United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Practice Relating to Rule 109. Search for, Collection and Evacuation of the Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked
The UK Military Manual (1958) provides: “At all times, and particularly after an engagement, the belligerents must immediately take all possible measures to search for and collect the wounded and sick”.
The manual also states: “Whenever circumstances permit, a local armistice or suspension of fire must be arranged to permit the removal of the wounded left on the battlefield.”
The manual further states:
Belligerents should endeavour to conclude local agreements for the removal from besieged or encircled areas of wounded [and] sick … and for the passage of ministers of all religions and medical personnel and medical equipment on their way to such areas.
The UK LOAC Pamphlet (1981) states: “Combatants are required to search for and collect the shipwrecked, wounded and sick and to ensure their adequate care”.
The Pamphlet also states:
In appropriate local circumstances, arrangements should be made for the evacuation by sea of the wounded and sick and for the passage of medical and religious personnel and equipment especially to besieged areas.
The Pamphlet restates the provisions of common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions.
The Pamphlet provides: “Arrangements may be made between the parties to permit the removal, exchange and transport of the wounded left on the battlefield.”
It further states: “A local cease-fire may be arranged for the removal from besieged or encircled areas of the wounded and sick”.
The UK LOAC Manual (2004) states:
The parties to a conflict are under an obligation “at all times, and particularly after an engagement … without delay [to] take all possible measures to search for and collect the wounded and sick, to protect them against pillage and ill-treatment, and to ensure their adequate care”. The convention envisages “whenever circumstances permit”, an armistice, suspension of fire or local arrangements to permit the removal, exchange and transport of the wounded left on the battlefield. Similarly, local arrangements may be concluded to enable the removal or exchange of wounded and sick from a besieged or encircled area, and for the passage of medical and religious personnel and equipment on their way to that area.
In its chapter on maritime warfare, the manual states:
The parties to a conflict are also under an obligation, particularly after an engagement, to take all possible measures, consistent with their own security, “to search for and collect the shipwrecked, wounded and sick …”.
In its chapter on internal armed conflict, the manual provides that the “the wounded, sick and shipwrecked … are to be collected and cared for”.
With regard to internal armed conflicts in which the 1977 Additional Protocol II is applicable, the manual specifies: “Whenever circumstances permit, and particularly after an engagement, all possible measures shall be taken without delay to search for and collect the wounded, sick and shipwrecked”.
In 1984, in reply to a question in the House of Commons regarding the war in the South Atlantic in 1982 and in particular the sinking of the Argentine warship Belgrano by HMS Conqueror, the UK Prime Minister wrote:
Immediately after the attack upon the Belgrano, Conqueror herself came under attack from the Argentine escorting destroyers and, to evade this, moved away from the area … When on 4th May Conqueror signalled she was returning to that area, she was ordered not to attack warships engaged in rescuing survivors from the Belgrano.
In 2010, in its closing submissions to the public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Baha Mousa and the treatment of those detained with him by UK armed forces in Iraq in 2003, the UK Ministry of Defence stated regarding common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions: “On its face this protection is restricted to armed conflicts not of an international character. However, it is understood to apply in all forms of armed conflict as part of customary international law to set out the irreducible minimum standard.”