance.[19] There are three arguments to support this conclusion: first, the same structure underpins the parallel provisions of Articles 26 and 27 of the First Convention; second, the words ‘on which they depend’ in Article 24(1) indicate that there must be an intrinsic link, i.e. the hospital ship may not be flagged in a neutral State;[20] and lastly, such a link flows from the requirements of commissioning (paragraph 1) and, especially, certification (paragraph 2).
    2044  In other words, Article 24 applies to National Societies, officially recognized relief societies or private persons which, for humanitarian purposes, offer a hospital ship to assist the armed forces of their own State to meet the needs of all Parties’ wounded, sick or shipwrecked members of armed forces at sea.[21] The nationality of the personnel and crew on board these vessels, on the other hand, is immaterial.
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    a. Hospital ships utilized by National Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies
    2045  First, hospital ships in the sense of Article 24 may be ‘utilized by National Red Cross Societies’. While Article 24 speaks only of ‘National Red Cross Societies’, this provision applies also to hospital ships utilized by National Red Crescent Societies, as well as by National Red Crystal Societies.[22]
    2046  Article 24 does not require that National Societies, unlike relief societies (see section C.1.b below), be officially recognized. However, since they are components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, they must act at all times in conformity with the Movement’s Fundamental Principles.[23]
    2047  No National Society is currently known to possess a hospital ship.
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    b. Hospital ships utilized by officially recognized relief societies
    2048  Hospital ships in the sense of Article 24 may also be utilized by ‘officially recognized relief societies’. This possibility is entirely in line with the logic underpinning Article 9.[24] Thus, National Societies have no monopoly on the type of humanitarian activity to be exercised under Article 24.
    2049  In order to qualify, however, a relief society needs to have been ‘officially recognized’. In essence, ‘recognition’ in the sense of this provision implies the need for the State to decide that a particular society may or will be called upon to assist it in meeting the needs of the wounded, sick and shipwrecked at sea. Thus, each High Contracting Party may decide for itself which societies, if any, will qualify for the purpose of Article 24. An ‘officially recognized relief society’ in the sense of this provision may have existed prior to, or been established after, the outbreak of the international armed conflict.
    2050  The Convention provides no guidance as to which form recognition should take, nor what wording must be used, leaving it entirely to the national authorities to implement the requirement in accordance with domestic procedures. Domestic law may also regulate whether such recognition must be made public. Article 24 does nonetheless specify certain requirements for hospital ships to qualify for protection (dealt with below); these serve to inform the other Parties to the conflict that vessels of this nature are in use and that the Party to the armed conflict on which they depend would like them to enjoy protected status as such.
    2051  Unlike Article 26 of the First Convention, which requires that relief societies be recognized by ‘Governments’, Article 24 does not say which organ of the State must be involved in the act of recognition. Thus, there is no requirement that the recognition emanate from the executive branch of the State; it may also be conferred by the legislative authorities. While there can be only one National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society in any one State,[25] nothing precludes a State from recognizing more than one relief society for the purposes of Article 24. The national authorities retain full discretion in this regard.
    2052  Also in contrast to Article 26 of the First Convention, Article 24 does not contain, in addition to the requirement of ‘recognition’, that of ‘authorization’ to assist a Party to the conflict.[26] In any event, the implementation of the three requirements to qualify for protection (see below) –in particular that they have received an official commission from the Party to the conflict and that the ‘provisions of Article 22 concerning notification’ have been complied with – will constitute sufficient evidence that the Party to the conflict authorizes the relief society to act on the basis of Article 24.
    2053  Some aid societies operate hospital ships for charitable purposes in peacetime, for example to provide medical care in remote areas lacking permanent medical infrastructure. Since they do so for the benefit of civilians, they do not qualify on the basis of Article 24.[27]
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    c. Hospital ships utilized by private persons
    2054  Lastly, hospital ships in the sense of Article 24 may also be utilized by ‘private persons’. Since the category of ‘officially recognized relief societies’ includes societies which have legal personality, the ‘private persons’ referred to were, in the minds of the drafters, generous ship-owners who, in time of armed conflict, decide to transform their vessels into hospital ships in order to assist the wounded, sick and shipwrecked members of armed forces at sea.[28]
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    d. Crew and personnel of hospital ships
    2055  Article 24 does not explicitly indicate whether any of the three entities utilizing the hospital ship must also provide the crew and medical personnel who enable the vessel to fulfil its role. This is arguably implied for Article 24 to make operational sense. However, in view of the text’s silence on this point, alternative arrangements are by no means excluded, and may be agreed upon between the Party to the conflict and the National Society, officially recognized relief society or private person concerned. Thus, for example, an aid society or private person may offer a vessel for use as a hospital ship, and the armed forces’ medical service may provide the crew and medical personnel to operate it. With regard to the status of the crew and personnel, see paras 2065 and 2074.
