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close this bookManual on the Rights and Duties of Medical Personnel in Armed Conflicts (ICRC, 1982, 77 p.)
View the document1. General principles
View the document2. The provision of medical care
View the document3. Recording and transmission of information
View the document4. Search - Evacuation
View the document5. Medical transportation
View the document6. Medical units
View the document7. Abandoning wounded or sick to the enemy
View the document8. Prisoners of war and civilian internees
View the document9. Occupied territories

3. Recording and transmission of information

3.1. Families of victims of armed conflicts have the right to know about the situation of these relatives and the latter to know about their families.

Art. 122, 123, G III;
Art. 136, 140, G IV;
Art. 32, P. I

In order to achieve the humanitarian purpose of restoring contact between victims of armed conflicts and their families, the ICRC has established a Central Tracing Agency which centralizes information it receives from every part of the world. The Geneva Conventions provide for the establishment of national Information Bureaux in countries at war, responsible for gathering and transmitting information in their respective countries. The Central Tracing Agency, attached to the ICRC, has now been in existence for more than a century and has accumulated information on about 55 million persons. It brings together in one organization the Central Prisoners of War Information Agency and the Central Information Agency for protected persons provided for in the Geneva Conventions. Its tasks are clearly defined:

- to Gather, Register, Centralize and, if necessary, Transmit all essential information about persons subject to action by the ICRC (prisoners of war, civilian internees, political detainees, displaced persons, refugees, etc.);

- to Deliver family messages between separated persons when normal channels of communication are non-existent or interrupted by events;

- to Search for missing persons;

- to Organize family reunions, transfers and repatriations;

- to Establish:

(a) certificates of captivity, sickness, death, etc.;
(b) travel documents.

The Central Tracing Agency thus serves as an intermediary for victims and their families. The principal channels of transmission for the Central Tracing Agency at the international level are the national Information Bureaux which each Party to a conflict should set up at the beginning of hostilities and in all cases of occupation.

Often, however, the ICRC has had to take on the task of organizing these Information Bureaux or of opening its own Tracing Agency in the field, to gather and transmit information on prisoners of war and other protected persons who are in the hands of the Party upon which the Bureaux depend.

3.2. Data helping to identify wounded, sick or ship- I wrecked persons fallen into the hands of the enemy.

Art. 16, G I;
Art. 19, G II

Each Party to a conflict should record as soon as possible all data which may help to identify wounded, sick and shipwrecked persons of the adverse Party who have fallen into its hands. If possible, the information should contain the following elements:

- designation of the Power on which the wounded, sick or shipwrecked persons depend;
- army, regimental, personal or serial number;
- surname and first names;
- date of birth;
- any other particulars shown on the identity card or disc;
- date and place of capture;
- particulars concerning any wounds or illness.

The final element given above indicates clearly that the medical personnel has a role to play in this process.

This information should be supplied as quickly as possible to the national Information Bureau - or in its absence to the ICRC delegation - which will forward it to the Power on which the persons depend, through the intermediary of the ICRC Central Tracing Agency.

3.3. Data for identification of the dead.

Art. 16, 17, G I;
Art. 19, 20, G II;
Art. 120, G III;
Art. 129, 130, G IV

Each Party to a conflict should record as soon as possible all data necessary for the identification of dead persons of the adverse Party who are in its hands. This information should contain the same elements as in the case of the wounded, sick and shipwrecked and in addition the place and date of death and details concerning the cause of death. In this case as well, the assistance of medical personnel is essential.

As soon as possible, this information should be given to the national Information Bureau or - in the absence of such a Bureau to the ICRC delegation - which will send it to the Power on which the persons depended, through the intermediary of the Central Tracing Agency.

Also to be sent in the same way are death certificates, lists of dead persons, one half of the double identity disc (the other half remaining on the body), last wills or other documents of importance to the next of kin, money and any articles found on the dead which have intrinsic or sentimental value, and information concerning the exact location of graves.

