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The updated ICRC Commentary on the Second Geneva Convention: Demystifying the law of armed conflict at sea

  • Bruno Demeyere, Jean-Marie Henckaerts, Heleen Hiemstra and Ellen Nohle

Abstract

Since their publication in the 1950s and 1980s respectively, the Commentaries on the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977 have become a major reference for the application and interpretation of those treaties. The International Committee of the Red Cross, together with a team of renowned experts, is currently updating these Commentaries in order to document developments and provide up-to-date interpretations of the treaty texts. Following a brief overview of the methodology and process of the update as well as a historical background to the Second Geneva Convention, this article addresses the scope of applicability of the Convention, the type of vessels it protects (in particular hospital ships and coastal rescue craft), and its relationship with other sources of international humanitarian law and international law conferring protection to persons in distress at sea. It also outlines differences and commonalities between the First and the Second Conventions, including how these have been reflected in the updated Commentary on the Second Convention. Finally, the article highlights certain substantive obligations under the Convention and how the updated Commentary addresses some of the interpretive questions they raise.

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1 See Pictet, Jean (ed.), Commentary on the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, Vol. 1: Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field, ICRC, Geneva, 1952 ; Pictet, Jean (ed.), Commentary on the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, Vol. 2: Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea, ICRC, Geneva, 1960 ; Pictet, Jean (ed.), Commentary on the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, Vol. 3: Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, ICRC, Geneva, 1960 ; Pictet, Jean (ed.), Commentary on the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, Vol. 4: Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, ICRC, Geneva, 1958 ; Sandoz, Yves, Swinarski, Christophe and Zimmermann, Bruno (eds), Commentary on the Additional Protocols, ICRC, Geneva, 1987 .

2 The Editorial Committee for the updated Commentary on the Second Geneva Convention consists of Liesbeth Lijnzaad and Marco Sassòli as non-ICRC members, and Philip Spoerri and Knut Dörmann as ICRC members.

3 The full version is available online at: ihl-databases.icrc.org/ihl/full/GCII-commentary (all internet references were accessed in July 2017). A hard copy of the updated Commentary on the Second Geneva Convention will be published by Cambridge University Press by January 2018.

4 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1833 UNTS 3, 10 December 1982 (entered into force 16 November 1994) (UNCLOS).

5 International Court of Justice, Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences for States of the Continued Presence of South Africa in Namibia (The Namibia Case), 21 June 1971, para. 53.

6 For a more detailed description, see the introduction to the updated Commentary: ICRC, Commentary on the Second Geneva Convention, Cambridge University Press, 2017 (ICRC Commentary on GC II), paras 1–66. See also Cameron, Lindsey, Demeyere, Bruno, Henckaerts, Jean-Marie, Haye, Eve La and Niebergall-Lackner, Heike, “The Updated Commentary on the First Geneva Convention – A New Tool for Generating Respect for International Humanitarian Law”, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 97, No. 900, 2015, pp. 12101214 ; Henckaerts, Jean-Marie, “Bringing the Commentaries on the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols into the Twenty-First Century”, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 94, No. 888, 2012 .

7 See ICRC Commentary on GC II, above note 6, Introduction, paras 79–96.

8 Hague Convention (III) for the Adaptation to Maritime Warfare of the Principles of the Geneva Convention of 22 August 1864, 29 July 1899 (entered into force 4 September 1900).

9 Article 11 of the draft submitted by the Comité International de Secours aux Militaires Blessés to the 1864 Conference, available in the ICRC Archives under ACICR, A AF 21-3b.

10 Boissier, Pierre, History of the International Committee of the Red Cross: From Solferino to Tsushima, ICRC and Henry Dunant Institute, Geneva, 1985, pp. 190192 .

11 ICRC Commentary on GC II, above note 6, Introduction, para. 84. For an overview of the preparation of and debates during and after the 1868 Diplomatic Conference, see P. Boissier, above note 10, pp. 215–225; Galloy, J., L'inviolabilité des navires-hôpitaux et l'expérience de la guerre 1914–1918, Sirey, Paris, 1931, pp. 3047 ; Lueder, Christophe, La Convention de Genève au point de vue historique, critique et dogmatique, E. Besold, Erlangen, 1876, pp. 159198 ; J. Pictet (ed.), Commentary on the Second Geneva Convention, above note 1, pp. 5–10.

12 ICRC Commentary on GC II, above note 6, Introduction, para. 86. For more details, see Proceedings of the Hague Peace Conferences: The Conference of 1899, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1920, pp. 3144 .

13 ICRC Commentary on GC II, above note 6, Introduction, para. 88. For more details, see Proceedings of the Hague Peace Conferences: The Conference of 1907, Vol. 3, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1920, pp. 305322 . See also J. Galloy, above note 11, pp. 70–90.

14 ICRC Commentary on GC II, above note 6, Introduction, para. 91. For the full text of that resolution, see Report Concerning the Revision of the Tenth Hague Convention of 1907 for the Adaptation to Maritime Warfare of the Principles of the Geneva Convention of 1906, 1937, adopted by a Commission of Naval Experts and presented to the 16th International Conference of the Red Cross, London, June 1938 (Document No. 2a) (Naval Expert Report), p. 1, available at: https://library.icrc.org/library/docs/CDDH/CI_1938/CI_1938_DOC02_ENG.pdf.

15 ICRC Commentary on GC II, above note 6, Introduction, para. 91. For a detailed overview of all the steps that were undertaken, see Naval Expert Report, above note 14, pp. 1–8.

16 ICRC Commentary on GC II, above note 6, Introduction, paras 76, 92.

17 Ibid ., Art. 4, paras 935–936.

18 Ibid ., Art. 12, paras 1374–1376.

19 Geneva Convention (II) for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea of 12 August 1949, 75 UNTS 85 (entered into force 21 October 1950) (GC II), Art. 4.

