20 JAG J. 41 (1965-1966)
Status of Medical and Religious Personnel in International Law

handle is hein.journals/naval20 and id is 43 raw text is: STATUS OF MEDICAL AND RELIGIOUS
The increased tempo of military activity in Vietnam has heightened
concern for the status of medical and religious personnel in a com-
bat area. What restrictions are imposed upon such personnel? What
is the source of such restrictions? To what protection and immunity
are they entitled? What action will cause a loss of the protection?
What is the effect of bearing arms? Dr. Watson develops the his-
torical bases for preferential treatment culminating in the Geneva
Conventions of 1949 and discusses their applicability in both war-
time and peacetime contexts.

again focused attention on that body of interna-
tional law commonly called the Law of War, and
particularly on its protective aspects. Since
World War II four treaties which contain the
most extensive protective obligations ever as-
sumed by nations have come into force. These
are the four Geneva Conventions of 1949.
Although these Conventions were not in force
during the Korean conflict, the parties to the
conflict declared that they accepted the humani-
tarian principles of the Conventions and that
they would abide by them. That this pledge
was not carried out by the communist side is now
history. In the meantime these Conventions
have come into force for 107 nations.,
Of these four Conventions probably the most
important for members of the armed forces is
the third one, governing the treatment of
prisoners of war. The first two cover the pro-
tection of the wounded and sick members of the
armed forces and the rights and duties of the
personnel entrusted with their care, namely, the
members of the Medical and Chaplain Corps.
That the status of the latter, although ad-
mittedly a small aspect of this vast body of law,
*Doetor Watson is a civilian attorney attached to the International
Law Division of the Office of the Judge Advocate General of the
Navy. She received her S.J.D. from the University of Bonn. Ger-
many, her M.Comp.L. from The George Washington University, and
is a member of the Bar of the District of Columbia.
L The Conventions came into force for the U.S. on February 2.
1956. Among the 107 parties to the Conventions, however, several
of our friendly allies are missing. Among our NATO allies,
Iceland is not a party. Of our OAS friends. Bolivia, Costa Rica.
Bonduras and Uruguay are not parties. Nationalist China did
not ratify these Conventions. but Communist China did; South
Korea is not a party, but North Korea is. Both North and South
Vietnam are parties. Those not bound by thew Conventions are
for the most part bound by previous Conventions (1906 and 1929)
which will be discussed later in the article.


is and has been a matter of concern is evidenced
by the number of questions regularly addressed
to the Judge Advocate General. The questions
run somewhat like this: May medical personnel,
and in particular hospital corpsmen, be assigned
to stand watch? May they serve as prisoner
escorts or guards? May they serve on coding
or decoding boards? May hospital corpsmen
bear arms? May they be ordered to bear arms
against their will?
All these questions have two aspects. The
first is purely internal administration relating to
the right of a commanding officer to detail his
personnel so as to best utilize their services, and
the duty of the personnel to obey orders. The
second aspect is that of international law.
It is undisputed that a commanding officer
has the right and the duty to detail personnel
under his command to whatever duties his mis-
sion requires. It is equally indisputable that
restrictions on the type of duties to which per-
sonnel may be assigned create administrative
difficulties and at times may appear unrealistic.
This article is intended to review briefly the
restrictions imposed on medical and religious
personnel; the source of these restrictions; and
the consequences of disregarding or violating
As long as there have been men and countries,
there have been wars. And as long as there have
been wars, there have been wounded and sick to
care for and to comfort spiritually. Civilized
nations have long recognized the need for the
protection of the wounded and sick as well as the
need for special protection of those trained for
and engaged in their care. Their special status
is laid down in international agreements. The
41                           SEP-OCT-NOV 1965

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