Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
  • Print page
Commentary of 1952 

Article 40 , which we have just examined, referred to permanent medical personnel only; Article 41 deals with the identification of auxiliary medical personnel -- as defined in Article 25 -- who are only employed on medical duties for part of their time. Trained to act as hospital orderlies, nurses or auxiliary stretcher-bearers, they are detailed in case of need to search for and assist the wounded. For the remainder of their time they may be employed on any other form of military work. Up to now, such troops have generally been bandsmen.
As has been seen in connection with Article 25 , (1) auxiliary medical [p.317] personnel were not, strictly speaking, protected on the battlefield under the 1929 Convention, but they were entitled to repatriation if taken prisoner. The position is now radically different: they are protected whilst on medical duty at the front, but once captured, are not entitled to repatriation. The clauses dealing with their identification had therefore to be altered.


The 1929 Conference did not accord the protection of the Convention to auxiliary medical personnel on the battlefield, because it was not considered possible to allow them to wear the armlet. Abuses were feared, and the Conference refused to entertain the idea of the armlet being removed and replaced by the wearers according as they were combatant or not. The Conference did not wish to make the emblem "removable".
The authors of the 1949 Convention felt that protection could be accorded to auxiliary personnel while they were actually carrying out their medical duties on the battlefield. On the other hand, they, too, felt that there would be a risk of abuse if such personnel were authorized to use the brassard normally worn by permanent medical personnel. They compromised by deciding to have a special armlet for auxiliary personnel.
A new emblem was not adopted, as it was feared that this might cause confusion. The idea of having the initial letters of the words "Auxiliary Personnel" on the armlet was, for example, dropped. The letters would in any case have had to vary with the language used.
Recourse was therefore had to the distinctive sign -- either the red cross or one of the special emblems authorized by the Convention. The emblem on the new brassard is, however, to be in miniature, to distinguish it from that appearing on the armlet worn by permanent personnel.
The Convention, it may be noted, specifies that the temporary armlet shall be white; this detail is not given in the case of the permanent armlet. The Convention also lays down that the distinctive sign in miniature is to be placed in the centre of the armlet.
This brassard must, like the other, be issued and stamped by the military authority (see above, under Article 40 ).
Although ingenious, the solution adopted has the very real drawback of making the red cross less visible from a distance. The armlet is in [p.318] any case far from perfect as regards visibility, and a reduction in the size of the emblem tends to defeat the whole object of the provision, which is to protect auxiliary medical personnel. There is also a considerable risk of confusion between the two types of armlet.
In other words, if the cross on the special armlet is very small it may be difficult to see; if it is large, there will be a tendency to ignore the distinction between the special and the ordinary armlet. A ' via media ' has therefore to be found and it will no doubt be well to make this the subject of practical experiment. In any case, it is desirable that the ordinary armlet worn by the permanent medical personnel should be wide and that the red cross on it should be as large as possible. The special armlet could then have a cross which, although appreciably smaller, was still sufficiently visible. If the cross on the special armlet had arms half the length of those on the ordinary armlet it would probably still be recognizable.


Once in enemy hands, auxiliary medical personnel are prisoners of war, and not entitled to repatriation (see above, under Article 29 ). The experts therefore considered it unnecessary to provide them with a special identity card.
However, as the Detaining Power may employ auxiliary personnel on medical duty when occasion arises, their ordinary identity documents are to specify the medical training they have received, the temporary nature of the duties they are engaged upon, and their authority for wearing the special armlet. Reference should be made here to Article 17, paragraph 3, of the Third (Prisoners of War) Convention of 1949, which lays down that every person liable to become a prisoner of war must be provided with an identity card, an exact description of which is given.

* (1) [(1) p.316] See above, page 222;