Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
Treaties and Documents
Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Additional Protocols, and their Commentaries
Historical Treaties and Documents
Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.
. -- PLACES AND CONDITIONS OF INTERNMENT
PARAGRAPH 1. -- PLACES OF INTERNMENT
The term "premises" refers to the accommodation for housing prisoners of war.
The place of internment of prisoners of war may be either in an urban area or in the country, but it must be located on land. The use of boats, rafts or "pontoons" is therefore absolutely forbidden.
As for the nature of the dwellings the very general word "premises" permits the use of tents (1), provided they fulfil the conditions relating to quarters (Article 25
). Internment of prisoners of war in [p.183] penitentiaries is in principle prohibited because of the painful psychological impressions which such places might create for prisoners of war.
PARAGRAPH 2. -- CLIMATE
During the Second World War, the transfer of prisoners of war for detention in the colonies or in districts with a climate other than that to which they were accustomed did not arouse the same difficulties between belligerents as had been the case during the First World War. The principle stated in Article 9, paragraph 2
, of the 1929 Convention, which is reproduced in almost identical terms in the present provision, was generally recognized by the Detaining Powers and, on the whole, these Powers responded to the representations made by the International Committee of the Red Cross on several occasions in order to obtain the transfer of prisoners to places with a more favourable climate.
The present provision refers to the case of prisoners who are in a place where the climate is unfavourable to them, whether because of altitude, cold, heat, dryness or humidity. The phrase "where the climate is injurious for them" also applies to prisoners with a weak constitution or a predisposition to a certain disease, e.g. tuberculosis; the Detaining Power must remove such prisoners of war to a place which is more favourable for them, even if the camp in question is perfectly acceptable for prisoners in good health.
As a minimum requirement,the conditions of hygiene and healthfulness to be afforded by places of internment of prisoners of war should be at least equal to those required by the public authorities for the civilian population.
PARAGRAPH 3. -- ASSEMBLING OF PRISONERS OF WAR
1. ' The principle '
The First World War was the first occasion on which soldiers of every race and nationality fought on the same battlefields, and the very varied composition of armed forces sometimes raised difficult problems for the Detaining powers. It was difficult to expect men to live side by side solely because they had belonged to the same armed forces when not only their culture and civilization were very different, but also they had customs and habits which differed very much, for instance in matters of hygiene. The Detaining powers therefore [p.184] avoided bringing together in the same camp prisoners of different races or nationalities and the 1929 Convention, in Article 9, paragraph 3
, recognized this principle which was thus introduced into humanitarian law.
The criterion of nationality was included on a proposal by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Conference of Government Experts recommended the addition of a reference to language and customs. On the other hand, the question of race, which was mentioned in the 1929 text, was omitted, mainly because of the derogatory implication which this term has acquired as a result of certain persecutions.
A. ' Nationality '. -- This factor is the most important and must be given first consideration. It must be respected even if the State to which the prisoner claims allegiance has ceased to exist in the course of the conflict. In the case of dual nationality, the nationality of the country to whose armed forces the prisoner belongs must be determining. Stateless prisoners of war should be interned with prisoners of war belonging to the same armed forces, in accordance with the second part of this paragraph. This same procedure should also be followed in any case of doubt as to nationality. It must be pointed out, however, that when questioned, a prisoner of war is not required to declare his nationality (Article 17, paragraph 1
). If he makes no statement, the prisoner's nationality will therefore be taken as being that of the armed forces to which he belongs.
B. ' Language '. -- As we shall see in connection with Article 41
, a distinction must be made between the mother tongue of a prisoner, his official language (i.e. the language in which official records and legislation are drawn up in his country of origin) and any other language which he is able to speak or understand.
The purpose of the present provision is obviously to enable prisoners of war to converse among themselves and also, by the use of a single language, to facilitate the administration of the camps or sections of camps in which prisoners are assembled. The determination will therefore be made on the basis of the language which prisoners of war are able to speak or understand without difficulty, whether or not it is their official language. This provision will also apply even within a group of prisoners of the same nationality, since the population of many countries is made up of different language groups (i.e., Canada, Belgium, Switzerland etc.).
[p.185] C. ' Customs '. -- It is essential for the good administration of prisoner-of-war camps that there should be some consistency of customs among the internees, particularly with regard to food, quarters, clothing and hygiene, and the insertion of this reference was fully justified. During the Second World War it sometimes happened that is response to a request by the International Committee of the Red Cross, prisoners of war were transferred to districts where the climate was warmer than in their first place of internment (2).
2. ' Reservation '
During the discussions at the Conference of Government Experts in 1947, and later at the 1949 Diplomatic Conference, it was pointed out that the clause relating to the assembling of prisoners of war by categories had sometimes been used for political purposes during the Second World War, for example in order to dissociate the various members of a coalition (3). This result was clearly contrary to the spirit of the Convention and an amendment presented by the United Kingdom Delegation was therefore approved which would permit prisoners in different categories but belonging to the same armed forces to be interned together, if they so preferred. This is an exception to the general rule. It is justified because it can prevent the application of the general rule for purposes which are other than humanitarian.
On the other hand, ideological disputes may arise between prisoners of a given nationality, without being the result of any propaganda action by the Detaining power.
If it would clearly be in the interest of the prisoners of war to separate the hostile groups, there is no doubt that the camp commander would be able to take the necessary decisions in order to maintain order and avoid any discussions or disputes between prisoners of war which might go so far as to endanger their lives.
It is obvious, however, that this reservation may be very difficult for the camp commander to interpret. In fact, the matter is such a delicate one that the clause was approved only by a small majority at the Diplomatic Conference.
[p.186] One can, however, be sure of acting in accordance with the spirit of the Convention if one is guided in all circumstances solely by consideration of the moral and material well-being of the prisoners themselves.
* (1) [(1) p.182] See ' Report on the Work of the Conference of
Government Experts, ' p. 129;
(2) [(1) p.185] The Convention makes several references to the
customs of prisoners, in particular in regard to quarters
(Article 25, para. 1), food (Article 26, para. 1), the
compulsory weekly day of rest (Article 53, para. 2) and
the election of prisoners' representatives (Article 79,
(3) [(2) p.185] See ' Report on the Work of the Conference of
Government Experts ', pp. 131-132. See also ' Final Record
of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of 1949 ', Vol.
II-A, p. 347;