Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
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Commentary of 1960 

In the 1929 Convention, the question of the fitness of prisoners of war for work was covered by Article 29 , which read as follows: "No prisoner of war may be employed on work for which he is physically unsuited." As this provision was frequently abused during the Second [p.289] World War (1), it was necessary to insert provisions relating to its application. As has already been seen, some of these provisions are contained in Article 49, paragraph 1 ; the medical supervision established by the present Article was introduced by the Conference of Government Experts (2).


This provision may be read in conjunction with Article 31 , which requires monthly medical inspections (3).
Since the Convention does not specify by whom these examinations must be made, one should refer to the other clauses relating to medical care. The examinations should therefore be made preferably by medical personnel of the Power on which the prisoners depend, in accordance with Article 30, paragraph 3 . [p.290] The fitness of prisoners of war for work naturally depends on the nature of the work, and the drafters of the Convention therefore had every reason to include this stipulation in the second sentence of the present paragraph. Any prisoner of war declared unfit for certain work can probably be assigned to less arduous duties.


This paragraph establishes the right of prisoners of war to have medical inspections. In view of the fact that labour detachments may be dispersed, however, this provision can be complied with only if the Detaining Power makes appropriate arrangements. The best solution would seem to be a daily medical inspection at a fixed time known to the prisoners, which every man in a labour detachment is free to attend. The doctors must be provided with the necessary means of transport to enable them to hold inspections.
The second sentence of this paragraph expressly recognizes the right of physicians or surgeons to recommend that prisoners whom they consider unfit for work should be exempted therefrom. This is a recommendation, and the decision must be taken by the military authorities. It is quite obvious, however, that if the authorities of the Detaining Power were to ignore such a recommendation, they would be violating the principles on which the labour of prisoners of war is based.

* (1) [(1) p.289] See ' Report of the International Committee of
the Red Cross on its activities during the Second World
War, ' Vol. I, pp. 329-332; BRETONNIèRE, op. cit., pp.

(2) [(2) p.289] See ' Report on the Work of the Conference of
Government Experts, ' p. 175. The members of Mixed Medical
Commissions who met in Geneva in September 1945 even
proposed that neutral medical commissions should undertake
such supervisory examinations, but the suggestion was not
adopted. See ibid., p. 171;

(3) [(3) p.289] Provision is also made in Recommendation No.
97, Section II, of the International Labour Organisation
for medical examinations for workers engaged on jobs which
involve special risks;