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    2. Requirements to qualify for protection
    2056  Article 24 contains three requirements for a hospital ship to be entitled to the same protection as the hospital ships covered by Article 22. By complying with these requirements, the Party to the conflict leaves no doubt that it wishes the hospital ship to be treated on the same legal basis as if it were a military hospital ship of its own.
    2057  The requirements of Article 24 also apply, on the basis of Article 27, to ‘small craft employed by the State or by the officially recognized lifeboat institutions’.
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    a. Official commission
    2058  Both this and the next requirement (notification) need to be complied with by ‘the Party to the conflict on which [the hospital ship] depend[s]’. In the context of Article 24, this means the Party to the conflict that will receive assistance from the hospital ship.
    2059  The Party to the conflict on which the hospital ship depends needs to give the ship ‘an official commission’, i.e. an authorization by that State for the ship to be put into service.[29] The idea behind this requirement is that the Party to the conflict must have made sure that the vessel is dedicated exclusively to the activities of hospital ships as set forth in Article 22, i.e. assisting, treating and transporting the wounded, sick and shipwrecked.[30] As such, Article 24 does not curtail the discretion of the Party to the conflict to determine to which ships it may accord an ‘official commission’, but this discretion may not be abused. In line with the obligation to implement all treaty obligations in good faith, the commission must be genuine, i.e. the vessel needs to meet all the conditions set down by the Second Convention to qualify as a hospital ship.[31]
    2060  The commission usually takes the form of a separate document, but a notation in the ship’s log might be considered sufficient. The important point is that, through the commission, the Party to the conflict has unambiguously indicated that it authorizes a particular vessel to operate as a hospital ship.[32] The requirement of a ‘commission’ needs to be interpreted in a functional, non-formalistic way. Thus, for example, when words to that effect are included in the ‘notification’ (see next section), there is, strictly speaking, no need for the vessel to carry a written document. Such a document may nonetheless be helpful for the vessel to demonstrate its status in certain maritime zones, for example in a neutral Power’s territorial waters.
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    b. Notification
    2061  For a hospital ship to qualify on the basis of Article 24, the Party to the conflict on which the vessel depends needs to comply with ‘the provisions of Article 22 concerning notification’. Thus, the Party must notify the other Parties to the conflict of the ‘names and descriptions’ of the hospital ships ‘ten days before those ships are employed’.[33] The notification may be issued directly to the Parties to the conflict. It may also be issued through the Protecting Power, if one has been appointed, or through the ICRC. For details, see section D of the commentary on Article 22, which apply here mutatis mutandis.[34]
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    c. Certificates
    2062  Lastly, on the basis of Article 24(2), the ‘responsible authorities’ of the Party to the conflict on which the hospital ship depends need to provide certificates ‘stating that the vessels have been under their control while fitting out and on departure’.
    2063  The Convention does not clarify who the ‘responsible authorities’ are for the purposes of this paragraph. Thus, each Party to the conflict may decide for itself, on the basis of its domestic structure, which of its organ(s) is responsible for issuing the certificate.
    2064  Some have argued that this requirement needlessly overlaps with the requirement to provide the vessel with an ‘official commission’.[35] Be that as it may, it figures in the Convention, and makes sense as a separate step: Article 24 deals with hospital ships utilized by National Societies, officially recognized relief societies or private persons, none of which are State organs. While the official commission demonstrates the agreement in principle that the hospital ship may serve on the basis of Article 24, the purpose of the certificate is to vouch for an entity’s integrity: while not stated explicitly, it can be deduced from this provision that the purpose of certifying ‘control’ is to indicate that the authorities have observed that the vessel in question meets all the conditions to qualify as a hospital ship.
    2065  The first point to be certified is that the vessel has been under the control of the Party to the conflict ‘while fitting out’. The term ‘fitting out’ needs to be read in the light of the concepts ‘built or equipped’ in Article 22 or, as the case may be, of the concept of ‘transformed into’ in Article 33. What matters is that the hospital ship is examined by the responsible authorities as soon as it is ready to be put into service, once all work connected with construction or equipment has been completed. The expression ‘while fitting out and on departure’ must be taken as a whole. The ‘control’ only applies to the hospital ship, its personnel and crew, but not to the voluntary aid society as such.
