Medical personnel

Persons assigned exclusively, whether for a permanent or temporary period, to medical purposes, namely the search for, collection, transportation, diagnosis or treatment of the wounded, sick and shipwrecked, or to the prevention of disease, or to the administration or operation of medical units or medical transports.
Medical personnel comprises military and civilian medical personnel (doctors and paramedical personnel) including that of the Red Cross or Red Crescent, and civil defence personnel. They are entitled to the protection and treatment stipulated by international law, may not be the object of violence, and if they fall into enemy hands are not considered as prisoners of war and must be set free. However they may be retained to give medical care to prisoners of war, preferably those belonging to the same armed forces as themselves.
They are identified by the distinctive sign of the red cross, red crescent or red crystal worn on their uniform, or on their clothing if they are duly authorized civilian medical personnel.
Members of the armed forces specially trained for employment, should the need arise, as hospital orderlies, nurses or auxiliary stretcher-bearers in the search for or the collection, transport or treatment of the wounded and sick must likewise be respected and protected if they are carrying out these duties at the time when they come into contact with the enemy or fall into his hands. In the latter case they will be considered as prisoners of war but will be employed on medical tasks as needed.




    military (permanent or temporary) medical personnel

        GCI, 24 (see ICRC updated Commentary), 25 (see ICRC updated Commentary)

        GCII, 36 (see ICRC updated Commentary), 37 (see ICRC updated Commentary)

    civilian medical personnel assigned by a party to the conflict

        GCIV, 20

        PI, 8

    medical personnel made available by third States or organisations to a party to the conflict

        PI, 8

    personnel of a National Society recognized and specifically authorized by a party to the conflict

        GCI, 26 (see ICRC updated Commentary)

        GCII, 24 (see ICRC updated Commentary)

        PI, 8


    on the battlefield (including inhabitants of the combat zone): may not be attacked and may fulfil medical duties in conformity with medical ethics

        GCI, 24 (see ICRC updated Commentary), 25 (see ICRC updated Commentary)

        GCII, 36 (see ICRC updated Commentary), 37 (see ICRC updated Commentary)

        PI, 15-16

        CIHL, 25-30

    once fallen in enemy hands: immediate repatriation or employment caring for POWs

        GCI, 28 (see ICRC updated Commentary), 29 (see ICRC updated Commentary), 30  (see ICRC updated Commentary), 31  (see ICRC updated Commentary)32 (see ICRC updated Commentary)

    under control of the enemy: right to perform their medical mission, right not to perform acts contrary to medical ethics, right to maintain medical secret, except as required by law

        PI, 15-16

        PII, 10

        CIHL, 26


     See Medical ethics / Medical duties




Suggested readings:
BACCINO-ASTRADA Alma, Manual on the Rights and Duties of Medical Personnel in Armed Conflicts, Geneva, ICRC/League, 1982, 77 pp.
BOTHE Michael, “International Medical and Humanitarian Law”, in ILA Report, Vol. 59, 1980, pp. 520-530.
DE CURREA-LUGO Victor, “Protecting the Health Sector in Colombia: A Step to Make the Conflict Less Cruel”, in IRRC, No. 844, December 2001, pp. 1111-1126.
PICTET Jean, “The Medical Profession and International Humanitarian Law”, in IRRC, No. 247, July 1985, pp. 191-209
SCHOENHOLZER Jean-Pierre, Nurses and the GenevaConventions of 1949, Geneva, ICRC, 1957, 32 pp.
SCHOENHOLZER Jean-Pierre, “The Doctor in the Geneva Conventions of 1949”, in IRRC Supplement, Vol. VI, No. 11, 1953, pp. 191-213.
TORRELLI Maurice, Le médecin et les droits de l’homme, Paris, Berger-Levrault, 1983, 466 pp.

Further readings:
TOOLE Mike, “Frontline Medicine”, in Médecins Sans Frontières (ed.), World in Crisis, New York, Routlege, 1996, pp. 16-36
“Technical Note: The Red Cross and its Role as an Auxiliary to Military Medical Services”, in IRRC, No. 234, May 1983, pp. 139-141