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Commentary of 1958 


Article 63 supplies the answer to a question about which the Red Cross world has long been concerned: namely, how to make arrangements for the continued existence and work of National Societies in occupied territories. In 1939, on the recommendation of the XVIth International Red Cross Conference, a special commission was set up to study the subject (2), but the Second World War began before the commission could achieve anything concrete. Numbers of National Red Cross Societies were subjected to arbitrary interference by occupation authorities, who introduced changes in their structure, restricted them in their activities or even dissolved them.
In 1946 the question was raised at Oxford at the XIXth session of the Board of Governors of the League of Red Cross Societies, and again later at the preliminary Conference of National Red Cross [p.331] Societies at Geneva; finally, in 1948, it was considered by the XVIIth International Red Cross Conference at Stockholm (3).
The International Committee of the Red Cross wished to see protection accorded in the text of a Convention to the National Red Cross Societies in occupied territory. During the war, the Committee had on various occasions regretted that there were no written provisions on which it could base the representations it made each time measures adopted by the occupation authorities were in its opinion detrimental to the activities of a National Society, especially when leading members of the Red Cross were arrested (4).


1. ' Continuation of humanitarian activities '

The continuation of the activities of National Societies is subject to two conditions:

1. The National Society must have been duly recognized as a National Red Cross Society, which would imply that it had also been recognized by its government.

2. The activities of the Society must be in accordance with Red Cross principles "as defined by the International Red Cross Conferences". This wording covers both the Geneva Conventions (of 1864, 1906, 1929 and 1949) and the conditions for the recognition of new Red Cross Societies; it also includes the resolutions in general terms adopted by the various International Red Cross Conferences (5).
This conception of the mission of the Red Cross implies a very broad interpretation of the word "activities". Whether the activities in question are the traditional activities of the Red Cross or some [p.332] entirely new task, the only condition set by the Convention -- and it is an essential one -- is that they should be in accordance with the true Red Cross spirit. The reference to Red Cross principles guarantees that the action of Red Cross Societies will be of an essentially humanitarian character. So long as this is so, their activities cannot be interfered with by the occupation authorities.
Mention should also be made of the property of the National Society in occupied territory. As has been pointed out several times, the Convention is above all concerned with people; this particular provision, however, postulates that the occupation authorities must not paralyse National Societies by depriving them of the property and material means necessary for carrying out their task. It may be concluded from this that the property of the Societies will not be subject to requisition, except in case of absolute necessity and only as a temporary measure; in any case, such requisitioning cannot be allowed to interfere with the essential principle of the continuity of their humanitarian action (6).

2. ' Non-intervention '

Sub-paragraph (b) contains another rule, forbidding the Occupying Power to insist on changes in the Society's personnel or structure which would prejudice their humanitarian activities.
The clause aims at prohibiting arbitrary removal of the directors of a Society, the introduction of new officials or, in general, any measures whose object is to make the Societies conform to the policy of the Occupying Power, without regard to the principles governing Red Cross work. By forbidding such changes in the personnel and structure of Red Cross Societies the Convention confirms that the status quo should be maintained.
National Red Cross Societies are specifically mentioned because of the preponderant part they play in the distribution of relief; but no method of alleviating suffering must be ignored. The Diplomatic Conference therefore also mentioned the other relief [p.333] societies which should be permitted to carry out their humanitarian work in similar conditions (7).
The protection granted to Red Cross Societies and other relief societies in occupied territory places the directors and staff of the societies under an obligation to observe strict neutrality and take the utmost care to abstain from any political or military activities. Such behaviour on their part may not always be understood by public opinion in the occupied country, but if the Societies are to continue to be able to carry out their humanitarian activities in spite of the circumstances they must abide faithfully by this rule.

