Instructions to the United States delegates to the Second Geneva Conference .
Washington , May 16, 1906 .
Gentlemen: The President has chosen and appointed you to represent him, in the capacity of plenipotentiaries, at an international conference, which has been called, upon the invitation of the Swiss Federal Council, to meet at Geneva on the 11th of June next, for the purpose of revising the international convention of August 22, 1864, for the amelioration of the condition of soldiers wounded in armies in the field.
The United States was not party to the negotiations conducted in the Geneva Conference in 1864, which framed the convention now about to be revised. It was, however, duly invited to accede thereto in accordance with the terms of its ninth article. The President’s act declaratory of accession, having been advised and consented to by the Senate on March 16, 1882, was, upon communication to the Swiss Federal Council, accepted by the Swiss Confederation, and the convention was proclaimed by the President and notified to all the signatory and adhering powers on July 26, 1882.
Originally concluded between a limited number of European states—the signatories being Switzerland, Baden, Belgium, Denmark, France, Hesse, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Prussia, Spain, and Wurttemberg—it has been extended by subsequent adhesions to embrace the remaining countries of Europe, with Salvador, Bolivia, Chile, Argentine Republic, Peru, Venezuela, Uruguay, Guatemala, as well as the United States, in the Western Hemisphere, and Persia, Japan, and Korea in the Orient.
Since 1866 the operation of the convention has stood the test of frequent wars, and it has proved to be a beneficial and effective measure toward the realization of the large humanitarian purposes that inspired it. Very early in its life efforts were made to enlarge its scope, as in the Geneva Conference of 1868, which formulated additional articles aiming to extend to armed forces on the sea the advantages of the convention of 1864. This latter project did not reach the stage of exchanged ratifications, but its provisions have been adopted in part by many states in actual warfare. In the war of 1898 between the United States and Spain, Articles VI and XV were adopted as a modus vivendi by the two belligerents.
This circumstance having drawn general attention to the subject, the problem of regulating and extending the provisions of the Geneva agreements to include the conditions developed in modern war by land and sea naturally’ came up before the Peace Conference of The Hague, held in 1899. The result was the signature of two conventions, one specifically “for the adaptation to maritime warfare of the principles of the Geneva Convention of August 22, 1864,” while the other, “With respect to the laws and customs of war on land,” necessarily touch upon many features of the Geneva Convention.
The circumstance that the subject-matter of the discussions of the Peace Conference of 1899 was in many respects closely allied to the provisions of the Geneva conventions led the Conference of The [Page 1542] Hague, in its final act, to adopt by unanimity a declaration as follows:
1. The conference, taking into consideration the preliminary steps taken by the Swiss Federal Government for the revision of the Geneva Convention, expresses the wish that steps may shortly be taken for the assembly of a special conference having for its object the revision of that convention.
The conference to which you are now sent is the outcome of that declaration.
In summoning this conference, the Swiss Federal Council has prepared a memorandum of “Questions to be examined by the international conference to be held with a view to a revision of the Geneva Convention of August 22, 1864.” A copy of that memorandum is annexed for your information.
It is to be observed that the questions so propounded appear for the most part to relate to details and formalities which have been put to practical test in many wars since 1864. The amendments proposed aim to meet the needs of actual experience. When it is remembered that the conditions of modern war, especially upon the seas, change from year to year and tend to make obsolete the procedure followed when the Geneva Convention was framed, it is a remarkable tribute to the sagacity of its framers that it has so well stood the test of time.
It should not, however, be inferred that the convention needs only amendment in particular details. A lesson may be learned from the history of the Peace Conference of The Hague in 1899. The proposition before that body was the same as that before the Geneva Conference of 1868, namely, the extension of the principles of the convention of 1864 to include maritime war. That subject had been carefully dealt with in the Genevan project of 1868, with results that happily stood the severe test of adoption by mutual consent in actual warfare; yet in 1899 The Hague Conference found it necessary to draw up a new convention—not a mere amendment of the old design—and to incorporate a number of new features.