    2066  The second point to be certified is that the vessel was under the control of the Party to the conflict ‘on departure’. This refers to the moment of the vessel’s first departure, after having been fitted out. It is at this point that the authorities need to verify that it qualifies as a genuine hospital ship. There is no requirement that certification take place every time a hospital ship departs for a mission or leaves a port.[36] Also here, the ‘control’ only applies to the hospital ship, its personnel and crew, but not to the voluntary aid society as such.
    2067  In practical terms, a certificate is a document attesting a given state of affairs.[37] It needs to be handed over to the captain of the vessel and may be requested, for example, during a control in the sense of Article 31(1).
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    d. Considerations pertaining to the implementation of the requirements to qualify for protection
    2068  The aforementioned three requirements need to be complied with by the Party to the armed conflict that has accepted an offer to operate a hospital ship made by a National Society, officially recognized relief society or private person. This is evident from the wording ‘the Party to the conflict on which the [hospital ship] depends’ (for the first two obligations) and ‘the responsible authorities’ (for the last obligation). Through these steps, each of which serves a different purpose, a Party to the conflict brings otherwise purely private vessels under its control.
    2069  Apart from receiving the notification, the other Part(ies) to the conflict are not involved in these steps. However, once the obligations have been complied with, these Part(ies) are required to accord the hospital ship in question the same legal treatment as a military hospital ship.
    2070  The Convention provides no guidance as to what would happen if a Party to the conflict failed to comply with one or more of the procedural obligations. Would it entitle the other Part(ies) to the conflict to refuse to treat the hospital ship as if it were a military hospital ship? To maintain the integrity of the protective regime set up by the Convention, the only tenable position is to acknowledge that each of the requirements is to be considered constitutive of the vessel’s specifically protected status as a hospital ship. In this light, non-compliance with any of the requirements means that the other Part(ies) to the conflict, while they certainly may, are not obliged as a matter of law to treat the vessel concerned as a hospital ship.[38]
    2071  If one of the requirements to qualify for protection has not been met, the vessel will not be entitled to specific protection as a hospital ship on the basis of the Second Convention. However, since it still constitutes a ‘vessel charged with religious … or philanthropic missions’, it arguably remains protected against capture on the basis of customary international humanitarian law.[39] As far as the law on the conduct of hostilities is concerned, however, the vessel will remain entitled to protection as a civilian object. Such a vessel can only be the object of an attack directed against it if and for as long as it meets the conditions of a military objective, and provided all other applicable rules on the conduct of hostilities are complied with.
    2072  While the failure to have complied with the notification requirement will be immediately obvious, the failure to provide the ‘official commission’, as well as the requisite ‘certificates’ will only become apparent in case of an on-board inspection, for example on the basis of Article 31(1). The Party to the conflict on which the hospital ship depends is advised, as a matter of good practice, to share a copy of the commission and certificates when it notifies the other Part(ies) to the conflict. However, even where this has been done, a search of the hospital ship remains lawful.
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    3. Status of a hospital ship, and its crew, covered by Article 24
    2073  A vessel that qualifies as a hospital ship in the sense of Article 24 ‘shall have the same protection as military hospital ships and shall be exempt from capture’. Thus, sections C.2 and C.3 of the commentary on Article 22 apply, mutatis mutandis, to such vessels.
    2074  Contrary to Article 26 of the First Convention, Article 24 of the Second Convention remains silent about the status of the crew and personnel of the hospital ships covered by this provision. Their status is regulated by Article 36. Beyond that, and also unlike Article 26 of the First Convention, it can only be observed that Article 24 does not require the crew and medical personnel to be ‘subject to military laws and regulations’. Whether this is the case may be part of the agreement between the Party to the conflict and the National Society, officially recognized relief society or private person.
    2075  Article 24 does not say explicitly whether the Party to the conflict which receives the assistance of a hospital ship on the basis of this provision is, legally speaking, responsible for the acts of the hospital ship and its crew. However, paragraph 2 uses the wording ‘responsible authorities’. Also, in view of the logic underpinning Article 24, it can be concluded that that State is indeed responsible for their acts.[40] Under the international law on State responsibility, the acts of a hospital ship covered by Article 24 can trigger the international responsibility of the Party to the conflict which it assists. This vessel has, after all, been recognized and authorized by that Party’s authorities to perform the public function of providing medical care to wounded, sick and shipwrecked members of armed forces. As a result, the society acts under the international legal responsibility of that State.[41] As is the case with a military hospital ship, a vessel qualifying as a hospital ship in the sense of Article 24 needs to act on an impartial basis, i.e. it needs to treat the wounded, sick and shipwrecked of all Parties to the conflict solely on the basis of medical considerations and ‘without any adverse distinction founded on sex, race, nationality, religion, political opinions, or any other similar criteria’.[42]
    2076  For an overview of the Convention’s substantive provisions applicable to hospital ships covered by Article 24, see para. 2034.
