The Swiss Minister to the Secretary of State.


Mr. Secretary of State: On two previous occasions the Swiss Federal Council had invited the Governments to be represented at a [Page 1539] conference that was to meet at Geneva for the purpose of revising the convention of August 22, 1864, for the amelioration of the condition of soldiers wounded in armies in the field, but unforseen circumstances have prevented the meeting.

Nothing now seeming to stand in the way of the realization of the recommendation of The Hague Conference, the Federal Council has decided to call the conference under consideration for June 11 next at Geneva.

While confirming to your excellency the oral communications that I had been instructed, by the political department of the Swiss Confederation, to make on the subject, I have the honor to advise you that I have just received from the Federal Council an order to transmit to the Government of the United States of America an invitation to participate in the labors of that conference and to ask that it will kindly communicate to the Federal Council its decision, as well as the names of its delegates, not later than the end of the month of April next.

I append hereto a few copies of the programme of the conference, and gladly embrace this opportunity to renew to your excellency the assurance of my highest consideration.

L. Vogel.

Programme of the Conference.

1. The Geneva Convention lays clown the principle that wounded or sick soldiers shall be received and attended to, whatever their nationality (article 6, 1st section). Is it advisable to add that soldiers, when disabled, shall be protected against ill treatment and plunder?

Should it be further stipulated:

That no burial or cremation of the dead shall take place without a previous careful examimation of the bodies?
That every soldier shall carry on his person a mark by which he can be identified?
That the list of the dead, sick, and wounded taken in charge by the enemy shall be delivered by the latter as soon as possible to the authorities of their country or army?

2. Lay down the principle that the sick and wounded remain subject to the general laws of war, and that when they fall into the hands of the enemy they will be considered as prisoners of war. Rescind the provisions relative to the return of the sick and wounded (art. 6, sees. 2, 3, and 4).

3. Would it not be well to enumerate more fully the sanitary personnel protected by the convention (art. 2)? Is it desirable to mention the personnel of voluntary relief societies and to determine the conditions on which such personnel will be neutralized?

4. Under article 2 of the convention the sanitary and religious personnel participates in the benefit of neutrality only while on duty and as long as there remain wounded men to raise and to succor. Should it not be declared inviolable under all circumstances?

5. Stipulate that the sanitary personnel shall continue to discharge its duties, even after occupation by the enemy, under the orders of the latter’s military authorities. As soon as its services shall no longer be required by the sick and wounded, the military authority shall, on its request, send it back and, if it be possible without detriment to military operations, furnish it with an escort to the outposts of its army over the shortest route. On so retiring, the said personnel shall carry away articles and surgical instruments of its private property.

6. Stipulate that the belligerents shall guarantee to the sanitary personnel that may fall into their hands full enjoyment of their whole salaries. (See art. 7 [Page 1540] of the Hague convention for the adaptation of the principles of the Geneva convention to maritime warfare.)

7. Provide that neutrality ceases for the sanitary personnel if it commits hostile acts otherwise than in self-defense, there being, however, no prohibition of the carrying of arms.

8. Rescind the provisions relative to inhabitants of the seat of war. (Art. 5.)

9. Article 1 of the convention stipulates that military ambulances and hospitals will be recognized as neutrals and protected and respected as such by the belligerents so long as any sick and wounded are therein.

Would it not be opportune to modify this provision in the sense that ambulances—that is to say, according to the interpretation given by the conference of 1868—the field hospitals, and other temporary establishments that follow the troops on the field of battle for the relief of the sick and wounded are to be considered as neutrals under all circumstances, and that therefore if they should fall into the hands of the enemy they should be returned to their army by him as soon as they are no longer required for the care of the sick and wounded?

The same article declares that neutrality ceases if the ambulances or hospitals are under a military guard. It might be preferable to say that the neutrality of sanitary establishments ceases if they are used by the enemy for warlike purposes, and to add that the fact of their being protected by a picket or by sentries does not deprive them of that prerogative. The picket or sentries, if captured, will be considered as prisoners of war.

10. Examine whether it would not be appropriate to insert in the new convention a clause providing that the buildings and equipments of standing government hospitals will remain subject to the laws of war, but shall not be used for other purposes as long as they may be needed for the sick and wounded soldiers therein.

11. Examine whether it would be appropriate to stipulate that the stock of recognized and authorized relief societies shall be considered under all circumstances as private property.

12. Examine the question as to whether it is fit to adhere to the red cross on a white ground as the sole distinctive badge (art. 7 of the convention) or whether it would be well to admit exceptions for non-Christian states, such as Turkey, for instance, which substituted the red crescent for the red cross.

13. Examine whether it will be advisable to stipulate that the contracting states shall be bound to take requisite legislative action for the punishment of all infringements of the convention.

14. Examine, lastly, whether it is desirable to insert in the new convention a clause binding the signatory states to see to it that the convention and the penalties incurred by the transgressors are made known to the troops and people.