Rule 59. The improper use of the distinctive emblems of the Geneva Conventions is prohibited.
State practice establishes this rule as a norm of customary international law applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts.
This is a long-standing rule of customary international law already recognized in the Lieber Code, the Brussels Declaration and the Oxford Manual.[1] It was codified in the 1899 and 1907 Hague Regulations and the Geneva Conventions of 1906, 1929 and 1949.[2] It is set forth in Additional Protocol I.[3] Under the Statute of the International Criminal Court, “making improper use of the distinctive emblems of the Geneva Conventions” constitutes a war crime in international armed conflicts when it results in death or serious personal injury.[4]
The prohibition of improper use of the distinctive emblems has been stated in numerous military manuals.[5] Violation of this rule is an offence under the legislation of many States.[6] This rule is also supported by national case-law,[7] official statements and other practice.[8] In its judgment in the Emblem case in 1994, Germany’s Federal Supreme Court stated that there was an essential common interest in the protection of the emblems against unauthorized use.[9]
Additional Protocol II provides for the prohibition of improper use of the distinctive emblems.[10] In addition, this prohibition is contained in other instruments pertaining also to non-international armed conflicts.[11]
The prohibition of improper use of the distinctive emblems is set forth in military manuals which are applicable in or have been applied in non-international armed conflicts.[12] Violation of this rule is an offence under the legislation of many States.[13] This rule is supported by national case-law.[14] It is also supported by official statements made in the context of non-international armed conflicts.[15]
In 1977, the 23rd International Conference of the Red Cross requested that States parties to the Geneva Conventions “enforce effectively the existing national legislation repressing the abuses of the emblem of the red cross, red crescent, red lion and sun, to enact such legislation wherever it does not exist at present and to provide for punishment by way of adequate sentences for offenders”.[16] The ICRC has appealed to parties to both international and non-international armed conflicts to refrain from the misuse of the distinctive emblems.[17]
While several instances of improper use of the distinctive emblems have been reported, they have been denounced, principally by the ICRC but also by third States and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.[18] Some of the parties involved in those incidents recognized that such acts were unlawful and stated that they would take measures to prevent future occurrences.[19] It can be concluded that the general abstention from improperly using the distinctive emblems in practice is based on a legitimate expectation to that effect.
Improper use refers to any use other than that for which the distinctive emblems were intended, namely the identification of medical and religious personnel, medical units and medical transports, as well as personnel and property of the components of the International Movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. These uses are defined in the Geneva Conventions and in Additional Protocols I and II.[20] This definition of improper use is also used in numerous military manuals and in the legislation of a large number of States.[21]
[1] Lieber Code, Article 117 (cited in Vol. II, Ch. 18, § 186); Brussels Declaration, Article 13(f) (ibid., § 187); Oxford Manual, Article 8(d) (ibid., § 188).
[2] 1899 Hague Regulations, Article 23(f) (ibid., § 168); 1907 Hague Regulations, Article 23(f) (ibid., § 170); 1906 Geneva Convention, Articles 27–28 (ibid., § 169); 1929 Geneva Convention, Article 24 (ibid., § 171) and Article 28 (ibid., § 172); First Geneva Convention, Article 39 (ibid., § 173), Article 44 (ibid., § 174), Article 53 (ibid., § 175) and Article 54 (ibid., § 176); Second Geneva Convention, Article 41, first paragraph (ibid., § 177), Article 44 (ibid., § 178) and Article 45 (ibid., § 179).
[3] Additional Protocol I, Article 38(1) (adopted by consensus) (ibid., § 182).
[4] ICC Statute, Article 8(2)(b)(vii) (ibid., § 185).
[5] See, e.g., the military manuals of Argentina (ibid., §§ 196–197), Australia (ibid., §§ 198–199), Belgium (ibid., §§ 200–201), Burkina Faso (ibid., § 202), Cameroon (ibid., §§ 203–204), Canada (ibid., §§ 205–206), Colombia (ibid., § 207), Congo (ibid., § 208), Dominican Republic (ibid., § 209), Ecuador (ibid., § 210), France (ibid., §§ 211–212), Germany (ibid., § 213), Indonesia (ibid., § 214), Italy (ibid., § 215), Japan (ibid., § 216), Republic of Korea (ibid., §§ 217–218), Lebanon (ibid., § 219), Madagascar (ibid., § 220), Mali (ibid., § 221), Morocco (ibid., § 222), Netherlands (ibid., §§ 223–224), New Zealand (ibid., § 225), Nigeria (ibid., § 226), Russian Federation (ibid., § 227), Senegal (ibid., § 228), Spain (ibid., §§ 229–230), Sweden (ibid., § 231), Switzerland (ibid., § 232), United Kingdom (ibid., §§ 233–234), United States (ibid., §§ 235–238) and Yugoslavia (ibid., § 239).
[6] See, e.g., legislation (ibid., §§ 240–412).
[7] See, e.g., Colombia, Council of State, Administrative Case No. 11369 (ibid., § 413); Germany, Federal Supreme Court, Emblem case (ibid., § 414); Netherlands, Supreme Court, Red Cross Emblem case (ibid., § 415).
[8] See, e.g., the statement of the United States (ibid., § 425), the practice of France (ibid., § 421), Iraq (ibid., § 423) and United Kingdom (ibid., § 424) and the reported practice of Germany (ibid., § 422).
[9] Germany, Federal Supreme Court, Emblem case (ibid., § 414).