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    Select bibliography
    See the select bibliography of the commentary on Article 22 of the Second Convention.

    1 - Article 24 of the Second Convention is similar to, although worded somewhat differently from, Article 26 of the First Convention, which regulates the conditions under which the ‘staff of National Red Cross Societies and that of other Voluntary Aid Societies’ may assist the medical service of their own State’s armed forces when the latter is a Party to an international armed conflict. Where relevant, the differences between Article 26 of the First Convention and Article 24 of the Second Convention are explored herein. Article 25 of the Second Convention, in turn, has a parallel but also differently worded provision in Article 27 of the First Convention.
    2 - See the commentary on Article 22, Section C.1.f.
    3 - For an example of where this was an issue, see the discussion about the Helgoland in the commentary on Article 25, fn. 13.
    4 - For details, see the commentary on Article 26 the First Convention, § 2049.
    5 - For details, see Introduction, section E.2.
    6 - Additional Articles relating to the Condition of the Wounded in War (1868), Article 13(1)–(2): The hospital ships which are equipped at the expense of the aid societies, recognized by the governments signing this Convention, and which are furnished with a commission emanating from the Sovereign, who shall have given express authority for their being fitted out, and with a certificate from the proper naval authority that they have been placed under his control during their fitting out and on their final departure and that they were then appropriated solely to the purpose of their mission, shall be considered neutral as well as the whole of their staff. They shall be recognized and protected by the belligerents. Paragraphs 3–9 of Article 13 are predecessors of the rules reflected, with minor modifications, in the Second Geneva Convention with regard to all three categories of hospital ships.
    7 - See Pierre Boissier, History of the International Committee of the Red Cross: From Solferino to Tsushima, ICRC/Henry Dunant Institute, Geneva, 1985, pp. 223–225 and 232–233.
    8 - Ibid. pp. 322–324.
    9 - Hague Convention (III) (1899), Articles 2 and 3. For practice on the basis of this Convention, see Pierre Boissier, History of the International Committee of the Red Cross: From Solferino to Tsushima, ICRC/Henry Dunant Institute, Geneva, 1985, p. 331 and p. 381. Hague Convention (X) (1907), Articles 2 and 3.
    10 - Article 2 of the 1899 Hague Convention (III) is substantively identical to Article 2 of the 1907 Hague Convention (X). This provision was not discussed during the 1907 Diplomatic Conference; see Proceedings of the Hague Peace Conference of 1907, Vol. III, p. 293. See also Art. 41 of the 1913 Oxford Manual of Naval War, applicable to ‘hospital ships, equipped wholly or in part at the expense of private individuals or officially recognized relief societies’.
    11 - ‘The provision of Article 13 has been supplemented in a useful way by granting to boats which individuals may wish to devote to the hospital service the same immunity from the moment they present the same guaranties. This may be a valuable resource, for in several countries owners of pleasure yachts have expressed their intention of devoting them to the hospital service in time of war.’ Proceedings of the Hague Peace Conference of 1899, p. 35.
    12 - For a discussion, see section C.1.
    13 - Report of the Preliminary Conference of National Societies of 1946, pp. 57–58.
    14 - See Draft Conventions submitted to the 1948 Stockholm Conference, Article 20, p. 42, and Draft Conventions adopted by the 1948 Stockholm Conference, Article 20, p. 38.
    15 - See Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of 1949, Vol. II-A, pp. 109 and 114.
    16 - For details, see the commentary on Article 22, section C.1.
    17 - See the commentary on Article 22, section C.1.d.
    18 - Naval Expert Report of 1937, p. 26: The experts were unanimous in recognising that the question at whose expense hospital-ships were fitted out, was of no importance. Similarly, it was immaterial, for the purposes of the Convention, whether the relief societies and individuals mentioned […] were, or were not, the owners of the hospital-ships; all that mattered was that the ships should be in their service and in their possession, and this seemed to be clearly brought out by the word ‘operated’. Thus, the text as adopted by the 1937 Commission of Naval Experts read: Hospital-ships operated by individuals or officially recognized relief societies shall likewise be respected and exempt from capture, provided that the belligerent Power to which they are subject has given them an official commission and has notified their names to the enemy Power, on the outbreak of or during hostilities, and in any case before they are brought into use. Such ships must carry a document from the competent authority certifying that they have been under its supervision both while equipping and on final departure. Ibid. p. 25. For a similar formulation, see Report of the Conference of Government Experts of 1947, pp. 87–88.
