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.
. -- DISSEMINATION OF THE CONVENTION
In subscribing to Article 1
, the Powers undertook to respect and ensure respect for the Convention in all circumstances. If a Convention is to be properly applied, however, a thorough knowledge of it is necessary.
It was important, therefore, that the Contracting Parties should be required to disseminate the text of the Convention as widely as possible in their respective countries. This is the purpose of the present Article, which is worded in almost identical terms in all four Conventions.
[p.614] The 1929 Convention did not contain any provision resembling the present Article. It merely stated, in Article 84
, that the text of the Convention must be posted so that it might be consulted by all prisoners of war.
PARAGRAPH 1. -- GENERAL PRINCIPLES
In the first place, the Convention should be known to those who will be called upon to apply it; the latter may have to render an account of their deeds or shortcomings before the courts, and in some cases they may even benefit by the provisions of the Convention. The study of the Conventions must therefore be included in the training programmes of the armed forces, the instruction given being adapted to the rank of those for whom it is intended.
In case of mobilization, the essential points must be gone through again so that they are fresh in the minds of those concerned (1).
Many Governments have already taken action in this respect by distributing to most military commanders as well as to other officers -- such as adjutants, intelligence officers, medical officers and chaplains -- the text of the Conventions, either in full or in the form of extracts which are sometimes accompanied by other texts concerning the conduct of war. In the armed forces of some Powers, courses have been organized to instruct certain ranks -- and sometimes all service men -- in the essential rules of the Conventions (2).
The Convention must also be widely disseminated among the population. It is possible to go even further and to say that men must be trained from childhood in the great principles of humanity and civilization. Provision has therefore been made for the inclusion of the study of the Convention in syllabuses of civil instruction.
This requirement is, however, optional. It is not that the 1949 Diplomatic Conference thought it any less imperative to instruct civilians than to teach the military, but in certain countries with a federal structure public education is the responsibility of the individual [p.615] federative States and not the central authorities. Some delegations, therefore, having a scrupulous regard for constitutional niceties which may be thought unfounded, considered that they must safeguard the freedom of decision of the regional authorities (3).
Action should be taken first by the national Red Cross Societies, which must train a staff with specialized knowledge of the Conventions (4).
The general public can be informed by extracts or summaries of the Conventions, articles in the press, radio talks and so forth.
In addition to the study of the basic principles of the Geneva Conventions, the attention of the general public can be drawn to them in connection with topical events. In these days, internal conflicts occur all too frequently, and at such times a courageous and independent press has an opportunity to speak in the name of humanity and in a manner devoid of all partiality.
Lastly, it would be most advantageous to introduce the study of humanitarian law, of which the Geneva Conventions are now part, into the syllabuses of faculties of law, and this has already been done in some universities.
PARAGRAPH 2. -- DISSEMINATION IN WAR-TIME
In war-time, the Conventions must be applied and the competent authorities must not content themselves with giving general instruction: the text of the Conventions must be in the possession of camp commanders and subordinate officers, and the higher authorities responsible for supervising arrangements in camps and the treatment of prisoners of war; this text must be issued in the language of the prisoners concerned. Each State which is a party to the Conventions must in good time prepare any translations which may be necessary and organize courses for the instruction and training of those responsible for carrying out the provisions of the Conventions.
* (1) [(1) p.614] In 1951, the International Committee of the
Red Cross issued for the use of military personnel and the
public a summary of the Conventions of Geneva of 1949, in
the form of a booklet in French, English and Spanish;
(2) [(2) p.614] At the 1949 Diplomatic Conference, it was
suggested that such courses should be organized. See J. de
PREUX, ' The Dissemination of the Geneva Conventions of
1949, Revue internationale de la Croix-Rouge, '
Supplement, April 1955, pp. 59-60. See also ' Report on
the Work of the Conference of Government Experts, ' pp.
(3) [(1) p.615] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-B, pp. 70 and 112;
(4) [(2) p.615] See DE PREUX, op. cit., p. 60 ff.;