20 Ibid ., Art. 16.

21 See ICRC Commentary on GC II, above note 6, Art. 16, para. 1577.

22 Geneva Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949, 75 UNTS 287 (entered into force 21 October 1950), Art. 16.

23 Ibid ., Art. 21.

24 Protocol Additional (I) to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, 1125 UNTS 3, 8 June 1977 (entered into force 7 December 1978), Art. 8.

25 Geneva Convention (I) for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field of 12 August 1949, 75 UNTS 31 (entered into force 21 October 1950) (GC I), Art. 22.

26 Ibid ., Art. 23.

27 Ibid ., Art. 8.

28 Doswald-Beck, Louise (ed.), San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995 .

29 For further details, see ICRC Commentary on GC II, above note 6, Introduction, para. 115.

30 Ibid ., para. 48. Some UNCLOS provisions are exercised “subject to this Convention and to other rules of international law”; see e.g. Art. 2(3). This includes GC II, and it is thus possible that the applicability of individual UNCLOS rules that include such a clause is temporarily suspended. ICRC Commentary on GC II, above note 6, Introduction, para. 49.

31 Ibid ., Art. 14, para. 1520.

32 International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1874 UNTS 3, 1 November 1974 (entered into force 25 May 1980).

33 International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, 1403 UNTS, 27 April 1979 (entered into force 22 June 1985).

34 United Nations, International Law Commission, Report of the International Law Commission on the Work of Its Sixty-Third Session, Yearbook of the International Law Commission, Vol. 2, Part 2, A/66/10, 2011.

35 See ICRC Commentary on GC II, above note 6, Introduction, paras 51–59.

36 Ibid ., Art. 12, paras 1417–1424, 1437–1441.

37 ICRC, Commentary on the First Geneva Convention, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2016, Art. 2, para. 237.

38 ICRC Commentary on GC II, above note 6, Art. 2, para. 259.

39 Ibid .

40 Ibid ., Art. 3, para. 741.

41 Ibid .

42 Pejic, Jelena, “Procedural Principles and Safeguards for Internment/Administrative Detention in Armed Conflict and other Situations of Violence”, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 87, No. 858, 2005, p. 385 . See also ICRC Commentary on GC II, above note 6, Art. 3, para. 741.

43 ICRC Commentary on GC II, above note 6, Art. 3, para. 580.

44 Common Art. 3 to the Geneva Conventions.

45 ICRC Commentary on GC II, above note 6, Art. 3, para. 696.

46 Ibid ., Art. 3, para. 710.

47 Ibid ., Art. 3, paras 772–775.

48 Ibid ., Art. 3, para. 774.

49 Note, however, that for legal purposes there is no difference between wounded and sick. Ibid., Art. 12, para. 1378.

50 GC II, Art. 35.

51 Ibid ., Arts 22, 24.

52 Ibid ., Art. 27.

53 Ibid ., Art. 38.

54 Ibid ., Art. 39.

55 Ibid ., Art. 22(1).

56 Ibid ., Art. 36.

57 Ibid ., Art. 22(1).

58 Ibid ., Art. 34(1).

59 ICRC Commentary on GC II, above note 6, Art. 22, para. 1927.

60 GC II, Art. 31(1).

61 ICRC Commentary on GC II, above note 6, Art. 22, para. 1928.

62 See Ibid ., para. 1945; Art. 33, para. 2336; Art. 18, para. 1677.

63 GC II, Art. 33.

64 ICRC Commentary on GC II, above note 6, Art. 34, para. 2403.

65 Ibid ., Art. 34, para. 2378.

66 Ibid ., Art. 35, paras 2419–2421.

67 GC II, Art. 27.

68 ICRC Commentary on GC II, above note 6, Art. 27, para. 2194.

69 Ibid ., paras 2149, 2151.

70 Ibid ., Art. 27, paras 2150, 2159.

71 GC II, Art. 27(1).

72 Ibid ., Art. 22(1).

73 See ICRC Commentary on GC II, above note 6, Art. 27, para. 2206.

74 See Ibid ., Art. 27, para. 2152, and the commentary on Article 36, Section C.2.d.

75 GC II, Art. 43(8).

76 See ICRC Commentary on GC II, above note 6, Art. 43, para. 2766.

77 Ibid ., Art. 18, para. 1617.

78 Ibid ., Art. 18, para. 1618.

79 Ibid ., Art. 18, para. 1645.

80 GC I, Art. 15.

81 ICRC Commentary on GC II, above note 6, Art. 18, para. 1653.

82 Ibid ., Art. 18, paras 1629–1633.

83 Ibid ., Art. 18, para. 1646.

84 Ibid ., Art. 18, para. 1645.

85 Ibid ., Art. 18, para. 1686.

86 Ibid ., Art. 18, para. 1687.

87 Ibid ., Art. 18, para. 1688.

88 Ibid ., Art. 18, para. 1637; Art. 21, para. 1863.

89 Ibid ., Art. 18, paras 1674–1681.

90 See GC II, Arts 19 and 20, the latter of which equally deals with burial at sea.

91 See Art. 4.

92 GC II, Arts 15 and 17. A similar rule appears in Art. 40(3).

93 ICRC Commentary on GC II, above note 6, Art. 15, paras 1548–1554; Art. 17, paras 1605–1611.

94 Ibid ., Art. 17, paras 1605, 1611.

* The authors wish to acknowledge that this article summarizes the key findings of the new Commentary and as such reflects the input of many experts involved in the drafting and review of the Commentary.

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International Review of the Red Cross
  • ISSN: 1816-3831
  • EISSN: 1607-5889
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