United States of America
Practice Relating to Rule 147. Reprisals against Protected Objects
Section B. Medical objects
The US Air Force Pamphlet (1976), referring to Article 46 of the 1949 Geneva Convention I and Article 47 of the 1949 Geneva Convention III, provides:
Reprisals against the … buildings or equipment protected by [the 1949 Geneva Convention I] are prohibited … Reprisals against … the vessels or the equipment protected by [the 1949 Geneva Convention II] are prohibited. No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.
The Pamphlet further states:
Reprisals are forbidden, under all circumstances, against the persons or objects referenced above in accordance with the 1949 Geneva Conventions. At least some, and possibly all, of these prohibitions are regarded as customary law and are binding regardless of whether the adversary is a party to the Geneva Conventions. For definitions as to persons or objects protected under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, applicable articles of those documents must be consulted.
The US Air Force Commander’s Handbook (1980), under the heading “Persons and Things Not Subject to Reprisals”, states: “Under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, reprisals may not be directed against hospitals.”
The US Operational Law Handbook (1993) provides: “The following measures are expressly prohibited by the law of war and are not excusable on the basis of military necessity: … m. Reprisals against persons or property protected by the Geneva Conventions.”
The US Naval Handbook (1995) states: “Reprisals are forbidden to be taken against: … 4. Hospitals and medical facilities … and equipment, including hospital ships, medical aircraft, and medical vehicles.”
The Annotated Supplement to the US Naval Handbook (1997), referring to Article 46 of the 1949 Geneva Convention I and Article 47 of the 1949 Geneva Convention II, states: “Fixed establishments and mobile medical units of the medical service, hospital ships, coastal rescue craft and their installations, medical transports, and medical aircraft are immune from reprisal.”
The US Naval Handbook (2007) states: “Reprisals are forbidden to be taken against: … 4. Hospitals and medical facilities … and equipment, including hospital ships, medical aircraft, and medical vehicles.”
In 1987, in submitting the 1977 Additional Protocol II to the US Senate for advice and consent to ratification, the US President announced his decision not to ratify the 1977 Additional Protocol I, stating, inter alia
, that the Additional Protocol I “fails to improve substantially the compliance and verification mechanisms of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and eliminates an important sanction against violations of those Conventions”.
In 1987, the Deputy Legal Adviser of the US Department of State, referring to Articles 12–20 of the 1977 Additional Protocol I, affirmed:
We … support the principle that medical units, including properly authorized civilian medical units, be respected and protected at all times and not be the object of attacks or reprisals … Further, we support the principle that the relevant provisions of the 1949 Geneva Conventions be applied to all properly authorized medical vehicles, hospital ships, and other medical ships and craft, regardless of the identity of the wounded, sick, and shipwrecked that they serve. This is, in effect, a distillation of much of what appears in articles 18 through 23 [of the 1977 Additional Protocol I].
In its written statement submitted to the ICJ in the Nuclear Weapons case
in 1995, the United States noted that it considered that the provisions of the 1977 Additional Protocol I regarding reprisals were “new rules”.