Practice Relating to Rule 147. Reprisals against Protected Objects
Section B. Medical objects
Germany’s Military Manual (1992), referring to Article 46 of the 1949 Geneva Convention I, Article 47 of the 1949 Geneva Convention II and Article 20 of the 1977 Additional Protocol I, provides: “It is expressly prohibited by agreement to make reprisals against: … medical facilities and supplies”.
Germany’s IHL Manual (1996) provides: “Reprisals are expressly prohibited against … medical establishments and material”.
In its judgment in the Dover Castle case
in 1921, the German Reichsgericht held that the accused, the commander of a submarine from which a British hospital ship had been torpedoed, was in the circumstances of the case entitled to hold the opinion that the measures taken by the German authorities against foreign hospital ships were not contrary to international law but were legitimate reprisals. The accused had pleaded that in sinking the ship he had merely carried out an order of the German Admiralty, which, in the belief that the enemy utilized their hospital ships for military purposes in violation of the 1907 Hague Convention (X), issued a number of orders instructing the submarines to attack hospital ships as vessels of war.
In 1990, during a parliamentary debate on the ratification of the 1977 Additional Protocols, a member of the German Parliament called the prohibition of reprisals as contained in the 1977 Additional Protocol I “newly introduced rules”.
Upon ratification of the 1977 Additional Protocol I, Germany declared:
The Federal Republic of Germany will react against serious and systematic violations of the obligations imposed by Additional Protocol I … with all means admissible under international law in order to prevent any further violation.