Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
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Commentary of 2020 
Article 44 : Treatment of officers
Text of the provision*
(1) Officers and prisoners of equivalent status shall be treated with the regard due to their rank and age.
(2) In order to ensure service in officers’ camps, other ranks of the same armed forces who, as far as possible, speak the same language, shall be assigned in sufficient numbers, account being taken of the rank of officers and prisoners of equivalent status. Such orderlies shall not be required to perform any other work.
(3) Supervision of the mess by the officers themselves shall be facilitated in every way.
* Paragraph numbers have been added for ease of reference.
Reservations or declarations

A. Introduction
2578  Article 44 is one of three provisions in Chapter VII of the Third Convention containing rules regarding notification of military titles and ranks and the treatment owed to the holders of these ranks when they become prisoners of war.[1]
2579  The first paragraph of Article 44 contains a general rule that, during their captivity, officers and prisoners of equivalent status must be treated with due regard to their rank and age. On this basis, the Convention recognizes certain privileges for officers.[2]
2580  The second paragraph contains an additional privilege for officers by providing that orderlies must be assigned to perform certain duties in officers’ camps.
2581  The third paragraph requires that supervision of the mess by the officers themselves must be facilitated in every way. This is not a specific privilege for officers as the same rule applies to other prisoners according to Article 45(2).
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B. Historical background
2582  The notion that officers should receive preferential treatment can be traced back to the Middle Ages, when prisoners of war were released in return for payments. This created an incentive for the Detaining Power to keep officers in good health, as higher ranks engendered higher payments.[3] The requirement of preferential treatment for officers can be also found in agreements relating to prisoners of war from the First World War.[4] The 1929 Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War codified this tradition, requiring that officer prisoners be treated with due regard to their rank and age, that they be provided with a sufficient number of ‘orderlies’ (service personnel) to assist them in their daily routine and that officers’ management of the mess be facilitated in every way.[5] The drafters of the Convention consciously decided against including more precise guarantees, such as specifying the size of officers’ rooms, because it was felt that this would detract from the essential principles.[6]
2583  The same approach was adopted in the 1949 Convention. The general clause providing for the privileged treatment of officers was uncontroversial and there was agreement that regard should be paid to the seniority and responsibilities of officers.[7] However, the regulation of ‘orderlies’ prompted some discussion, owing to instances during the Second World War where such personnel were overburdened with work outside their normal duties, so that they could not assist the officers effectively.[8] The drafters therefore decided to insert an additional sentence in Article 44(2) stating that orderlies may not be required to perform any other work besides that assigned to them in relation to the officers. Apart from this addition, the wording of the present Article 44 largely reproduced that of the 1929 Convention and was adopted without further discussion.
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C. Paragraph 1: Treatment of officers and prisoners of equivalent status
1. Officers and prisoners of equivalent status
2584  Article 44 applies to all officers and prisoners of equivalent status. Discussions at the Diplomatic Conference in 1949 show that for those military systems that distinguish between commissioned and non-commissioned officers, Article 44 is meant to cover commissioned officers only, while non-commissioned officers are governed by Article 45.[9]
2585  Most armed forces do not make a distinction between commissioned and non-commissioned officers, apart mainly from Japanese, US and Commonwealth military systems. While the criteria may differ in these systems, generally speaking a commissioned officer derives their authority directly from the sovereign power of the country they serve, for example the British monarch or the US president. Non-commissioned officers enter service as general soldiers and usually obtain their position of authority by promotion through and within the enlisted ranks.[10]
2586  To account for these differences between military ranking systems and to allow for the fact that in some armies certain non-commissioned officers are considered to be of similar status to (commissioned) officers, Article 44 refers also to ‘prisoners of equivalent status’, a term that was already used in the 1929 Convention.[11] This will also assist in identifying prisoners who are considered to be ‘officers’ within their own armed forces, where these either do not use commissions or do not subdivide their leadership in the same way as other forces.
2587  Article 44 goes hand in hand with Article 43, which requires that the Parties notify their adversaries of the ranks and titles in use in their armed forces. This will make it easier for the Detaining Power to distinguish between officers, prisoners of equivalent status and other ranks. However, the communication of military titles and ranks is not a legal precondition for officers to receive the preferential treatment required by Article 44(2) and (3). If an officer can prove their status in another credible way, for example through a military identity card, they are equally entitled to the privileges provided for in the Third Convention.[12]
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2. Treatment with regard to rank and age
2588  Article 44(1) obliges the Detaining Power to treat officers with the respect due to their rank and age. Accordingly, the article specifies that military rank and the additional responsibilities attached to higher ranks, along with an officer’s age,[13] must be taken into account in the treatment of prisoners of war. Preferential treatment for higher-ranking prisoners is based on the understanding that persons with a certain status in their own armed forces are owed respect even though they belong to enemy forces. In addition, it follows the military logic that leaving the hierarchy of the battlefield intact in prisoner-of-war camps serves the interests of both the Detaining Power and the Power on which the prisoners depend. Retaining a functioning command structure among prisoners of war of one Party will usually have a positive effect on camp order and discipline, which can be an important factor in ensuring the best possible conditions of internment for all prisoners of war.[14] Differential treatment involving privileges for higher-ranking prisoners is one way of maintaining this structure.