    19 - On the matter of the nationality of ships, see Articles 91 and 92 of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
    20 - See also United States, Law of War Manual, 2016, paras 7.12.1.2 and 7.12.1.3, the latter referring to civilian hospital ships ‘sent from neutral countries’.
    21 - This last component flows from the requirement to treat all victims of an armed conflict impartially; see the commentary on Article 12(2), section F.1.c.
    22 - For a discussion, see the commentary on Article 26 of the First Convention, para. 2063. See also Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (1986), Articles 3 and 4.
    23 - See the Preamble to the 1986 Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, which enumerates and defines those Fundamental Principles. See also Article 2(4) of the Statutes: ‘The States shall at all times respect the adherence by all the components of the Movement to the Fundamental Principles.’ For references to and an analysis of these Principles, see the commentary on Article 26 of the First Convention, section F.1.
    24 - Article 9 deals with the right of humanitarian initiative in international armed conflict. This right is conferred on ‘any … impartial humanitarian organization’, the International Committee of the Red Cross being mentioned explicitly as an example of such an organization. For a discussion, see the commentary on Article 9, section C.3.
    25 - The principle of unity is one of the seven Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. See Article 4(2) of the Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (1986): one of the conditions for recognition as a National Society of a State is to ‘[b]e the only National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society of the said State and be directed by a central body which shall alone be competent to represent it in its dealings with other components of the Movement’.
    26 - See the commentary on Article 26 of the First Convention, section C.2.
    27 - But see Article 22(2) of Additional Protocol I.
    28 - See the commentary on Article 22, section xxx.
    29 - See also Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 12th edition, Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 288, defining ‘commission’ as ‘the authority to perform a task’.
    30 - See Proceeding of the Hague Peace Conference of 1899, p. 33.
    31 - See the commentary on Article 22, section C.1.
    32 - See also Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 12th edition, Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 288, defining the verb ‘commission’ as, inter alia, to ‘bring into working order’.
    33 - See Article 22(2).
    34 - For an example of a notification issued in the 1950s, see Swedish Sea Rescue Institution, ‘Notification to the High Contracting Parties in accordance with article 22 of the Geneva Maritime Convention of August 12, 1949’, Gothenburg, March 1958.
    35 - Raoul Genet, ‘La révision de la Xe Convention de La Haye relative à la guerre sur mer’, Revue internationale française du droit des gens, No. 7, Paris, 1951–1953, p. 69. Commenting on Article 24(2), he stated: ‘[The article] is clearly superfluous in this regard. It is obvious that an officially commissioned ship has sailed only when the authority on which it depends has carefully ensured that all the relevant requirements were met.’
    36 - Pictet (ed.), Commentary on the Second Geneva Convention, ICRC, 1960, pp. 166–167.
    37 - See Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 12th edition, Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 232, defining a ‘certificate’ as ‘an official document attesting’, ‘confirming … a certain level of achievement’, ‘attesting … the fulfilment of legal requirements’ or recording an event.
    38 - The relevant parts of Article 22 apply, mutatis mutandis, to the notification on the basis of Article 24. In Article 22, the requirement to respect and protect enemy hospital ships is prescribed ‘on condition that’ the notification requirements have been met. See the commentary on Article 22, section C.4.
    39 - See San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea (1994), para. 136(e).
    40 - See also of the commentary on Article 26 of the First Convention, paras 2081–2082.
    41 - In view of this potential for State responsibility, the State that receives the assistance of the hospital ship of a National Society, officially recognized relief society or private person may wish to ensure that the staff on board the hospital ship are aware (e.g. through training) of their legal rights and obligations, in particular as regards international humanitarian law. For the same reason, the State may wish to vet the staff, for example by having the relevant military or civilian services conduct a background check of each proposed staff member’s criminal and/or professional (e.g. medical) record. Whether and how such checks are to be conducted is a matter outside the scope of international humanitarian law; it is left entirely in the hands of the domestic authorities, in consultation with the National Society, officially recognized relief society or private person concerned.
    42 - For details, see the commentaries on Article 12(2), section F.1.c, and Article 30(1), section D.