Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
  • Print page
Commentary of 1960 
[p.506] SECTION I



From the outbreak of the Second World War, the repatriation of seriously wounded or sick prisoners of war formed part of the main activities which the International Committee of the Red Cross set itself. This intention was notified to the belligerent States on September 4, 1939, in the first circular letter addressed to them by the International Committee.
In its Memorandum of October 21, 1939, the International Committee defined its views on the possibility of agreements to improve in some degree the position of war victims during hostilities. The International Committee expressed these views as follows:

"The Final Act of the Diplomatic Conference of 1929 includes a recommendation that further guarantees shall be enacted in behalf of the seriously wounded and the seriously sick who may have fallen into enemy hands.
In the meantime, the belligerent Powers may arrange for the exchange of the seriously wounded and the seriously sick by reference to the Model Draft Agreement, annexed to the Prisoners of War Convention, Article 68 , for purposes of information. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been informed that certain Protecting Powers have already taken steps towards a provisional application of the said Model Draft Agreement. It expresses the hope that an understanding on this subject may be reached without delay, and is itself ready to act as intermediary to this end."

[p.507] The Governments concerned made known that they were ready, subject to reciprocity, to apply the Model Draft Agreement without amendment. There was, however, a divergence of opinion concerning the crossing of war zones by hospital ships or ambulance planes used for repatriation. This caused great delay and required much protracted negotiation on the part of the International Committee. Furthermore, some negotiations were not successful because of a demand that prisoners of war should be exchanged on a "man for man" basis. Delays in repatriation were, however, not solely attributable to subjective causes. Real difficulties arose because of military operations, the great number of seriously wounded prisoners of war to be repatriated, the small number of neutral States, and the long distances to be travelled. These difficulties often had serious effects on the condition of the sick and wounded. The International Committee strove to remedy this state of affairs by facilitating the despatch of artificial limbs to the disabled
and by arranging for handicrafts for the invalids who could not be sent home, although under the terms of the Model Draft Agreement the Mixed Medical Commissions would have declared them as eligible for repatriation.
Lastly, the belligerents feared that certain repatriated persons, although disabled, might be employed in war industries.
With the co-operation of the Swiss Government, the efforts of the International Committee of the Red Cross nevertheless met with some success, and on February 15, 1944, it addressed a Memorandum to all the belligerent Governments, in which it reaffirmed its position and stressed the need for carrying out repatriations as speedily as possible after the Medical Commissions had made their decisions, regardless of numbers; it also asked that the repatriations should include the widest categories possible, so as to cover not only ratione personae (prisoners of war and civilian internees), but also ratione conditionis (wounds, diseases, age, prolonged captivity, and mental cases, in which class should be included captivity psychosis (1)).
As a result of this Memorandum, discussions between the belligerents were resumed and resulted in new exchanges, assisted by the national Red Cross Societies of neutral countries which lent their good offices and gave valuable assistance to persons being repatriated (2). Many repatriations were negotiated or carried out by Switzerland as Protecting Power, and Sweden also played an important part.
[p.508] In addition to the direct repatriation of the seriously sick or wounded, the 1929 Convention made provision for the accommodation in neutral countries of those prisoners of war whose recovery could be expected within a year and those whose health seemed likely to be gravely impaired by further detention. Despite numerous efforts by the International Committee, however, the belligerent Powers gave up the practice of accommodation in neutral countries, and the question remained without any real settlement (3).

* (1) [(1) p.507] "Barbed-wire sickness";

(2) [(2) p.507] See ' Report of the International Committee of
the Red Cross on its activities during the Second World
War, ' Vol. I, pp. 373-377; see also, as regards the rôle
of the International Committee in actual repatriation
operations, ibid., pp. 377-382;

(3) [(1) p.508] See ' Report of the International Committee of
the Red Cross on its activities during the Second World
War, ' Vol. I, pp. 382-385;