Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
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Commentary of 1958 


The provisions in paragraph 1 are based on experience gained during the Second World War. On December 7, 1939, the International Committee of the Red Cross sent a memorandum to the belligerent Powers calling their attention to the fact that civilian internees should, as a rule, be subject to the ordinary penal laws of the country in which they were detained. The British, German and United States Governments accepted this proposal in principle. They also accepted the principle vital to the application of disciplinary regulations that civilian internee camps should not be under military authority (1). The German authorities, however, reserved the right to make an exception to this rule in the case of camps in areas occupied by their troops. It is important, however, to point out that even if the camp commandant of a place of internment is a member of armed forces, disciplinary punishment must not be ordered according to military rules. The basis of the discipline to which internees are subject is not military disciplinary law, but the
regulations of the place of internment.
Whether the commandant is a civilian or a member of the forces he must be a regular, that is to say he cannot be selected from the ranks of organizations specially set up to meet the State's responsibilities in this respect. Internees like prisoners of war (2) are in the hands of the State. The State alone is responsible for the application of the Convention. Consequently only a regular (civilian or military) representative of the State can meet these responsibilities and validly undertake commitments on behalf of the Government. Moreover, the traditions of regular officers and civil servants ensure that the commandant of a place of internment will be capable of undertaking the heavy responsibility of ensuring the application of the Convention honourably, without breaking the laws of humanity.
The first obligation laid on him is to know the exact wording of the Convention. He must therefore have a copy in the official language of the Power he represents (or in one of the official languages if there should be more than one).
This paragraph, however, also lays down that the administrative measures adopted in each country to ensure the application of the Convention shall be studied by the staff in control of the internees. A knowledge of these measures is therefore required of the commandant and the supervisory staff. The text further implies that the commandant of the place of internment will be responsible for giving [p.430] the staff in question the necessary instruction. The Committee of the Diplomatic Conference which considered this question dwelt on the necessity for giving camp staff clear instructions concerning the interpretation of the Convention in matters of administration rather than insisting on knowledge of the text itself (3). Finally it should be noted that the commandant exercises direct authority over the internees -- even when they are out with labour detachments (Article 96 ). He must always be present in the place of internment and carry out his duties himself. He cannot, except in cases of ' force majeure, ' delegate his duties as a
whole to one of his subordinates. This means that in principle the Detaining Power cannot put several places of internment under the authority of a single commandant. There may however be special reasons, perhaps connected with the interests of the internees, why the State should wish to put several places of internment in the same district under the authority of a senior commandant. It should then appoint an officer or official with the authority and qualifications required by this Article to each of the places of internment which will be under the authority of the senior commandant.


The commandant of the place of internment must have an exact knowledge of the provisions of the Convention but that is not enough. The internees must themselves know the exact extent of their rights and their duties. These rights will be the basis for any complaint they may make to the detaining authorities or for their appeals to the Protecting Power under Article 101 . Their duties will entail a reasoned discipline which will make it unnecessary for the Detaining Power to resort to punishments, or even force, in order to maintain order.
Under Article 144 , of course, the High Contracting Parties undertake to disseminate the text of the Convention as widely as possible, even in peacetime; but it is obviously necessary to remind those concerned of provisions as detailed as those contained in the regulations for internees. This paragraph, which refers to the fact that the internees themselves must be informed, lays down that they must have access to the Convention translated into a language "which they understand". That language will most often be that of the country where they are detained, since the internees were working and living in that country beforehand; but where necessary a version [p.431] of the Convention in a foreign language must be posted up. A possible solution is given for cases where the multiplicity of languages makes it difficult to post all the versions required; in such cases the Internee Committee is to be placed in a position to supply those concerned with the necessary details. In such cases the Internee Committee would be given a copy of the Convention (and
of any special agreements) for the use of the internees.
It is incumbent on the Detaining Power to prepare the texts which are to be posted. It is nevertheless desirable -- especially if there is more than one official language in the same country -- for the Power to which the internees owe allegiance to send the Internee Committee a copy of the Convention in the mother tongue of those detained. This should be done through the good offices of the Protecting Power or the International Committee of the Red Cross as soon as war broke out. It should be mentioned here that under Article 145 the High Contracting Parties are obliged to communicate to one another the official translations of the Convention (4) (in peacetime through the Swiss Federal Council and, during hostilities, through the Protecting Powers).


It is necessary that internees should know the regulations, both the general provisions issued in application of the Convention and special measures to which circumstances give rise. In this case, too, the Detaining Power is responsible for posting the regulations concerned in such a way that they can be known and understood.


In the same way it is essential that orders addressed to internees individually should be intelligible to them. It is only on that condition that discipline can be reasonably accepted.

Notes: (1) [(1) p.429] See ' Report of the International Committee of
the Red Cross on its activities during the Second World
War, ' Vol. I, General Activities, p. 600;

(2) [(2) p.429] See Third Convention, Article 12, para. 1;

(3) [(1) p.430] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, p. 839;

(4) [(1) p.431] Attention is drawn to the fact that the
International Committee of the Red Cross has in its
possession translations prepared by governments. In case
of need it too could undertake the duty of communicating