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.
. -- PRISONERS WHO ARE MINISTERS OF RELIGION
Under this Article, the Detaining Power must allow ministers of religion who are not chaplains and who are, consequently, prisoners of war to exercise their ministry, and must grant them the same treatment as retained chaplains to the extent necessary for this purpose. It therefore applies to ministers of religion who were members of combatant units at the time of their capture (1).
Such authorization will be granted "whatever their denomination". This very broad wording confirms the principle of religious freedom set forth in Article 34
. Assimilation is, however, not automatic; it is subject to consent by the Detaining power. This reservation stems from the fact that the Detaining power is only obliged to grant the permission to the extent that it is necessary. The case might well arise of a minister belonging to a religious faith which is not that of the prisoners of war concerned. In that event, there is no obligation to grant either permission to minister or the privileged treatment mentioned in the second sentence, for it is stated expressly that such treatment shall be accorded in order to permit the full exercise of the [p.234] ministry. The same applies to the exemption from work specified in the last sentence, despite its categorical wording. The whole Article in fact depends on its prime purpose, which is to enable ministers of religion to carry out their duties among prisoners of war of the same
faith. The view was expressed, however, at the 1949 Diplomatic Conference that, although the Detaining Power may not compel ministers of religion to undertake any work except their religious duties, they are nevertheless free to take part in the work done by other prisoners, if they prefer not to appear specially favoured (2).
The general authorization to which the present Article refers may be granted for a limited period and renewed regularly, if need be. Throughout its validity, a prisoner of war who is a minister of religion will not only be exempted from work, but will also enjoy all the privileges granted to retained chaplains. Articles 33
will be fully applicable to him.
* (1) [(1) p.233] The text of the first sentence of this Article
is almost identical to that of Article 16, paragraph 2, of
the 1929 Convention (see below, p. 701);
(2) [(1) p.234] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949 ', Vol. II-A, p. 332;