2589  The measures that the Detaining Power must take in addition to the specific treatment for officers required by other provisions will depend largely on the context. For this reason, the drafters did not include an exhaustive list, but rather used the more flexible wording of Article 44(1).[15]
2590  Experiences from several post-Second World War conflicts show that officers received differential treatment from prisoners of lower ranks. In most instances, the treatment was more favourable, bearing in mind the relative nature of this assessment and that the treatment received by the other prisoners was sometimes below the standards required by the Convention. Examples of more favourable treatment for officers encountered by the ICRC included messing in separate rooms from the general prisoner-of-war population, sleeping in beds rather than on mattresses on the floor, having their own outdoor space, receiving sports clothing and eating off china plates. In other cases, officers were exempted from roll-call inspections.[16] Some of these privileges may at first seem minor, but in the challenging environment of internment for an uncertain duration, such additional comforts may be considered as precious.
2591  In past conflicts, the obligation in Article 44(1) has generally been understood by belligerents to require that officers be housed separately from their subordinates in a prisoner-of-war camp.[17] This often entailed separating them from the rest of the prisoner-of-war population. Such separation does not necessarily ensure respect for the officers’ rank and could be prejudicial to both the officer prisoners and the prisoner-of-war population in general, especially if the living conditions and amenities for officers are of a markedly higher standard. In addition, if the number of officers in the camp is small, separating them from other prisoners, not only in terms of quarters but also in terms of outdoor time, may lead to feelings of isolation. Furthermore, removing officers from their fellow prisoners could be harmful to the latter, given that soldiers tend to receive support and discipline from the higher-ranking members of their force.
2592  The Detaining Power may choose to separate officer prisoners from their subordinates on security grounds, for instance to limit the risk of coordinated resistance or escape.[18] Nevertheless, separating officers from their troops may trigger Article 22(3), which provides that prisoners of war may not be ‘separated from prisoners of war belonging to the armed forces with which they were serving at the time of their capture, except with their consent’. Where the separation of officer prisoners is in fact a security measure, it must not be disguised as a mark of respect, and reference to Article 44 does not automatically justify the separation.[19]
2593  The possible interpretation of Article 44(1) that would require members of armed forces of the Detaining Power to salute prisoners of war of superior rank neither found support in practice during the Second World War nor was raised at the 1949 Diplomatic Conference.[20]
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D. Paragraph 2: Assignment of orderlies
2594  Article 44(2) contains the specific privilege for officers and prisoners of equivalent status to be assigned prisoners of lower rank to assist them with daily tasks such as cleaning and food preparation. While the English version of Article 44(2) refers to these soldiers of lower rank as ‘orderlies’, the equally authentic French version of Article 44 simply refers to ‘soldats prisonniers de guerre’.
2595  The idea that officers who are prisoners of war should be assigned service personnel to assist them is linked to the notion that military hierarchies are retained in captivity. This privilege is accorded to officers in recognition of the additional workload and responsibilities that their leadership role entails.[21]
2596  Article 44(2) specifies that soldiers assigned as service personnel should, whenever possible, speak the same language as the officers they serve so that they understand the instructions given to them. The article further requires that the lower-ranking soldiers be assigned in sufficient numbers for all officer prisoners to receive the same type and amount of assistance.
2597  As such personnel were overburdened with duties during the Second World War,[22] Article 44(2) explicitly provides that prisoners of war assigned to the service of officers may not be made to do any other work in the prisoner-of-war camp, so that they can dedicate their work time exclusively to serving the officers.
2598  In recent decades, there has been an increasing tendency in some armed forces to provide orderlies only for high-ranking officers or to have their functions carried out by civilian contractors. Article 44(2) applies only to armed forces that still have orderlies.
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E. Paragraph 3: Organization of the officers’ mess
2599  Article 44(3) specifies that the supervision of the mess by the officers themselves must be facilitated in every way. A ‘mess’ is a ‘place in which members of the armed forces take their meals’.[23]
2600  While the English version of the Convention uses the word ‘supervision’, the equally authentic French version uses the word ‘gestion’ (‘management’), which is broader in meaning. Based on the general rules of treaty interpretation,[24] the French wording has to be reconciled with the English version. Doing so shows that the drafters intended Article 44(3) to have an active managerial component that goes, to some extent, beyond mere supervision. Article 44(3) is in line with Article 26(4), which requires that the Detaining Power permit prisoners of war to be involved as far as possible in the preparation of their meals. The management of the mess provided for in Article 44(3) not only concerns the preparation of food but grants officers a certain amount of freedom to organize activities in the mess, which is also used as a recreational facility.
