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close this bookBasic Rules of International Humanitarian Law (ICRC, 26 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentComponents of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
View the documentFundamental Principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
View the documentThe distinctive emblem and its value
View the documentFundamental Rules of International Humanitarian Law applicable in Armed Conflicts
View the documentSome Rules of International Humanitarian Law applicable for First Aiders
View the documentMedical Personnel
View the documentSome examples of tasks in which First Aiders could be involved during a conflict
View the documentConclusion
View the documentBibliography
View the documentBack Cover

Some Rules of International Humanitarian Law applicable for First Aiders

The International Committee of the Red Cross, for its part, has adopted the following as a full definition:

By "International humanitarian law (IHL) applicable in armed conflicts" the International Committee of the Red Cross means international rules, established by treaties or custom, which are specifically intended to solve humanitarian problems directly arising from international or non-international armed conflicts and which, for humanitarian reasons, limit the right of parties to a conflict to use the methods and means of warfare of their choice and protect persons and property that are, or may be, affected by the conflict.

The four Geneva Conventions of 1949 are part of the IHL and give protection as well as duties and responsibilities to Red Cross and Red Crescent personnel.

1. General Rules for protection

There are a number of general rules for the protection of victims of international conflicts, namely wounded, sick or captured members of the armed forces, or enemy civilians.

Anyone breaking or ordering someone else to break the rules of the International Humanitarian Law is guilty of an offence and must be brought to trial.

In certain circumstances the general rules are also applicable in civil wars and internal conflicts.

2. Persons protected by the IHL Rules

All protected persons must be:

- treated humanely,

- cared for, if sick or wounded,

- allowed access to the representatives of the Protecting Power (a neutral State responsible for safeguarding the interest of a party to the conflict) or the International Committee of the Red Cross, or any other qualified and impartial body.

They must not be:

- attacked,
- murdered,
- mutilated,
- tortured
- used for medical or scientific experiments,
- taken hostage,
- humiliated or degraded,
- executed without regular trial,
- discriminated because of race, religion, sex, birth or wealth,
- made the victims of reprisals.

Each of the four Geneva Conventions contains articles which cover the specific needs of the persons they protect.

The FIRST GENEVA CONVENTION is for the amelioration of the condition of the wounded and sick in armed forces in the field.

The SECOND GENEVA CONVENTION is for the amelioration of the condition of wounded, sick and shipwrecked members of armed forces at sea.

These two Conventions are similar, but the first covers warfare on land and the second war at sea. The term "shipwrecked" also includes having to make a forced landing at sea by or from aircraft.

Any member of the armed forces who is wounded and sick, and is not in any condition to take an active part in the hostilities is no longer part of the fighting force and is a person in need of protection and care.

The THIRD GENEVA CONVENTION relative to the treatment of prisoners of war covers members of the armed forces who fall into enemy hands and thus become prisoners of war.

The FOURTH GENEVA CONVENTION relative to the protection of civilians in time of war covers all individuals who do not belong to the armed forces, take no part in the hostilities and find themselves in the hands of the enemy or an occupying power.

It places civilians in enemy hands into two categories: protected persons in enemy territory and those in occupied territories.

Protected persons in enemy territory

All persons who find themselves in enemy territory when hostilities break out have the right to leave the territory, unless their departure is considered contrary to the national interests of the State concerned.

If these persons are not allowed to leave, they become protected persons and must be given similar medical attention and the same treatment as the nationals of that State.

If civilians in enemy territory are, for security reasons, interned or placed in assigned residence, their case must be regularly reviewed and details of their internment given to the Protecting Power.

Protected persons in occupied territories

The civilian population shall, as far as possible, be enabled to continue their life as usual. The Occupying Power shall be responsible for the maintenance of public order. Deportations and transfers of population shall in general be prohibited. Every compulsory enlisting of manpower shall be subject to strict regulations. Persons under eighteen years of age are entirely exempted, and enlisted workers may not be forced to do labour which would make them participate in military operations.

Pillage and unjustified destruction of property are forbidden.

The Occupying Power shall be responsible for the welfare of children, the maintenance of the medical and health services, and the feeding of the population. It shall allow the entry of relief consignments, and facilitate their transport.

In general, the authorities, administrations, and public and private institutions shall continue to function.

The Occupying Power has the right to defend itself against acts hostile to its administration and to members of its armed forces. It may introduce special laws in this connection. It may try accused persons before its own tribunals but no sentence may be pronounced without regular trial. It may, for imperative security reasons, intern certain persons. All these measures are, however, governed by explicit provisions and subject to the supervision of the Protecting Power. Civilians in enemy territory and the inhabitants of occupied territories have certain rights in common.

They are in all circumstances entitled to respect for their person, their honour, family rights, religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs. They shall at all times be humanely treated; no coercion shall be exercised against them. Women shall be especially protected against any attack on their honour, and in particular against rape and any form of indecent assault.

These civilians shall have the right of free recourse to the Protecting Power, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society of the country where they may be. The representatives of the Protecting Power and of the International Committee shall be able to visit them freely.

The enemy government shall be responsible for the treatment accorded to them by its civilian officials or military personnel.

Finally, should they be interned - a measure which cannot be taken as a form of punishment - they shall be entitled to treatment which shall, in general, and taking into account the fact that they are civilians, be equivalent to that of prisoners of war.