Practice Relating to Rule 25. Medical Personnel
Germany’s Military Manual (1992) defines military medical personnel with reference to the relevant provisions of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and of the 1977 Additional Protocol I.
The manual provides: “Civilian and military medical personnel are entitled to special protection. They shall neither be made the object of attack nor prevented from exercising their functions.”
The manual considers offences such as “wilful killing, mutilation, torture or inhumane treatment, including biological experiments, wilfully causing great suffering, serious injury to body or health” committed against medical personnel, to be grave breaches of IHL.
Germany’s Soldiers’ Manual (2006) states: “Medical personnel exclusively assigned to medical purposes are under the special protection of international humanitarian law.”
In a declaration in 1993, the German Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs condemned the killing of a German soldier belonging to UNTAC’s medical personnel in Cambodia as a “cruel act of violence”.
The Report on the Practice of Germany notes that the German Federal Armed Forces may incorporate medical staff into combat units, if they are needed, especially for special missions.
Germany’s Military Manual (1992) provides:
Medical personnel may be equipped with individual weapons for the protection of the wounded, sick and shipwrecked in their charge as well as for their own protection. Individual weapons are pistols, submachine guns and rifles.
In 2005, in reply to a written question by a Member of the Bundestag (Lower House of Parliament), Germany’s Parliamentary State Secretary, Ministry of Defence, wrote:
Male and female members of the medical service currently do service involving the use of arms only in the context of the ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] mission, namely in the form of guard duty. Currently, about 300 male and female members of the medical service are employed in Kabul. Overall, they do 20 guard duty shifts per week.
The use of male and female members of the medical service for guard duty in this context does not give cause to legal concerns. Federal law contains no provision according to which members of the medical service of the Federal Armed Forces would not be allowed to do guard duty.
The peace missions of the Federal Armed Forces and the right of the contingents to defend themselves by means of the guard duty are to be judged under international law mainly against the UN mandates which are at the basis of the deployments as well as against status of forces agreements, which do not exclude guard duty by male and female members of the medical service.
Special features of international law apply to members of the medical service not in peace time, but in times of armed conflicts. According to Article 24 of Geneva Convention I for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field of 12 August 1949, medical personnel exclusively engaged in the search for, or the collection, transport or treatment of the wounded or sick, or in the prevention of disease, as well as staff exclusively engaged in the administration of medical units and establishments shall be respected and protected in all circumstances. Article 22 further shows that in international armed conflicts the male and female members of the medical service may protect themselves and the wounded and sick also with arms, without losing their special protection under international law. The ISAF mission, however, does not take place in the context of an international armed conflict.
As regards the ISAF mission, international law provisions do not limit the use of members of the medical service for guard duty, during which they need to abstain from wearing the armlet with the protective emblem. The right of male and female members of the medical service to wear an armlet with the protective emblem (red cross on a white ground) is regulated by international law. On the basis of a special provision also applicable in times of peace (Article 44 of Geneva Convention I for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field of 12 August 1949) the distinctive emblem must not be worn when fulfilling duties other than medical service duties.