Rule 109. Search for, Collection and Evacuation of the Wounded, Sick and ShipwreckedRule 109. Whenever circumstances permit, and particularly after an engagement, each party to the conflict must, without delay, take all possible measures to search for, collect and evacuate the wounded, sick and shipwrecked without adverse distinction.
SummaryState practice establishes this rule as a norm of customary international law applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts.
International armed conflictsThe duty to collect wounded and sick combatants without distinction in international armed conflicts was first codified in the 1864 Geneva Convention. This subject is dealt with in more detail in the 1949 Geneva Conventions. This duty is now codified in Article 10 of Additional Protocol I, albeit in more general terms of “protecting” the wounded, sick and shipwrecked, which means “coming to their defence, lending help and support”.
The numerous military manuals which contain this rule are phrased in general terms covering all wounded, sick and shipwrecked, whether military or civilian. Sweden’s IHL Manual, in particular, identifies Article 10 of Additional Protocol I as a codification of customary international law. The legislation of several States provides for the punishment of persons who abandon the wounded, sick and shipwrecked.
Non-international armed conflictsIn the context of non-international armed conflicts, this rule is based on common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which provides that “the wounded and sick shall be collected”. It is codified in a more detailed manner in Additional Protocol II. In addition, it is set forth in a number of other instruments pertaining also to non-international armed conflicts.
The duty to search for, collect and evacuate the wounded, sick and shipwrecked is contained in a number of military manuals which are applicable in or have been applied in non-international armed conflicts. It is an offence under the legislation of several States to abandon the wounded and sick.
No official contrary practice was found with respect to either international or non-international armed conflicts. The ICRC has called on parties to both international and non-international armed conflicts to respect this rule.
InterpretationThe obligation to search for, collect and evacuate the wounded, sick and shipwrecked is an obligation of means. Each party to the conflict has to take all possible measures to search for, collect and evacuate the wounded, sick and shipwrecked. This includes permitting humanitarian organizations to assist in their search and collection. Practice shows that the ICRC in particular has engaged in the evacuation of the wounded and sick. It is clear that in practice humanitarian organizations will need permission from the party in control of a certain area to carry out such activities, but such permission must not be denied arbitrarily (see also commentary to Rule 55). The UN Security Council, UN General Assembly and UN Commission on Human Rights have called upon the parties to the conflicts in El Salvador and Lebanon to permit the ICRC to evacuate the wounded and sick.
In addition, the possibility of calling upon the civilian population to assist in the search, collection and evacuation of the wounded, sick and shipwrecked is recognized in the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols. It is also provided for in several military manuals. Article 18 of the First Geneva Convention provides that “no one may ever be molested or convicted for having nursed the wounded or sick”. This principle is also set forth in Article 17(1) of Additional Protocol I, to which no reservations have been made.
The Geneva Conventions and other instruments, such as the UN Secretary-General’s Bulletin on observance by United Nations forces of international humanitarian law, state that cease-fires and other local arrangements are seen as appropriate ways to create the conditions in which the wounded and sick can be evacuated and require the parties to the conflict to conclude such agreements, whenever circumstances permit, to remove, exchange and transport the wounded from the battlefield. Many military manuals make the same point.
Scope of applicationThis rule applies to all wounded, sick and shipwrecked, without adverse distinction (see Rule 88). This means that it applies to the wounded, sick and shipwrecked regardless to which party they belong, but also regardless of whether or not they have taken a direct part in hostilities. The application of this rule to civilians was already the case pursuant to Article 16 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which applies to the whole of the populations of the countries in conflict, and is repeated in Article 10 of Additional Protocol I. With respect to non-international armed conflicts, common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applies to all persons taking no active part in the hostilities, which includes civilians. In addition, Article 8 of Additional Protocol II does not indicate any distinction (see also Article 2(1) of Additional Protocol II on non-discrimination). Most military manuals state this rule in general terms.