Updated Commentary of the International Committee of the Red Cross on the Second Geneva Convention sheds light on the protection of maritime rescue services in times of armed conflict. Here the ICRC explains more:
On 4 May 2017, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) made available online its updated Commentary on the Second Geneva Convention of 1949 (GC II). The Commentary provides a detailed explanation of each of the provisions of GC II, seeking to reflect contemporary practice and legal interpretations. Directly relevant to coastal search and rescue (SAR) institutions and organizations, the updated Commentary sheds light on the protection maritime rescue services enjoy in times of armed conflict and the conditions they must satisfy to avail themselves of that protection.
The Convention acknowledges the important role played by coastal rescue craft in the implementation of its provisions. It thus provides that small rescue craft used by the State or by officially recognized lifeboat institutions for coastal rescue operations “shall be respected and protected so far as operational requirements permit” (Art 27(1)). To benefit from this protection, a number of conditions must be satisfied, including that the craft must be employed by a State or by officially recognised lifeboat institutions.
The requirement that the institution be “officially recognised” means that the institution must have been approved or authorised by a governmental authority or other public body to perform coastal rescue functions. Since this presupposes the existence of a legal or administrative framework in the State in which the private lifeboat institution operates to provide for its approval or authorization, it is essential that States implement the provisions of GC II already in peace time.
The scope of protection of coastal rescue craft under Article 27 extends ‘so far as operational requirements permit’. Accordingly, operational considerations by a reasonable commander may justify interference with a rescue craft by, for example, preventing them from performing their humanitarian tasks in a given sea area.
However, the rules on the conduct of hostilities, as set out in Additional Protocol I, apply in parallel and an attacker would not be absolved from the fundamental obligations to target only military objectives, to take all feasible precautions and to refrain from attacks that would be indiscriminate.
The IMRF assisted ICRC in their develoment of this upated commentary. The full version of this article, and links to the supporting documents are available online: