Sick and Wounded

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Sick and Wounded


international legal treatment. The first attempts to work out a system of rules for the treatment of the sick and wounded were made in the middle of the 16th century, in a period marked by the formation of large absolutist states and the appearance of standing armies. The rules of modern international law governing the treatment of the sick and wounded in periods of armed conflict began to take shape at the time of the Great French Revolution. Military medical services were set up in most European countries from the end of the 18th century with the introduction of universal conscription. At the same time new rules were being worked out for the conduct of war. The first multilateral conventions providing for the protection of the wounded, sick, and medical institutions and their staffs in time of war were concluded in 1864 for ground warfare and in 1899 for naval warfare.

Today international legal treatment for the wounded and sick is regulated by the Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field and the Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea, both concluded in Geneva Aug. 12, 1949. According to these conventions the following are protected: (1) wounded and sick who are members of the regular armed forces, of militias and of volunteer detachments, including resistance movements; (2) persons accompanying the armed forces without actually being members thereof, such as war correspondents, civilian members of military aircraft crews, and members of work crews or of services responsible for the welfare of the armed forces; (3) members of crews of the merchant marine and of civil aircraft who do not benefit by more favorable treatment under any other international law status; (4) personnel of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or an authority not recognized by the detaining power; (5) inhabitants of an unoccupied territory who, upon the approach of the enemy, spontaneously take up arms without having had time to form themselves into regular forces.

A belligerent state holding enemy sick and wounded must first evacuate them from the danger zone; the seriously wounded and sick should be repatriated or accommodated in a neutral country during the armed conflict. Other sick and wounded persons are to be repatriated immediately upon termination of the conflict. It is prohibited to murder or exterminate the sick and wounded, to subject them to torture or biological experiments, or to take reprisals against them. The conventions of 1949 prohibit the molestation or conviction of civilians or representatives of relief organizations who of their own initiative collect and care for the wounded and sick. Since the life and health of the wounded and sick depend on the normal operation of medical institutions and their personnel, the latter are protected under international law, as are hospital trains, aircraft, and ships. All medical units and establishments must be respected and protected by the parties to a conflict.

The international legal treatment of the wounded and sick in naval warfare is regulated by a special convention and in the main corresponds to the rules governing land warfare. The legal provisions of the convention apply equally to the wounded, sick, or shipwrecked, it being understood that the term “shipwreck” includes forced landings at sea by or from aircraft.

The Geneva conventions of 1949 provide for the criminal responsibility of persons committing breaches of the rules laid down in them. The states ratifying these conventions “undertake to enact any legislation necessary to provide effective penal sanctions for persons committing or ordering to be committed any of the grave breaches of the present convention.”

The USSR and other socialist countries have made a substantial contribution to the working out of humane rules for the treatment of the sick and wounded in time of warfare. As a result of their active stand, the Geneva conventions of 1949 included a number of new regulations (compared with the previous conventions in force)—that is, the obligation of the signatory states to apply them during civil or national liberation wars; the protection of hospital ships of any tonnage; and the prohibition of any discrimination in assistance to the wounded and sick for such reasons as nationality, race, religion, and political beliefs.

The aggressive imperialist states in their predatory wars violate on a mass scale the international legal rules governing the treatment of the wounded and the sick. During World War II, Hitler’s troops were guilty of particularly serious violation of these rules on the territory they occupied. They were particularly brutal in their treatment of wounded Soviet soldiers, and they bombed and fired on medical transports and other medical targets. International legal standards were violated by the United States in their aggressive war in Vietnam.


Mezhdunarodnoe pravo, vol. 5. Moscow, 1969. Pages 336–48.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
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