Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
  • Print page
Commentary of 1960 


Because of the great volume of collective relief sent during the Second World War, a series of regulations grew up outside the 1929 Convention proper and it was necessary to embody them in the new Convention.
It was therefore decided to set forth the relevant principles in Regulations annexed to the Convention; the Regulations are by way of example and may be adapted to circumstances.


The distribution of collective relief must be so organized as to provide all possible guarantees to the donors. The present provision contains only the essential principles of such arrangements, and the [p.360] technical clauses are to be found in the annexed Regulations (Annex III). On the other hand, the present Article expressly states that the Powers concerned, that is to say the Detaining Power and the Power sending relief supplies, may agree on other regulations. In the absence of any agreement, which will probably most often be the case, the provisions of the annexed Regulations must be applied, at the same time and in the same way as the provisions of the Convention proper.
Moreover, the annexed Regulations go beyond the question of receipt and distribution of relief supplies. As will be seen later, Articles 8 and 9 of the Regulations contain very important rules.
There is, however, one important matter which is not referred to in the Regulations but on which a few words should be said -- that of receipts.
Under the 1929 Convention, parcels were to be delivered to the recipients against a receipt, and the receipt seemed to be an essential condition for delivery. There is no such reference in the new Convention. The reason for this change is that the receipt required by Article 37 of the 1929 Convention referred only to postal parcels, while the new Convention states that relief supplies may be sent "by post or by any other means". The Detaining Power is nevertheless under an obligation, as in the case of prisoner-of-war mail, to see to it that relief supplies are delivered to the appropriate person, that is to say to the prisoners' representative in the case of collective shipments, and to each prisoner concerned in the case of individual parcels; this obligation does not depend on the issue of a receipt. It is conceivable, however, that the Detaining Power may for practical reasons ask the recipients for a written receipt, as is usually done by the postal services in certain countries.
In actual fact, the question of receipts is mainly of interest to the donors and is part of the general problem of checking that shipments duly arrive at their destination. This is probably why it is referred to in the last paragraph of the Article relating directly to relief societies (Article 125 ). Lastly, apart from receipts, the donors and the Powers whose citizens they are can obtain additional guarantees either through the Protecting Powers or through the International Committee of the Red Cross.


In view of the value and volume of collective shipments, certain precautions must be taken in connection with their receipt and [p.361] distribution. The experience of the Second World War confirmed that the best method was to make the prisoners' representative responsible for these operations. Because of his nationality and his position, he is best able to carry out this work in the interest of all concerned. He is therefore authorized to take possession of collective relief shipments, to proceed to their distribution, or to dispose of them in the interest of the prisoners. These prerogatives are covered in a more detailed way by the annexed Regulations, to which reference will be made later (1).
This right in no way implies, however, that the prisoners, representative acquires personally any right of ownership over the relief. The relief supplies remain the community property of the prisoners of war for whom they are intended and, where divisible (food, clothing (2)), they become the property of the prisoners of war themselves after distribution. The prisoners' representative is merely responsible for administering the supplies in the interest of the prisoners of war.


However fair-minded prisoners' representatives have generally proved to be, it is not inconceivable that because of personal weakness or under pressure from the Detaining Power, one or other of them might act in a manner contrary to the intentions of the donors and the interests of his fellow-prisoners. It was therefore considered necessary to provide for supervision by the Protecting Power (3), the International Committee of the Red Cross, or any other organization giving assistance to prisoners of war (4).
The Convention does not specify the form or scope of such supervision. In most instances, the officials responsible for it will be able to fulfil their duty by obtaining the necessary information from the prisoners' representatives and the detaining authorities. Within [p.362] the limits of Article 125 , they may also be present when collective relief supplies are distributed, and may consult the prisoners in order to verify that the distribution is fair.
The method referred to for distributing collective relief applies mainly to the case of prisoners of war who are attached to an established camp, with a prisoners' representative, and receive periodic visits from the Protecting Power or the International Committee of the Red Cross. It was necessary, however, to ensure that a Detaining Power would not withhold collective relief from prisoners of war who were not so placed, and in particular during evacuation from the place of capture to an internment camp; it was also necessary to enable the organizations responsible for the forwarding of shipments to distribute supplies, if need be, without the participation of prisoners' representative (5).

* (1) [(1) p.361] See below, p. 664 ff.;

(2) [(2) p.361] Blankets may still be considered as community
property, even after distribution to individual prisoners
of war;

(3) [(3) p.361] Powers which set up a blockade have in the
past usually considered such supervision as a sine qua non
for lifting the blockade to allow the passage of relief
supplies for prisoners of war;

(4) [(4) p.361] With regard to the term "any other
organization giving assistance to prisoners of war",
reference should be made to Articles 9 and 125 of the

(5) [(1) p.362] As an example, one may recall the distribution
of collective relief supplies at the end of the war to
prisoners of war who were travelling on foot; supplies
were distributed to long convoys of prisoners of war on
the road, individually and directly;