Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
  • Print page
Commentary of 1958 


Article 108 and the four Articles which follow it deal with the question of material relief, one of the oldest activities of the National Red Cross Societies. Because of the blockade and the difficult food position resulting from it in many countries during the last war, the question of relief became one of prime importance. The relief received by prisoners of war and internees in those countries was of decisive help in maintaining their health and has left a lasting impression. The experts who studied the draft conventions therefore devoted particular attention to the question and most of their suggestions were endorsed by the Diplomatic Conference.
It should be noted, however, that these five Articles do not exhaust the subject. Moral assistance to internees is dealt with in Articles 93 and 94 (religion, recreation, education, sports and games), and to a certain extent in Article 142 (relief societies and other organizations). Furthermore, the sending of money, which falls within the category of material relief, is dealt with specially in the second paragraph of Article 98 (financial resources and individual accounts).
It should be added that Articles 108 to 112 inclusive deal primarily with the question of relief from the point of view of those who receive it, i.e. the internees. The rĂ´le of the givers and of the organizations authorized to distribute relief is defined in Article 142 (relief societies).


The 1929 Prisoners of War Convention (Article 37 ), mentions only individual postal parcels. The experience of the Second World War led to an extension of this idea.
The 1949 Conventions, in the case of prisoners of war (Third Convention, Article 72 ) and internees (the present Article), speak of [p.454] individual parcels or ' collective shipments ' received by post ' or by any other means '. During the Second World War it was noted that despite its indisputable advantages, the sending of individual parcels was not without its drawbacks. For instance, it was bad for the morale of those who did not receive such parcels; they were difficult to check because of the variety of the contents, and difficult to distribute because of transfers of internees. However, the possibility of sending individual parcels has been retained because of the important effect on the morale of the recipient of the maintenance of such direct relationships with his family.
Collective shipments may be divided into a number of anonymous parcels of small size. They can also be made in the weights and sizes far exceeding those which can be carried in international postal traffic. In such cases, the shipments are sent by the same means of transport and under the same conditions as bulky goods.
The 1929 Convention restricted the contents of parcels to articles of food and clothing (Article 37 ) and books (Article 39 ). Experience had shown the need of extending these provisions, particularly to enable the sending of medicaments, and medicaments were therefore added to the former list and by making the wording as general as possible (objects of a devotional, educational or recreational character), the Convention obviously covers musical instruments, scientific equipment and sports outfits, expressly mentioned in Article 72 of the Third Convention.
The right to relief having been thus solidly established, it was important to avoid a possible interpretation of this right as laying an obligation on the country of origin to furnish the relief and to the same degree discharging the Detaining Power of its responsibilities for the internees' maintenance and care. The Convention states in very exact terms that this is not the case, and in this connection reference should be made to Articles 81 and those which follow it, which set out in detail the obligations of the Detaining Power with regard to internees.


The Detaining Power may only limit the quantity of shipments for reasons of military necessity. This should be understood to mean cases where operations may be hindered through the blocking of means of communication by large consignments of relief supplies. In that case, the Protecting Power and the relief societies must be notified; the societies must indeed be able to regulate the frequency [p.455] of consignments themselves and thus avoid perishable goods being held up. In the case of the Protecting Power, the notification is to enable it to discuss whether the restrictive measures are justified; as the military operations develop, the measures in any case must only be temporary and can be justified only by exceptional strain on transport or communications. These words, which are contained in paragraph 3 of Article 72 of the Third Convention, also apply to shipments for internees, although the regulations for internees are different in this respect from those concerning prisoners of war. As regards prisoners of war, the limitations
on the sending of the relief can only be imposed at the suggestion of the Protecting Power or the relief societies. However, the reasons which lead these bodies to restrict consignments will be based on the same needs. In the long run, the interests of the recipients themselves are safeguarded, for it would be regrettable if relief supplies were lost through poor transport conditions.


The third paragraph, unlike the preceding one, is identical with the corresponding provision in the Third Convention (Article 72, paragraph 4 ). The Detaining Power in general checks all the individual relief parcels or collective consignments before they are delivered to the internees. This checking takes all the longer if the parcels differ from one another in weight, size, composition and packing. Thus the donors themselves during the last world war came round to the idea of forwarding standard parcels (1). This experience led to the belief that it would be preferable to settle the conditions governing the sending of relief by agreement between the Powers concerned, mainly in order to speed up checking. These are the agreements mentioned in the text, which itself mentions two regulations governing consignments. Parcels of clothing and foodstuff must not contain books, so that they will not be delayed for censorship, and medical supplies, as a rule, will only be sent in collective parcels (2). It would, indeed, be dangerous to let the
internees themselves decide what medicaments to use. For preference they should only be used on medical advice.

Notes: (1) [(1) p.455] Furthermore, they often used the services of
the International Committee of the Red Cross which,
because of its special position, afforded a moral
guarantee and itself exercised some control over parcels
in order not to jeopardize the whole system;

(2) [(2) p.455] "As a rule" was inserted because it was not
wished to prohibit, as an exceptional case, the inclusion
in a family parcel of a medicament required because of the
state of health of the recipient and which might not be
included in collective medical relief;