The work now contemplated is of far-reaching importance, and it is a matter of moment that it should possess the elements of durability, so far as the changing conditions of modern war permit its requirements to be forecast. Harmonious codification is needed to give effect to the larger principles of humanitarianism. These principles should be applied on similar, or at least so far as permissible analogous, lines on sea as on land, so that the high purpose of limiting the loss of life and alleviating suffering may be realized and the responsibility for its alleviation fixed as well upon the belligerent as upon the neutral within whose jurisdiction the wounded in war may come through stress of pursuit or otherwise.
The program of topics suggested by Russia for discussion at The Hague Conference of 1899 comprised:
- Adaptation to naval war of the stipulations of the Geneva Convention of 1864, on the basis of the additional articles of 1868.
- Neutralization, for the same reason, of boats or launches employed in the rescue of the shipwrecked during or after naval battles.
- Revision of the declaration concerning the laws and customs of war elaborated in 1874 by the Conference of Brussels and not yet ratified.
In the instructions to the American delegates to The Hague Conference, Mr. Hay thus commented on these points:
The fifth, sixth, and seventh articles, aiming in the interest of humanity to succor those who by the chance of battle have been rendered helpless, thus losing [Page 1543] the character of effective combatants, or to alleviate their sufferings, or to insure the safety of those whose mission is purely one of peace and beneficence, may well awake the cordial interest of the delegates, and any practicable propositions based upon them should receive their earnest support.
The Hague Conference of 1899 went far toward realizing the purposes of its promoters. Its work was great, and perhaps greatest in this, that the principles of just humanity which the Geneva Convention sought to enforce within a limited field were applied at The Hague to the whole practice of land and naval war. The Hague Conference applied the principles of Geneva to war in general, and thus to some extent revised the Geneva Convention and the additional articles of 1868. It now is the turn of the Second Geneva Conference to revise and broaden the work of the First Hague Conference, and in doing so it is not to be forgotten that the approaching Second Peace Conference of The Hague, to follow close upon the Second Geneva Conference, will in turn be called upon to adopt and broaden, and perhaps revise, the work in which you share. The task before you at Geneva is in a measure preparatory for the larger task to come, and needs all possible care and prevision to make your results fit harmoniously with those yet to be achieved.
In view of the foregoing, and notwithstanding the action which was taken by The Hague Conference of 1899 in amending and incorporating into a new convention the rules framed by the Geneva Conference of 1868 to extend the principles of the Geneva Convention of 1864 to the sick and wounded in maritime warfare, it may not be inappropriate that this subject be considered at the approaching conference. Although the subject is not mentioned among the questions submitted to the powers by the Government of the Swiss Confederation, the changes which have been brought about in maritime warfare since 1899 have been so numerous and important as to warrant the reconsideration of the requirements of the Geneva Convention of 1868 and the rules of The Hague Conference of 1899 in reference to the neutralization of the sick and wounded in maritime war. If an occasion presents itself to bring the subject to the attention of the conference, it is believed that it would be wise to take advantage of it, to the end that the delegates who are subsequently to attend the conference at The Hague, as military and naval advisers, may receive such benefit as may ensue upon the discussion of that question at the approaching Geneva Conference.
As the matters to be discussed by the Second Geneva Conference have solely to do with the humane treatment of the sick and wounded in time of war, a cause which appeals powerfully to well-intentioned persons without regard to nationality, and as the success of the conference will largely depend upon the support which it receives from intelligent public opinion throughout the civilized world, it would seem that there would be great propriety in causing the fullest reports of its deliberations to be kept from day to day, in order that they may be communicated to the governments which are parties to the undertaking with a view to their being given publicity, should that course commend itself to the signatory powers. For the same reason it is believed that copies of the reports of the deliberations of important committees should be similarly preserved and communicated.
The scope of the Geneva Conference is in many respects technical and practical. The treatment of the matters to be discussed calls for [Page 1544] experience in the field and fleet, as well as for good judgment in the elaboration of humanitarian theories. Hence it is deemed best not to hamper your discretion by detailed instructions, but to leave you free to deal with the various phases of the subject as they arise in the course of the conference. Should any matters be presented requiring that particular instructions be sent to you, you will communicate freely with the Department of State by telegraph.
I have the honor to be, gentlemen,
Your obedient servant,