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Select bibliography
Beaumont, Joan, ‘Rank, Privilege and Prisoners of War’, War and Society, Vol. 1, 1983, pp. 67–94.
Bretonnière, Maurice, L’application de la Convention de Genève aux prisonniers français en Allemagne durant la seconde guerre mondiale (typewritten thesis), Paris, 1949.
Krähenmann, Sandra, ‘Protection of Prisoners in Armed Conflict’, in Dieter Fleck (ed.), The Handbook of International Humanitarian Law, 3rd edition, Oxford University Press, 2013, pp. 359–411.
Krammer, Arnold, ‘American Treatment of German Generals during World War II’, The Journal of Military History, Vol. 54, No. 1, 1990, pp. 27–46.
Levie, Howard S., Prisoners of War in International Armed Conflict, International Law Studies, U.S. Naval War College, 1978.
Totani, Yuma, ‘The Prisoner of War Camp Trials’, in Suzannah Linton (ed.), Hong Kong’s War Crimes Trials, Oxford University Press, 2013.
Vourkoutiotis, Vasilis, Prisoners of War and the German High Command: The British and American Experience, Palgrave MacMillan, Houndsmills, 2003.
Zarate, Michael A., American Prisoners of Japan: Did Rank Have its Privilege? (master’s thesis), Cameron University, Oklahoma, 1983.

1 - See also Articles 43 and 45.
2 - See Article 39(3) on saluting; Article 40 on badges and decorations; Article 49 on labour; Article 60 on advances in pay; Article 87 on penalties; Article 89 on forms of punishment; and Article 97(3) on lodging during disciplinary punishment.
3 - Beaumont, p. 68.
4 - See e.g. Agreement between the United States of America and Germany concerning Prisoners of War, Sanitary Personnel and Civilians (1918), Article 23(2), and Agreement between Austria-Hungary and Italy concerning Prisoners of War and Civilians (1918), Articles 33, 40 and 55.
5 - See Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War (1929), Articles 21 and 22.
6 - Proceedings of the Geneva Diplomatic Conference of 1929, pp. 433–442. See also Beaumont, p. 72.
7 - See Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of 1949, Vol. II-A, pp. 267–268.
8 - See Report of the Conference of Government Experts of 1947, p. 156, and Pictet (ed.), Commentary on the Third Geneva Convention, ICRC, 1960, p. 251.
9 - Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of 1949, Vol. II-A, pp. 358–359.
10 - See e.g. U.S. Military Rank Insignia, See also the commentary on Article 39, section B.1.
11 - ‘Prisoners of equivalent status’ would also include journalists and war correspondents; see Pictet (ed.), Commentary on the Third Geneva Convention, ICRC, 1960, p. 250.
12 - See Articles 39(3), 40, 49, 60, 87, 89 and 97(3).
13 - Within a group of officers, senior officers may be younger than more junior officers. In these circumstances, it is understood that rank would take priority over age.
14 - See e.g. Canada, Code of Conduct After Capture for the Canadian Forces, 2004, p. 4-1, which reads: ‘Principles of leadership always apply. … If you are captured and are senior in rank, take command. Your leadership skills will be more important than ever before. Use the principles of leadership to guide your problem solving. The principle “lead by example” is particularly important.’
15 - Proceedings of the Geneva Diplomatic Conference of 1929, pp. 433–442. See also Beaumont, p. 72.
16 - Zarate, p. 132.
17 - While the wording ‘officers’ camps’ suggests that officers might be housed in separate camps, overall practice since the Second World War has not been to set up separate prisoner-of-war camps for officers. See also Pictet (ed.), Commentary on the Third Geneva Convention, ICRC, 1960, p. 250.
18 - See e.g. United Kingdom, Manual of the Law of Armed Conflict, 2004, p. 158, para. 8.38 (‘Provided that the standards of the Convention are met, segregation of officers from other ranks and for security reasons is permissible.’). See also United Kingdom, Joint Doctrine Captured Persons, 2015, p. 7-14, para. 732; United States, Army Regulation on Enemy Prisoners, Retained Personnel, Civilian Internees and Other Detainees, 1997, para. 2-2(b)(2), and Law of War Manual, 2016, p. 566, para.
19 - See also the commentary on Article 22, section D. Beaumont, p. 82, asserts that Chinese forces segregated United Nations prisoners of war by rank not ‘because of any concern for the Geneva Convention (sic) of 1949 … but because segregation of the ranks aided their interrogation and indoctrination programs by depriving the group of its traditional leaders and weakening its internal cohesion’.
20 - Levie, p. 170, fn. 297.
21 - Beaumont, pp. 84–85, who argues that officers not only carry the ‘burden of leadership’, but in many instances also suffer higher casualty rates.
22 - See section B.
23 - Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 12th edition, Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 897. See also Pictet (ed.), Commentary on the Third Geneva Convention, ICRC, 1960, p. 252.
24 - See the commentary on Article 133, para. 5353.