Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
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Commentary of 1952 


This Article applies, like the preceding one, to National Red Cross Societies and other societies assisting the Medical Service, but in this instance they belong to neutral and not to belligerent countries. Such societies from neutral countries may be asked to assist the Medical Service of a belligerent. By 1906 the necessity of regulating such assistance had already become apparent.
Neutral voluntary assistance, of which Henry Dunant and Louis Appia were the pioneers, is in full conformity with the spirit of the Geneva Convention and with the ideal of the Red Cross, and is one of the finest things the movement has succeeded in bringing about. The men and women who, in a spirit of unqualified devotion to humanitarian ideals, give up the security of a country spared by war and go to the help of the victims of a struggle which is no personal concern of theirs, deserve our fullest admiration.
Neutral assistance was not totally lacking during the last World War; but it was not given on the scale that might have been expected. The reason is not hard to find. There were few neutral States; and those which remained, fearing that they might, in their turn, be drawn into the War, were unwilling to deprive themselves of personnel whose services they might urgently need from one day to the next.
The personnel of neutral voluntary societies will enjoy the same protection as the medical personnel of the belligerent they are assisting. That follows, implicitly but obviously, from the provisions of Chapter IV.
The society to which such personnel belong must obviously fulfil the Same conditions as the society of a belligerent which assists the Medical Service of its own country (1), although Article 27 does not specifically say so.
Thus the society must be recognized by its Government, and authorized to assist the Medical Service of a belligerent. In practice the society will always, or nearly always, be one which has already been authorized to assist the Medical Service of its own armed forces.
The Power, which accepts its assistance, must notify its adversary or adversaries that it has done so. This obligation arises under paragraph 2, which will be considered below.
[p.231] Neutral personnel are to be subject to military Jaws and regulations, and will be attached for practical purposes to the Medical Service of the belligerent. The 1949 text specifies that they are to be placed under the belligerent's control. It is obvious that for reasons of order and discipline neutral personnel cannot retain an autonomous status, but must work under the responsibility of the belligerent authorities.
Finally, such personnel -- it is necessary to emphasize the point -- must be employed on the same duties as the permanent personnel of the Medical Service of the armed forces, namely on the search for, or the collection, transport or treatment of the wounded and sick of the armed forces, the prevention of disease in the forces, the administration of medical units and establishments, and service as chaplains attached to the forces.
In addition to the above requirements, which we have already met in connection with the preceding Article , there are two others peculiar to this particular case. They are (a) the authorization of the belligerent to whom assistance is offered, and (b) the notification to the other belligerent, by the neutral Government, of the latter's consent. The first of these requirements is self-evident and needs no explanation; the second will be dealt with under paragraph 2.


The 1949 text prescribes two distinct notifications, to both of which we have already referred in our remarks on paragraph 1.
In the first place, the State which accepts neutral help must notify its adversary or adversaries before the personnel in question are employed. This notification corresponds exactly to the one which each State accepting the assistance of a society from its own country is obliged to make under Article 26 . This very natural requirement already existed in 1929.
The second notification is new. It comes this time from the neutral State, which informs the adversaries of the country which is aided that it has authorized a society under its jurisdiction to send medical units to a belligerent country.
This stipulation originated in a proposal made to the Commission of Experts in 1937 by the Delegation from the Netherlands -- a country [p.232] with special experience in questions of neutral humanitarian assistance. The intention of the author of the proposal was (a) to crystallize a procedure which had until then been vague, and (b) to show that the neutral State accepted responsibility for the aid sent.
So far as (a) is concerned, there was, formerly, no concrete evidence of the neutral State's consent, and belligerents might be uncertain in regard to it. This uncertainty now disappears.
Element (b) is no doubt explained by a desire to see some form of connection maintained between the neutral State and personnel from among its citizens who have gone to the theater of war. The neutral State does not lose interest in its citizens. Should they be captured, or otherwise need help, they may appeal to their home country, which will be better placed to defend their interests than the other belligerent would be (2).
One feature the two notifications have in common is that both are addressed to the same State -- the one which is at war with the country to which aid is given. Their contents are, however, different. The belligerent aided will specify the assistance he has received and the staff employed, but his notification will not guarantee the authorization of the neutral State. The latter's own notification will deal with this point.
This duplication may on occasion provide the personnel with an additional safeguard. If the belligerent receiving assistance neglected to make due notification, the communication from the neutral State would to some extent make good the deficiency; it is thus desirable that the latter notification should be as detailed as possible.


Paragraph 3 stipulates that in no circumstance is the assistance of a neutral Society to a belligerent to be considered as interference in a conflict -- that is to say, participation in hostilities, or a breach of neutrality. Assistance need not be given to both the opposing parties. It need only be given to one of them.
[p.233] These principles were obviously already implicit in the spirit of the Geneva Convention and in the role of medical personnel. Recognizing neither friend nor foe, they care for the wounded and sick without distinction of nationality. For charity knows no frontiers.
Nevertheless, experience showed that on many occasions, and again very recently, neutral medical assistance had been wrongly interpreted and had been the subject of criticism based on ignorance or malevolence. It was therefore wisest to eliminate all possibility of misunderstanding. Among the things which go without saying there are often some which are better said.


Paragraph 4, which is also new, provides that neutral medical personnel who assist a belligerent are to be duly furnished, before leaving their own neutral country, with identity cards as specified in Article 40, paragraph 2 , bearing the embossed stamp of the military authority of the belligerent country, the photograph of the bearer and his signature or fingerprints. (3)
The Conference, mindful of what happened in the last War, considered that this requirement was called for in the interests of the personnel themselves; but its decision appears to us unfortunate, since it is bound to give rise to very serious practical difficulties and loss of time.
The least complicated arrangement would appear to be for the neutral medical personnel to send their photographs and all necessary particulars regarding their identity to the belligerent country, and for the military authorities there to affix the photo to the identity card and impress the stamp on them, sending the card back to the owners for the addition of their fingerprints or signature. The authorities would control and check these operations as best they could.

* (1) [(1) p.230] See above, page 226;

(2) [(1) p.232] The 1937 Experts Commission expressed the hope
that a study would be made of the legal status of neutral
assistance. Such an investigation would be outside the
scope of this Commentary, but we feel that it is much to
be desired. It would appear to be an excellent subject for
a thesis;

(3) [(1) p.233] See below, page 313;