Practice Relating to Rule 29. Medical Transports
Section C. Respect for and protection of hospital ships
Canada’s LOAC Manual (1999) states: “Medical transports of all types (land, sea, air) are protected and must not be attacked.”.
The manual qualifies “attacking a properly marked hospital ship” as a war crime.
Canada’s LOAC Manual (2001) states in its chapter on targeting:
1. Medical transports of all types (land, sea and air) are protected and must not be attacked.
2. Medical transports should not be armed (i.e., crew-served weapons) because of the danger that they may be mistaken as fighting vehicles. Medical personnel in the medical transports can, however, retain their personal weapons.
In its chapter on the treatment of the wounded, sick and shipwrecked, the manual states:
918. Protection of medical establishments, transport, aircraft and hospital ships
1. Medical establishments on land, hospital ships, medical aircraft, and medical transports must be respected and protected at all times and must not be attacked. If they are used for purposes hostile to the adverse party and outside their humanitarian purpose, protection may cease. Protection will only cease, however, following a clear warning which has remained unheeded.
920. Sick bays and hospital ships
1. The sick bay on a warship must, in case of combat on board, be respected and protected as far as this is possible. A captor may, however, use the sick bay for other purposes if this is militarily necessary, provided proper care is taken of the wounded and sick.
2. Hospital ships and other craft employed on medical duties are subject to control and search. They may be required to follow a particular course and their radios and other means of communication may be controlled. The medical services may be controlled or even rejected. Depending on the circumstances, they may be detained for up to seven days. Neutral observers may also be put on board to ensure that the provisions of the Convention are strictly obeyed.
3. Hospital ships found in a port at the time of its occupation by an adverse party must be allowed to leave. Hospital ships do not rank as warships with regard to their stay in neutral ports.
In its chapter entitled “Treatment of civilians in the hands of a party to the conflict or an occupying power”, the manual provides:
Convoys of vehicles or hospital trains on land, and specially provided vessels at sea, conveying wounded and sick civilians, must be protected and respected in the same way as civilian hospitals. Subject to the consent of the State they must bear the distinctive Red Cross or Red Crescent emblem provided for hospitals.
In its chapter on “War crimes, individual criminal liability and command responsibility”, the manual qualifies “attacking a properly marked hospital ship or medical aircraft” as a war crime.
In its chapter on non-international armed conflicts, the manual states:
Medical units and transports are to be respected at all times and not be made the object of attack. This protection shall only cease if they commit hostile acts outside their humanitarian function. In such circumstances, a warning must be given, and protection only ceases if such warning remains unheeded.
In its glossary, the manual defines hospital ships as:
a. vessels built or equipped by a party to the conflict specially and solely with a view to assisting either military and/or civilian wounded, sick or shipwrecked;
b. vessels of the same nature used by national Red Cross or Red Crescent societies, officially recognized relief societies or by private persons, provided that the party to the conflict on which they depend has given them an official commission; and
c. vessels of the same nature used by neutral states, their national Red Cross or Red Crescent societies, officially recognized relief societies, private persons of neutral states or impartial international humanitarian organizations, provided that they have placed themselves under the control of one of the parties to the conflict with the authorization of that party and with the previous consent of their own government.