[10] Additional Protocol II, Article 12 (adopted by consensus) (ibid., § 184).
[11] See, e.g., Hague Statement on Respect for Humanitarian Principles (ibid., § 189); Memorandum of Understanding on the Application of IHL between Croatia and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, § 6 (ibid., § 190); Agreement on the Application of IHL between the Parties to the Conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, §§ 2.5 and 3 (ibid., § 191).
[12] See, e.g., the military manuals of Argentina (ibid., § 197), Australia (ibid., §§ 198–199), Cameroon (ibid., § 204), Canada (ibid., §§ 205–206), Colombia (ibid., § 207), Ecuador (ibid., § 210), France (ibid., § 212), Germany (ibid., § 213), Italy (ibid., § 215), Lebanon (ibid., § 219), Madagascar (ibid., § 220), New Zealand (ibid., § 225), Russian Federation (ibid., § 227), Spain (ibid., § 230) and Yugoslavia (ibid., § 239).
[13] See, e.g., the legislation of Antigua and Barbuda (ibid., § 242), Armenia (ibid., §§ 245–246), Azerbaijan (ibid., § 251), Belarus (ibid., §§ 256–257), Belgium (ibid., § 258), Belize (ibid., § 259), Bolivia (ibid., § 260), Bosnia and Herzegovina (ibid., §§ 261–262), Bulgaria (ibid., § 266), Cameroon (ibid., § 270), Chile (ibid., § 274), China (ibid., § 275), Democratic Republic of the Congo (ibid., § 279), Costa Rica (ibid., § 282), Croatia (ibid., §§ 284–285), Czech Republic (ibid., § 291), El Salvador (ibid., § 296), Estonia (ibid., § 297), Ethiopia (ibid., § 298), Finland (ibid., §§ 299–300), Germany (ibid., § 306), Guatemala (ibid., § 311), Guinea (ibid., § 313), Hungary (ibid., § 317), Ireland (ibid., § 321), Kazakhstan (ibid., § 329), Kyrgyzstan (ibid., § 331), Malta (ibid., § 342), Republic of Moldova (ibid., §§ 345–346), Netherlands (ibid., § 350), Nicaragua (ibid., §§ 355–356), Norway (ibid., §§ 359–360), Panama (ibid., § 361), Poland (ibid., §§ 365–366), Saint Kitts and Nevis (ibid., § 370), Slovakia (ibid., § 376), Slovenia (ibid., §§ 377–378), Spain (ibid., §§ 380–381), Sweden (ibid., § 384), Tajikistan (ibid., §§ 386–387), Togo (ibid., § 391), Ukraine (ibid., § 398 and 400), Uruguay (ibid., § 405), Yemen (ibid., § 408) and Yugoslavia (ibid., §§ 409–410); see also the legislation of Bulgaria (ibid., § 265), Burkina Faso (ibid., § 267), Czech Republic (ibid., § 290), Hungary (ibid., § 316), Italy (ibid., §§ 323 and 325), Nicaragua (ibid., § 354), Romania (ibid., § 367), Slovakia (ibid., § 375) and Togo (ibid., § 390), the application of which is not excluded in time of non-international armed conflict, and the draft legislation of Argentina ( ibid., § 244) and Latvia (ibid., § 332).
[14] See, e.g., Colombia, Council of State, Administrative Case No. 11369 (ibid., § 413).
[15] See, e.g., the statements of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ibid., § 417) and Colombia (ibid., §§ 419–420).
[16] 23rd International Conference of the Red Cross, Res. XI (ibid., § 434).
[17] See, e.g., ICRC, Communication to the Press No. 87/19/MMR (ibid., § 443), Press Release No. 1673 (ibid., § 444) Press Release, ICRC denies allegations (ibid., § 448), Communication to the Press No. 93/17 (ibid., § 450), Memorandum on Respect for International Humanitarian Law in Angola (ibid., § 452), Memorandum on Compliance with International Humanitarian Law by the Forces Participating in Opération Turquoise (ibid., § 453), Information to the Press (ibid., § 458), Communication to the Press No. 00/42 (ibid., § 460) and the practice reported in ICRC archive documents (ibid., §§ 439, 441–442, 445, 449, 451 and 454).
[18] See, e.g., ICRC, Communication to the Press No. 87/19/MMR (ibid., § 443); the practice reported in ICRC archive documents (ibid., §§ 429, 441–442, 449, 454 and 458) and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Report on the situation of human rights in Nicaragua (ibid., § 436).
[19] See, e.g., the practice reported in ICRC archive documents (ibid., §§ 441 and 454).
[20] See First Geneva Convention, Articles 24–27 and 38–44 (ibid., §§ 173–174 and 180); Second Geneva Convention, Articles 22, 24–25, 27, 36–39 and 41–44 (ibid., §§ 177–178 and 180); Fourth Geneva Convention, Articles 18–22 (ibid., § 180); Additional Protocol I, Articles 8, 18 and 22–23 (ibid., § 183); Additional Protocol II, Article 12 (adopted by consensus) (ibid., § 184).
[21] See, e.g., the military manuals of Argentina (ibid., §§ 196–197), Belgium (ibid., §§ 200–201), Dominican Republic (ibid., § 209), Ecuador (ibid., § 210), Spain (ibid., §§ 229–230), Sweden (ibid., § 231), Switzerland (ibid., § 232), United Kingdom (ibid., § 233) and United States (ibid., §§ 235–238) and legislation (ibid., §§ 240–412).