Association of Humanitarian Lawyers


GENEVA CONVENTION I (Protection for sick and wounded combatants on land)2

Article 7: Wounded and sick, as well a members of the medical personnel and chaplains, may in no circumstances renounce in part or in entirety the rights secured to them by the present Convention . . ..3

Article 12: [Combatants] who are sick and wounded . . .shall be treated humanely and cared for by the Party to the conflict in whose power they may be without any adverse distinction founded on sex, race, nationality, religion, political opinions, or any similar criteria. Any attempts on their lives, or violence to their persons, shall be strictly prohibited; in particular, they shall not be murdered or exterminated, subjected to torture or to biological experiments; they shall not be willfully left without medical assistance and care, nor shall conditions exposing them to contagion or infection be created.
Only urgent medical reasons will authorize priority in the order of treatment to be administered.

Article 15: At all times, and particularly after an engagement, Parties to the conflict shall, without delay, take all possible measures to search for and to collect the wounded and sick, to protect them against pillage and ill-treatment, to ensure their adequate care, and to search for the dead and prevent their being despoiled.

Article 16: Parties to the conflict shall record as soon as possible, in respect of each wounded, sick or dead person of the adverse Party falling into their hands, any particulars which may assist in his identification.

Article 19: Fixed establishments and mobile medical units of the Medical Service may in no circumstances be attacked.

Article 24: Medical personnel exclusively engaged in the search for, or the collection, transport or treatment of the wounded or sick, or in the prevention of disease, staff exclusively engaged in the administration of medical units and establishments, as well as chaplains attached to the armed forces, shall be respected and protected in all circumstances.

Article 33: The material of mobile medical units . . . shall be reserved for the care of wounded and sick.
The material and stores defined in the present Article shall not be intentionally destroyed.

GENEVA CONVENTION III (Protection for prisoners of war)

Article 13: Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention.
Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.

Article 30: Prisoners of war suffering from serious disease, or whose condition requires special treatment, a surgical operation or hospital care, must be admitted to any military or civilian medical unit where treatment can be given . . ..
The cost of treatment . . . shall be borne by the Detaining Power.

GENEVA CONVENTION IV (Protection of the civilian populations)

Article 18: Civilian hospitals organized to care to the wounded and sick, infirm and maternity cases, may in no circumstances be the object of attack, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict.

Article 20: Persons regularly and solely engaged in the operation and administration of civilian hospitals, including the personnel engaged in the search for, removal and transportation of and caring for the wounded and sick civilians, the infirm and maternity cases, shall be respected and protected.

Article 21: Convoys of vehicles or hospital trains on land , , , conveying wounded and sick civilians, the infirm and maternity cases, shall be respected and protected in the same manner as the hospitals for in Article 18.

Article 23: Each High Contracting Party shall allow for the free passage of all consignments of medical and hospital stores . . . intended only for civilians of another High Contracting Party, even if the latter is its adversary. It shall likewise permit the free passage of all consignments of essential foodstuffs, clothing and tonics intended for children under fifteen, expectant mothers and maternity cases.

Article 55: To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other articles if the resources of the occupied territories are inadequate.

Article 56: To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring and maintaining, with the cooperation of national and local authorities, the medical and hospital establishments and services, public health and hygiene in the occupied territory, with particular reference to the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics. Medical personnel of all categories shall be allowed to carry out their duties.
In adopting measures of health and hygiene and in their implementation, the Occupying Power shall take into consideration the moral and ethical susceptibilities of the population of the occupied territory.

Article 147:4 Grave breaches . . . shall be those involving any of the following acts, if committed against persons or property protected in the present Convention: willful killing, torture or inhumane treatment, including biological experiments, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person, . . .taking of hostages and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.


1Geneva Convention II addresses wounded, sick and shipwrecked naval personnel, and does not apply to the conflict in Iraq. The United States has not ratified the two Protocols Additional, adopted in 1977. However, some of their provisions are viewed as binding customary international law and should be consulted in the context of health rights and health care.
2The whole of Convention I addresses the medical rights of sick and wounded combatants. This selection is only meant to provide the framework articles.
3The rule of non-renunciation of rights is found in all four Conventions, and applies to the particular persons addressed in each. As the language is essentially identical it will not be set out under the other Conventions.
4There is a grave breach (war crimes) article in each Geneva Convention. In Convention I it is Article 50; in Convention III it is Article 130; in Convention IV it is Article 147. While nearly identical, each specifically addresses the “protected” persons or property, so we have set out Article 147 of Convention IV as the most relevant here.