Rule 30. Attacks directed against medical and religious personnel and objects displaying the distinctive emblems of the Geneva Conventions in conformity with international law are prohibited.
State practice establishes this rule as a norm of customary international law applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts.
Under the Statute of the International Criminal Court, “intentionally directing attacks against buildings, material, medical units and transport, and personnel using the distinctive emblems of the Geneva Conventions in conformity with international law” constitutes a war crime in both international and non-international armed conflicts.[1]
The prohibition on attacking persons and objects displaying the distinctive emblems is contained in numerous military manuals.[2] It is an offence under the legislation of many States to attack persons and objects displaying the distinctive emblems.[3] Furthermore, the rule is supported by official statements and reported practice.[4]
On numerous occasions, the ICRC has called on parties to both international and non-international armed conflicts to respect persons and objects displaying the distinctive emblems.[5]
No official contrary practice was found with respect to either international or non-international armed conflicts. Attacks directed against persons and objects displaying the distinctive emblems have generally been condemned.[6]
As this rule indicates, respect for the distinctive emblems is conditional on their proper use (see Rule 59). Practice also shows that failure to wear or display the distinctive emblems does not of itself justify an attack on medical or religious personnel and objects when they are recognized as such. This is an application of the general principle that the distinctive emblems are intended to facilitate identification and do not, of themselves, confer protected status. In other words, medical and religious personnel and objects are protected because of their function. The display of the emblems is merely the visible manifestation of that function but does not confer protection as such.
The Elements of Crimes for the International Criminal Court stresses that the war crime of “intentionally directing attacks against buildings, material, medical units and transport, and personnel using the distinctive emblems of the Geneva Conventions in conformity with international law” includes attacks against persons and objects displaying a distinctive emblem or other method of identification, such as the distinctive signals, indicating protection under the Geneva Conventions.[7]
[1] ICC Statute, Article 8(2)(b)(xxiv) and (e)(ii) (cited in Vol. II, Ch. 7, § 832).
[2] See, e.g., the military manuals of Australia (ibid., § 840), Benin (ibid., § 841), Cameroon (ibid., § 842), Canada (ibid., §§ 843–844), Colombia (ibid., § 845), France (ibid., §§ 846–847), Germany (ibid., § 848), Hungary (ibid., § 849), Indonesia (ibid., § 850), Italy (ibid., § 851), Kenya (ibid., § 852), Lebanon (ibid., § 853), Madagascar (ibid., § 854), Nigeria (ibid., § 855), Philippines (ibid., §§ 856–857), Romania (ibid., § 858), Senegal (ibid., § 859), Switzerland (ibid., § 860), Togo (ibid., § 861), United Kingdom (ibid., § 862) and United States (ibid., § 863).
[3] See, e.g., the legislation of Australia (ibid., § 864), Azerbaijan (ibid., § 865), Belarus (ibid., § 866), Canada (ibid., § 868), Colombia (ibid., § 869), Congo (ibid., § 870), Denmark (ibid., § 871), Estonia (ibid., § 873), Germany (ibid., § 874), Netherlands (ibid., § 875), New Zealand (ibid., § 876), Nicaragua (ibid., § 877), Peru (ibid., § 879), Romania (ibid., § 880), Spain (ibid., § 881), Sweden (ibid., § 882), Switzerland (ibid., § 883), United Kingdom (ibid., § 885) and Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela(ibid., § 886); see also the draft legislation of Burundi (ibid., § 867), El Salvador (ibid., § 872), Nicaragua (ibid., § 878) and Trinidad and Tobago (ibid., § 884).
[4] See, e.g., the statements of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republika Srpska (ibid., § 888), Kuwait (ibid., § 890) and Yugoslavia (ibid., § 892).
[5] See the practice of the ICRC (ibid., §§ 906, 908–910, 912–917, 919, 921–925 and 927–928).
[6] See, e.g., the practice of Yugoslavia (ibid., § 891) and the ICRC (ibid., §§ 905 and 926).
[7] See Knut Dörmann, Elements of War Crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Sources and Commentary, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2002, p. 350; see also Articles 6–9 of Annex I to Additional Protocol I concerning light signals, radio signals and electronic identification.