3. ' Reservation '

The work of the National Societies may be suspended by "temporary and exceptional measures imposed for urgent reasons of security". This reservation is made to protect the legitimate interests of the Occupying Power. It is placed at the beginning of the Article, and refers in particular to the possibility of relief societies being tempted to take advantage of their privileges in order to promote action hostile to the Occupying Power under cover of some humanitarian activity.
The Occupying Power may not use the reservation lightly. Its security must be threatened by some real danger. The nature of the measures it may adopt will depend upon the situation, and they will only continue as long as the circumstances leading to their adoption subsist.
It must be emphasized that under no circumstances may the occupation authorities invoke reasons of security to justify the general suspension of all humanitarian activities in an occupied territory (8).


The protection granted to National Red Cross Societies and other relief societies is also extended to special organizations "of a nonmilitary character" (9), provided such organizations have shown that they are capable of rendering certain services necessary to the population [p.334] (civil defence, passive defence, civil security services, civil air defence, etc.).
Such services were most useful during the Second World War; they will undoubtedly be greatly expanded should another armed conflict break out, and their importance will be all the greater in view of the constantly growing destructive power of weapons. Their duties and those of relief societies are complementary in the taking of measures to mitigate the effects of bombing and in the organization of rescue work and also in the distribution of relief. This provision (10) may be compared with Article 56 , which says that the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring and maintaining medical and hospital establishments and services "with the co-operation of national and local authorities".
The special organizations must be "of a non-military character". If they were called upon to take part in resisting the enemy (commandos or parachutists, for example), they would come under the Third Geneva Convention (Prisoners of War), and not the Fourth; and the occupying authorities would be able to dissolve them and arrest their members.

Notes: (1) [(1) p.330] For the discussions leading up to the adoption
of this Article, see ' Final Record, ' Vol. I, p. 122;
Vol. II-A, pp. 669-670, 744-745, 832-833; Vol. II-B, pp.
423-424; Vol. III, pp. 138-139;

(2) [(2) p.330] See ' Report on the Work of the Preliminary
Conference of National Red Cross Societies for the Study
of the Conventions and of Various Problems relative to the
Red Cross, ' pp. 115-116;

(3) [(1) p.331] See ' Report on the Work of the Preliminary
Conference of National Red Cross Societies for the Study
of the Conventions and of Various Problems relative to the
Red Cross, ' pp. 115-116; ' Handbook of the International
Red Cross, ' Geneva, 1953, pp. 448-450;

(4) [(2) p.331] See ' Report of the International Committee of
the Red Cross on its activities during the Second World
War, ' Vol. I, pp. 169-170;

(5) [(3) p.331] These resolutions have been collected together
in the ' Handbook of the International Red Cross. ' The
principle of humanity -- that is the idea that any
suffering man must be assisted and treated humanely -- the
notions of equality as between men, due proportion between
the relief given and the need for it, military, political,
religious and philosophical neutrality, and the
independence, impartiality, universality and equality of
the National Societies form the basis of this system of
rules. The whole work of the Red Cross must be linked with
these fundamental conceptions. See on this subject: Max
HUBER: ' Principes, tâches et problèmes de la Croix-Rouge
dans le droit des gens, ' 1944; Jean S. PICTET: ' Red
Cross Principles, ' 1955; (6) [(1) p.332] Reference may be made in this connection to
Article 34 of the First Geneva Convention of 1949 which
reads: "The real and personal property of aid societies
which are admitted to the privileges of the Convention
shall be regarded as private property. The right of
requisition recognized for belligerents by the laws and
customs of war shall not be exercised except in case of
urgent necessity, and only after the welfare of the
wounded and sick has been ensured."
It should be noted, however, that the provision
relates only to property of the Societies which is used to
help the wounded and sick of the armed forces, and not
that used for other activities. See ' Commentary, ' Vol.
I, pp. 278-279;

(7) [(1) p.333] During the Second World War, large numbers of
private societies and organizations rendered services of
immense value by carrying out charitable work similar to
that of the Red Cross;

(8) [(2) p.333] See also Article 30;

(9) [(3) p.333] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, pp. 670, 753,

(10) [(1) p.334] See ' Final Record ', Vol. II-A, p. 753; Vol.
II-B, pp. 423-424; Vol. III, p. 139;