[p.24] PARAGRAPH 3. -- CONFLICTS IN WHICH THE BELLIGERENTS
ARE NOT ALL PARTIES TO THE CONVENTION
1. ' Relations between belligerents party to the Convention '
This provision appears to state an elementary truth; but that was not always the case. The Hague Conventions of 1907 and the Geneva Convention of 1906 all contained a ' clausula si omnes ' (9), and that provision was in force when the First World War broke out in 1914. But despite the fact that the application of the Convention might have been suspended on the ground that one of the belligerents -- Montenegro -- was not a party to it, all the Contracting States in general honoured their signature (10).
It was essential, however, to clarify the position and to prevent any future recurrence of a situation similar to that of 1914. It should be noted that this problem of relations between opposing Powers is quite distinct from that of the relations between allied Powers fighting under a unified command. The latter case, which is also very important, is considered later in this volume, in connection with Article 12 Database 'IHL - Treaties & Comments', View '1.Traités \1.2. Par Article'.
2. ' Relations between Contracting and non-Contracting Parties '
The second sentence, added by the Diplomatic Conference of 1949, has certainly the characteristics of a compromise, for it does not come to a decision between the suspensive and resolutive conditions. At first sight it appears to incline towards the Belgian amendment. But whereas the latter only made the Convention applicable as from the time of its formal acceptance by the non-Contracting Power, the sentence adopted by the Diplomatic Conference drops all reference to an invitation to be made to the non-Contracting Power, and substitutes for the words "as from the latter Power's acceptance" the words "if the latter accepts and applies the provisions thereof".
What, then, is the position in the interval between the launching of hostilities and the non-contracting belligerent's acceptance?
[p.25] The First Report by the Special Committee of the joint Committee, to which reference has already been made, states: "according to the spirit of the four Conventions, the Contracting States shall apply them, in so far as possible, as being the codification of rules which are generally recognized" (11). This passage shows how this not very clear provision should be interpreted.
The spirit and character of the Conventions lead perforce to the conclusion that the Contracting Power must at least apply their provisions from the moment hostilities break out until such time as the adverse Party has had the time and an opportunity to state his intentions. That may not be a strictly legal interpretation; it does not altogether follow from the text itself; but it is in our opinion the only reasonable solution. It follows from the spirit of the Conventions, and is in accordance with their character. It is also in accordance with the moral interest of the Contracting Power, inasmuch as it invites the latter to honour a signature given before the world. It is finally to its advantage from a more practical point of view, because the fact of its beginning itself to apply the Convention will encourage the non-Contracting Party to declare its acceptance, whereas any postponement of the application of the Convention by the Contracting Party would give the non-Contracting Party a pretext for nonacceptance.
There are two conditions to be fulfilled under this part of the paragraph -- (a) acceptance and (b) de facto application of the Convention. What happens if the non-Contracting Party makes no declaration, but in actual fact applies the Convention? Before answering this question, it must be seen what is meant by "accepting" the provisions of the Convention (11).
Is a formal and explicit declaration by a non-Contracting State indispensable? The Rapporteur of the Special Committee seems to say that it is. "A declaration" he wrote "was necessary, contrary to the Canadian amendment, according to which an attitude on the part of the non-Contracting State in conformity with the Convention would have sufficed to make it applicable". He added, it is true, that it was not possible to lay down any uniform procedure in the matter, and that "the Convention would be applicable as soon as the declaration was made. It would cease to be applicable as soon as the declaration was clearly disavowed by the attitude of the non-contracting belligerent" (12).
[p.26] Does it follow from this that, if the second condition -- namely the application of the Convention de facto -- is alone fulfilled, the Contracting Party is released from its obligations?
Closely as that may seem to follow from the letter of the text, it does not appear possible to maintain such an interpretation. It would make the application of the Convention dependent on a suspensive condition even more rigid than that of the Belgian proposal, which was itself regarded as being too strict. It would bring about a paradoxical -- not to say, a monstrous -- situation. It would entitle a Power to disregard rules solemnly proclaimed by itself, while its adversary, though not legally bound to those rules, was scrupulously applying them; and all this only because of the omission of the latter to make a declaration, or because of delay in the transmission of such a declaration.
' Summum jus summa injuria. ' The saying may often be true; but it should never be cited in reference to a humanitarian Convention. The Third Convention, like its three sister Conventions, rightly condemns reprisals against persons in the most categorical terms. But would it not be worse than any reprisals to ill-treat prisoners even before one's adversary had done so, merely because it was inferred from his silence that he was intending to do so?
The two conditions laid down for the non-Contracting Power are that it should ' accept ' and ' apply ' the provisions of the Convention. In the absence of any further indication, there is no reason to assume that "acceptance" necessarily implies an explicit declaration. It can equally well be tacit. It may be implicit in de facto application. These considerations do not in any way minimize the importance of an explicit declaration by the non-Contracting Power. It is, on the contrary, most desirable that the latter should make such a declaration, and with the least possible delay. The International Committee of the Red Cross for its part, when offering its services at the beginning of a conflict, never fails to ask Parties to the conflict which are not legally bound by the Convention to declare their intention of applying it or of observing at least its principles, as the case may be.