The Geneva Convention, First Geneva Convention

1864 Signing of the First Geneva Convention

Military Legal Resources / The Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949. Comments

The First Geneva Convention, on August 22, 1864, was the brainchild of Jean Henri Dunant, a Swiss humanitarian overcome with dismay after happening upon the aftermath of a brutal battle in Solferino, part of the Lombardy region of today’s Italy. The First Convention was said to be for discussion of “the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field.” The ten articles, summarized below, contained in the original treaty provide “the basis on which rest the rules of international law for the protection of the victims of armed conflicts.”

Article 1

Requires recognition of ambulances and military hospitals as neutral, commanding respect and protection as long as people wounded and sick are being accommodated. This neutrality becomes null and void if hostile forces capture these facilities or equipment.

Article 2

The same neutrality required of Article 1 extends to every military medic; all military, medical, administrative, or transport personnel, and the chaplains that support the medical staff.

Article 3

In the event of enemy occupation, the military medic and his entire staff can stay to continue medical treatment as needed or they can choose to be returned safely and peacefully to their assigned units. The occupying force is required to provide safe transit to an accommodating military outpost for all medical personnel who choose to leave the occupied medical facility.

Article 4

As an entity recognized as separate from the military, medical personnel can take only personal effects with them when they leave a military hospital facility. The facility is property of the military, not the medical staff. Ambulances are considered medical equipment, owned by the medical staff, not the military, so medical personnel on the move can take ambulances with them as their property.

Article 5

Whenever a local inhabitant offers his home or shelter of any kind to a wounded soldier, the local townsman and his home or shelter shall receive the same protections granted to military personnel and facilities in Articles 1 and 2 of this treaty. Locals who shelter wounded or sick combatants are to be exempt from billeting or the levying of war contributions.

Article 6

Regardless of nationality, all soldiers who are sick or wounded on the battlefield must be collected and cared for. Commanders are to return injured enemy soldiers to their units. Soldiers who are too critically injured or sick to return to battle must be repatriated. Those who recover can continue to serve the military but cannot bear arms for the duration of hostilities. Evacuation parties and all personnel involved with them are protected under the same neutrality status as described in this treaty’s Articles 1 and 2.

Article 7

Hospitals, ambulances, and evacuation parties must be clearly identified by a distinctive and uniform flag, a red cross on a white background. Military medical personnel can wear red cross armlets where approved. The red cross flag represents neutrality during wartime for all associated with it.

Article 8

To implement the protections set forth in this convention, commanders in chief are to be instructed by their respective governments of adherence to the principles of this treaty.

Article 9

Member nations agree to invite other nations to join the convention. Protocol was deliberately left open to encourage new member nations to join the treaty.

Article 10

Ratification of the convention is to take place in Berne within four months, the sooner the better.

Since 1864, the Geneva Convention has reconvened three times, in 1906, 1929, and 1949. Amendments have been made to accommodate technological advances in both military and medical sciences.

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