The Swiss Minister to the Secretary of State .


Mr. Secretary of State: The Geneva Convention of August 22, 1864, has proved a boon to suffering humanity. It has helped in alleviating the evils inseparable from war and in ameliorating the lot of wounded or injured soldiers of armies in the field. And so there is no longer anyone who will question its usefulness; yet its shortcomings and the necessity for modifications suggested by the experience acquired since 1864 are admitted. As early as 1868 a conference met for the purpose at Geneva and adopted a draft of 15 articles, additional to the convention of 1864, 9 of which related to naval warfare. These articles failed to receive diplomatic sanction and could not be enacted. The conference of 1874, convened at Brussels for the purpose of codifying the usages of war, also took up the revision of the Geneva Convention (see protocols Nos. 8 and 9, sessions of the 10th and 11th of August), and a subcommittee elaborated a draft that was to be submitted to the Governments “in view of the modifications and improvements that might be introduced by joint accord into the Geneva Convention.” Lastly, the International Peace Conference, called at The Hague upon the generous initiative of His Majesty the Emperor of All the Russias, achieved a great advance in the convention signed on July 29, 1899, relative to the application of the principles of the Geneva Convention to naval warfare. This conference [Page 1531] was unable to take up the revision of the Geneva Convention and confined itself to adopting the following resolution:

The conference, taking into consideration the preliminary steps taken by the Swiss Federal Government toward the revision of the Geneva Convention, utters the wish that a special conference, having for its object the revision of that convention, may be called in the near future.

The Swiss High Federal Council is of the opinion that the time has now come to take action on that wish, and has in consequence the honor to invite the governments of the states, parties to the Convention of Geneva, to send representatives to a conference which it proposes to convene at Geneva on the 14th of September of this year, in contemplation of the suggested reform.

Your excellency will receive with this letter a few copies of a brief statement of the questions to be discussed in the proposed conference. It is not the High Swiss Federal Council’s purpose to circumscribe by this statement the field of the conference’s deliberations, or to restrict the right of each delegate to lay before the conference any motion that he may deem expedient to formulate. Its only wish has been to epitomize the points which, in its judgment, will chiefly command the attention of the conference.

Your excellency will also receive a few copies of a note addressed to the Swiss High Federal Council on July 22, 1901, by the legation of Great Britain at Berne, and which contains propositions connected with the revision of the Geneva Convention.

The Swiss High Federal Council cherishes the hope that your Government will favorably receive its proposition and be so good as to communicate, in good time, the names of its delegates.

Be pleased to accept, etc.,

F. du Martheray.

[Inclosure 1.]

[Same as set of questions inclosed with Swiss minister’s note of March 22, 1906.]a

[Inclosure 2.]

Monsieur le President: I have the honor to state to your excellency, by direction of the Marquess of Lansdowne, that the interpretation of the Geneva Convention of 1864 and its application to voluntary aid societies for the succor of the sick and wounded are questions which have been engaging the consideration of the British military authorities.

In the above connection, I am instructed to draw your attention to the fact that the Red Cross flag and armlet prescribed by Article VII of the convention are, in most countries, not protected by legislation, and that their employment is open to serious abuse.

Having regard to this abuse, the British military authorities are of opinion that authority to use the Red Cross flag or badge should be granted only by specified naval and military departments; that unauthorized use should be subjected to heavy penalties; and that improper, fraudulent, or dishonorable employment of the flag or badge by authorized persons should be subject to severe punishment.

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Up to the present time frequent instances of misuse have fallen under the notice of the British military authorities, but, so far at any rate as Great Britain is concerned, no means of repressing them at present exists.

The Geneva flag has been used as a trade-mark on provisions, as an advertisement by. tradesmen, by voluntary societies having no connection with the Red Cross, by the organizers of dishonorable stratagems, by spies, by marauders, and by irresponsible individuals.

Under these circumstances, the British authorities have formulated certain proposals to regulate the treatment of voluntary aid societies, pending a revision of the Geneva Red Cross Convention of 1864.

They consider that in order to merit recognition a neutral aid society should comply with the following conditions, viz:

The society shall have received the formal sanction and recognition of the government of the state of which it belongs before the outbreak of hostilities.
Notification of the nature of the “material” and the names of the “personnel” proposed to be furnished shall be communicated by the neutral state to both belligerents, and application made and consent obtained for their employment.
The “personnel” shall collectively and individually give an undertaking to obey the regulations and orders of the army to which they are attached, or into the power of which they may happen to fall; and to conform to the laws and customs of war and the obligations of neutrals.

Upon these conditions being complied with and accepted by the neutral and both belligerents, the military authorities would be prepared to undertake that, as a matter of grace and in so far as the necessities of war permit, the “material” and “personnel” of the aid societies of neutral states shall receive the same treatment as the ambulances and hospitals of belligerents are entitled to under the Geneva Convention of 1864.

Violations of these conditions to be punished by the military authorities, and to entail, if considered requisite, the complete withdrawal of the neutral ambulance.

It is conceived that the imposition of these terms would constitute an adequate check upon the abuses referred to in the earlier portion of this communication, conferring suitable privileges and immunities upon the humane and charitable persons who devote themselves in good faith to the succor of the sick and wounded.

In bringing the foregoing proposals informally to the knowledge of the Swiss Government, I have the honor to request your excellency to be good enough to invite the observations thereon of the powers signatories to the convention of 1864.

I avail, etc.,

Conyngham Greene.
  1. Infra.