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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

Medical Personnel

Definition and status of the medical personnel in time of armed conflict

Medical and religious personnel includes: (a) personnel (doctors, orderlies, nurses, stretcher-bearers) assigned, whether on a permanent or temporary basis, exclusively to medical purposes (search for, collection, transportation, diagnosis and treatment of the wounded, sick and shipwrecked, and for the prevention of disease); (b) personnel (administrators, drivers, cooks, etc.) assigned exclusively, whether permanent or temporary, to the administration or operation of medical units or medical transport; (c) religious personnel includes persons, whether military or civilian, such as chaplains, who are dedicated exclusively to the exercise of their ministry.

Medical personnel, including First Aiders of the Red Cross/Red Crescent or other relief organizations, are not combatants. They must not be attacked and must be allowed to care for the sick and wounded unhindered.

The term "medical personnel" is not confined to the narrow meaning of the word. All personnel including First Aiders required to ensure the adequate treatment of the wounded and sick are covered by the protection accorded to the medical personnel, so long as they form an integral part of the Medical Service. The term can consequently include, for instance, the hospital cook, the administrator, or the mechanic in charge of the maintenance of medical vehicles. Many of the rights and duties ascribed to medical personnel are, however, primarily applicable to doctors and medical staff in the true sense of the word.

Such personnel shall wear the distinctive emblem of the Red Cross or the Red Crescent on a white ground and carry an identity card. They may bear arms only for their own defence and that of the wounded and sick.

If medical and religious personnel fall into enemy hands they shall be allowed to continue their duties towards the wounded and sick.

No person shall be compelled to perform acts contrary to the rules of medical ethics or to refrain from performing acts required by these rules.

All medical and religious personnel whose retention is not indispensable to the care of and assistance to the prisoners shall be repatriated.

Those retained shall not be considered as prisoners of war and shall have wide facilities for their work.

In occupied territory, the services of civilian medical personnel may not be requisitioned as long as they are necessary for the provision of adequate medical services for the civilian population and for the care of the wounded and sick.

The civilian population shall respect the wounded, sick, and shipwrecked, even if they belong to the adverse party, and shall commit no act of violence against them. Civilians are permitted to collect and care for the wounded and sick of whatever nationality, and shall not be penalized for doing so. They must on the contrary be aided in this work.

Rights and duties of medical personnel

It is important to stress that the rights and duties of medical personnel have been defined to enable them to perform the humanitarian task entrusted to them, namely to help the victims of armed conflicts whenever such conflicts occur.

The duties incumbent on them are directly linked with the rights of the protected persons placed in their care.

Whenever, therefore, they claim an acknowledged right, medical personnel, including First Aiders, must always be aware of the duties it entails.

Medical units and transport

Medical units, whether military or civil, shall include all buildings or permanent installations (hospitals and other similar units), blood transfusion and preventive medicine centres, medical depots and stores, or mobile units (field hospitals, tents, open-air installations) set up for medical purposes.

They may not be attacked or damaged, or prevented from operating, even if, for the moment, they do not contain either wounded or sick.

Medical equipment (stretchers, medical and surgical appliances and instruments, medical supplies, dressings, etc.) must never be destroyed, but must be left at the disposal of the medical personnel, wherever they may be.

The same protection shall apply to medical transport by land, water and air; ambulances, lorries or trucks, hospital ships, rescue craft, medical aircraft.

The National Societies' role, in co-ordination with the official medical services, would consist in drawing up lists of the persons carried, providing for supplies and measures of hygiene during the transport and making first-aid workers available.