3.4. Information on the condition and situation of prisoners of war.

Art. 30, 54, 122 & 123, G III

As soon as possible, each Party to a conflict, insofar as the information is available, should supply its national Information Bureau - or, failing its existence, the ICRC - with the following data concerning prisoners of war in its hands:

- surname, first names, rank, age, army, regimental, personal or serial number, place of birth, indication of the Power on which the prisoner depends, the first name of the father, maiden name of the mother, name and address of the person to be informed and the address to which correspondence for the prisoner may be sent;

- indications concerning releases, repatriations, escapes, admissions to hospital and deaths.

At regular intervals and if possible every week, reports on the health of wounded or seriously sick prisoners of war should be sent, and it is essential that the medical personnel responsible for their care should assist in carrying out this task. It is also the responsibility of this personnel to supply medical certificates to prisoners who are victims of working accidents or other accidents, so that these prisoners may, in particular, assert their rights after repatriation.

Neutral or non-belligerent States should proceed in the same way with respect to prisoners they have received on their territory. The respective national Information Bureaux - or in their absence the ICRC - must forward this information immediately to the Power or Powers concerned, through the intermediary of the Protecting Powers* if such have been designated and the Central Tracing Agency, which must be given the information in all circumstances.

* In international humanitarian law, a Protecting Power is a Power designated by one Party to a conflict to defend its interests of a humanitarian character in the country of the adverse Party. A Protecting Power cannot assume its functions without agreement between it and each of the Parties to the conflict.

The Detaining Power, through the intermediary of the national Information Bureau if one exists, is also responsible for collecting and sending to the Powers concerned all personal valuables, including sums of money, documents of importance to the next of kin, and all personal effects left behind by prisoners of war who have been repatriated or released or who have escaped or died.

The Power on which prisoners depend is responsible for sending immediately to the prisoners' families all information received concerning prisoners of war and for transmitting to them the property due to them. If there is a national Information Bureau, it will be responsible for carrying out this task.

3.5. Information concerning civilian victims of an armed conflict.

Art. 91, 136, 137, 138 & 140, G IV;
Art. 33, 78, P. I

As soon as possible, each Party to a conflict will inform its national Information Bureau - or, if there is no such bureau, the ICRC delegation - of the measures it has taken concerning any protected persons who are kept in custody for more than two weeks, who are subjected to assigned residence, or who are interned.

In addition, it will instruct the appropriate services to furnish immediately the Information Bureau or the ICRC delegation with all information concerning changes in the situation of protected persons: transfers, escapes, releases, repatriations, admissions to hospital, births and deaths.

The national Information Bureau or the ICRC delegation must immediately forward all information concerning the protected persons to the States of which these persons are nationals or to the Powers in whose territory they resided, through the intermediary of the Protecting Powers, if there are such, or the Central Tracing Agency. Even if such information is transmitted by other intermediaries, it should be communicated as well to the Central Tracing Agency for registration.

The national Information Bureau - or the ICRC delegation - must also collect valuables left behind by protected persons, in particular those who have been repatriated or released or who have escaped or died, and must take action on any legitimate requests for information which might be presented to it concerning protected persons.

Members of medical personnel must in particular make certain that the following are respected:

- the obligation to transmit regularly, and if possible every week, reports on the health of wounded or seriously sick internees;

- the right of internees to have access to medical authorities for examination and the obligation to supply them, on request, with an official statement giving the nature of their sickness or wounds, the duration of treatment and the assistance received (a copy of which must be sent to the Central Tracing Agency);

- any special measures taken to protect children who are not nationals of the country and who must be temporarily evacuated to a foreign country for reasons of health or safety. The authorities of the country ordering the evacuation and those of the country of asylum must draw up, for each child, a record to be communicated to the Central Tracing Agency, containing in particular the data needed for identification of the child, its photograph, a description of the state of its health and its blood group and also, in the event of death, the circumstances of its death.

3.6. Summary.

Medical personnel, with respect to the transmission of information, have specific tasks to perform, related to their special training, notably in drawing up reports on the state of health or the cause of death of protected persons. They have further responsibilities, however, of a more general character, to do everything in their power to make sure that the requirements are observed for the transmission of this information; information reaching the protected persons from their relatives is often a more effective remedy than all the medicines in the world.