Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
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Commentary of 1960 


1. ' First sentence. -- Time required '

Here the text of the new Convention is similar to the first sentence of the corresponding provision in the 1929 Convention (Article 40 ). The Detaining Power must therefore see to it that censoring is done as quickly as possible.
The period of time required will depend in the first place on the quantity of correspondence to be censored and secondly on the number of censors available to the Detaining Power. Problems may arise in the case of languages which are little known in the country of detention and for which it will sometimes be difficult to find sufficient translators. If need be, the Protecting Power may be asked to appoint extra censors (1).
Some authors have considered that delays caused by censorship should not exceed two weeks (2), but the drafters of the Convention gave no ruling on the matter. In the event that the Protecting Power is unable to appoint extra censors, it must determine whether there [p.376] is need for a reduction in the volume of correspondence sent by prisoners of war.
With regard to correspondence received by prisoners of war, reference should be made to the commentary on Article 71 . The present provision requires the Detaining Power to reduce delays caused by censorship, and this obligation necessarily implies that the volume of correspondence must not be excessive. As has already been pointed out, in such a case any restrictions must be initiated by the Power of origin, but a suggestion to that effect might be made by the Detaining Power (Article 71, paragraph 1, fourth sentence ).

2. ' Second sentence. -- Multiple censorship '

The second sentence of the present paragraph was inserted at the request of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which had received innumerable complaints during the Second World War concerning delays caused, in particular, by multiple censorship in a single country and examination in countries of transit (3). The purpose of the present provision is to eliminate such sources of delay. Article 71, paragraph 4 , which states that sacks containing prisoner-of-war mail must be securely sealed and labelled, confirms the rule that no censorship should be done in countries of transit.


Paragraph 1 above relates only to correspondence of prisoners of war; the present paragraph is much broader in scope. The word "consignments" covers anything addressed to prisoners of war, whether foodstuffs, clothing, sporting goods, games, books or correspondence. It was therefore possible to delete the provision contained in Article 39, paragraph 1 , of the 1929 Convention, which referred especially to the censorship of books addressed to prisoners of war.
With regard to foodstuffs, one may mention that sometimes examination has been done in such a way that the goods became completely unusable (4). The present text, which corresponds to [p.377] Article 40, paragraph 2 , of the 1929 Convention, expressly forbids such practices. It should be pointed out, however, that although the examination of parcels and packages must be carried out in the presence of the addressee or of a fellow-prisoner duly delegated by him in order to preclude any possibility of theft, the same does not apply to correspondence and books (5).
As in the first paragraph, it is specified here that delivery must not be delayed under the pretext of difficulties of censorship; the conditions are usually different, however. Except in the case of books, examination requires no linguistic ability and all delay can therefore be avoided. This is particularly important in the case of parcels containing perishable goods. Furthermore, in accordance with Article 73, paragraph 2 , the prisoners' representative is responsible for distributing collective shipments. He may not be deprived of that responsibility on the grounds that the consignment has not been examined. The examination must be carried out upon receipt, either before or during warehousing, so that the prisoners' representative is free to distribute the relief supplies as and when needed by the prisoners of war.


This clause, which permits the Detaining Power to prohibit all correspondence, was already contained in Article 40, paragraph 3 , of the 1929 Convention. Although it was but seldom invoked during the Second World War (6), it was nevertheless retained in order to take account of imperative military considerations which might oblige the Detaining Power to apply it. Prohibition of correspondence is only permissible, however, if, as stated in the provision, it is an exceptional measure of short duration. It should be regarded more as the equivalent, with regard to prisoners of war, of a general measure imposed on the whole population because of military operations.
It is not possible here to indicate the "military or political reasons" which may lead the Detaining Power to take restrictive measures. This is a matter of internal security of the State but it must be emphasized that such reasons may be invoked only as an exceptional measure. On no other grounds may restrictive measures be imposed.

* (1) [(1) p.375] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, p. 288;

(2) [(2) p.375] See BRETONNI RE, op. cit., p. 244;

(3) [(1) p.376] See ' Report of the International Committee of
the Red Cross on its activities during the Second World
War, ' Vol. I, p. 351;

(4) [(2) p.376] See BRETONNI RE, op. cit., p. 243;

(5) [(1) p.377] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, p. 370;

(6) [(2) p.377] See BRETONNI RE, op. cit., p. 244;