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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.
[p.196] ARTICLE 26
. -- FOOD
To provide prisoners with food is one of the principal duties of the Detaining Power under Article 15
, which concerns the maintenance of prisoners in general. It is also one of the most difficult obligations to define, since one must reconcile the varying requirements of armed forces, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the difficulties which the Detaining Power may have in regard to its own food supplies.
PARAGRAPH 1. -- DETERMINATION OF THE BASIC DAILY RATION
Article 7, paragraph 2
, of the Hague Regulations stated the principle that prisoners should be treated "on the same footing as the troops of the Government who captured them"; and this had been made more explicit by Article 11
of the 1929 Convention, which read: "The food ration of prisoners of war shall be equivalent in quantity and quality to that of the depôt troops."
This text was not entirely satisfactory. In some armies depôt troops did not exist and the comparison could therefore not be made; moreover, it seemed rather strange to give the same food to troops who might be accustomed to a very different diet. This difficulty arose in particular in the Far East, where European troops found it very difficult to accustom themselves to the diet of the local forces.
[p.197] The Conference of Government Experts considered several proposals for defining food rations for prisoners of war:
(a) According to caloric content of foodstuffs: this solution was
rejected. On the one hand it is difficult to fix values acceptable in
all latitudes; on the other, too many details would have to be
included to ensure a sufficiently varied allocation of calories.
(b) By comparison with the rations of the civilian population: this
standard was rejected, because it failed to take into account the
frugality of some populations and the fact that civilians, unlike
prisoners, can buy non-rationed commodities;
(c) periodic checking of weight of prisoners of war: since weight is one
of the best indications of health, periodic checking would reveal any
inadequacy of food rations. This standard was finally adopted (1).
The 1949 Diplomatic Conference decided to include this reference after the Netherlands representative had proposed that the question of food ration standards should be referred to the World Health Organization (2).
1. ' First sentence. -- The basic daily ration '
Since there is no longer any reference to depôt troops of the Detaining Power as an element of comparison, the food ration of prisoners of war must be determined by their actual needs. This implies that account must be taken of the special requirements of each category of human beings and the varying living conditions afforded to prisoners of war; climate, altitude and the requirements of work must all be taken into consideration when food rations are established. On the other hand, this system has the disadvantage of making any check more difficult and recourse must often be had to specialists who can assess the state of health of prisoners -- that is to say, to doctors. This is feasible pursuant to Article 31
, which calls for medical inspections at least once a month. Control of this kind must be carried out by the Detaining Power, which is responsible for applying the Convention, and it is also a responsibility of the Protecting Power as part of the general duties conferred by Article 8
[p.198] The "basic" daily food ration means the minimum required to keep prisoners of war in good health. Under Article 15
, the Detaining Power is bound to provide for the maintenance of prisoners of war, regardless of any food supplies which they may receive from outside sources. The basic ration must therefore be provided in full and in all circumstances. Wherever prisoners receive additional supplies, it will obviously be difficult to determine what their state of health would have been if they had had only the basic ration, and this is a difficulty inherent in the system finally approved. It will nevertheless be easy to check the condition of prisoners who do not receive additional supplies.
The present paragraph obviously does not prevent the Detaining power from according prisoners more favourable treatment either permanently or occasionally whenever circumstances so permit. In that case, it will no longer be merely fulfilling an obligation, but will be granting privileges over and above the requirements of the Convention as referred to in Article 89
2. ' Second sentence. -- The habitual diet of prisoners '
During the Second World War, prisoners of war were not always able to accustom themselves to the diet of the Detaining Power. The present provision, which is additional to the requirements in the first sentence, should ensure that prisoners are provided with food corresponding to their needs, their taste and their habits. Paragraph 4 of this same Article, which provides that prisoners of war may be associated with the preparation of their meals, will facilitate the application of this clause. The Detaining power must therefore ascertain the habitual diet of prisoners of war and the protecting power must check the manner in which account is taken of it.
PARAGRAPH 2. -- ADDITIONAL RATIONS FOR PRISONERS WHO WORK
Prisoners who are employed must receive food commensurate with the work done if they are to remain in good health, in accordance with paragraph 1. The sole determining factor is the degree of extra fatigue which results from such work.
For the allocation of additional rations, the type of work and not the output must be considered; in no circumstances may the Detaining power use additional rations as a means of pressure to ensure [p.199] output (3). Article 51, paragraph 1
, makes this clear by specifying that, especially as regards food, prisoners of war who work must be granted conditions not inferior to those enjoyed by nationals of the Detaining Power employed on similar work (4).
PARAGRAPH 3. -- DRINKING WATER AND TOBACCO
This provision corresponds to Article 11, paragraph 3
, of the 1929 Convention, which does not seem to have given cause for complaint during the Second World War (5). Drinking water must be "supplied" by the Detaining power, but there is no obligation to supply tobacco, which prisoners can generally procure in the canteen (Article 28
PARAGRAPH 4. -- PREPARATION OF FOOD
The requirement that prisoners of war must be associated with the preparation of their meals is a new one in the case of the ranks, although Article 22, paragraph 2
, of the 1929 Convention contained a similar provision applicable to officers (6).
This refers to the choice of ingredients as well as to the preparation of food (7).
The corresponding provision for officers (Article 44, paragraph 3
) is broader and permits them to supervise the mess, i.e. to organize the purchase of food and its preparation, subject of course to the regulations laid down by the Detaining Power.
The second sentence of this paragraph was already included in the 1929 Convention (Article 11, paragraph 2
). It is very important for prisoners, and implies that they may light a fire inside or near each hut and may have sufficient utensils and water (8).
[p.200] PARAGRAPH 5. -- PREMISES
"Adequate premises" implies premises which protect prisoners of war from the sun and the elements and enable them to take their meals in conditions to which they are accustomed. Such premises must, moreover, meet the requirements of Article 25, paragraph 3
PARAGRAPH 6. -- DISCIPLINARY MEASURES
This provision was contained in Article 11, paragraph 4
, of the 1929 Convention. It is very important and should be taken in conjunction with the provisions relating to disciplinary sanctions, of which it is only one aspect (9). No sanction may be imposed which would deprive prisoners of war of the minimum required for their good health and this interpretation is confirmed by the last paragraph of Article 89
, which prohibits any disciplinary punishments "dangerous to the health of prisoners of war".
* (1) [(1) p.197] See ' Report on the Work of the Conference of
Government Experts ', p. 139;
(2) [(2) p.197] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949 ', Vol. II-A, p. 257;
(3) [(1) p.199] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949 ', Vol. II-A, p. 257;
(4) [(2) p.199] During the Second World War, prisoners often
did not receive the extra rations granted to civilians
engaged in similar work. See ' Report of the International
Committee of the Red Cross on its activities during the
Second World War ', vol. I, pp. 335-337;
(5) [(3) p.199] See BRETONNI RE: op. cit., p. 105;
(6) [(4) p.199] See William FLORY: ' Prisoners of War, A Study
in the Development of International Law ', Washington
1942, pp. 67-68;
(7) [(5) p.199] If prisoners of war work in camp kitchens,
food will not be rejected as being unsuited to their
taste, as sometimes happened during the Second World War.
See ' Report of the International Committee of the Red
Cross on its activities during the Second World War ',
vol. I, p. 257;
(8) [(6) p.199] It appears that this provision was not always
respected during the last war (see BRETONNI RE: op. cit.,
p. 105), hence the need for the new text;
(9) [(1) p.200] See BRETONNI RE: op. cit., p. 105;