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War & Law
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.
Section II : Internment of prisoners of war
Section II of Part III deals with issues related to the internment of prisoners of war. This will usually be in a prisoner-of-war camp.
However, the provisions in this section are relevant for all places where prisoners of war are permanently held,
whether in camps, in labour detachments or any other premises or installations, whatever their nature, where prisoners of war are interned.
While the Convention also applies to prisoners who are not interned, many provisions in this section would be irrelevant in practice for this category of persons.
contains ‘general observations’ on internment.
deals with two distinct issues: the entitlement of the Detaining Power to intern prisoners of war so that they cannot take up arms again during the conflict; and the possibility of their release on parole or promise. Internment under this provision has a preventive, not punitive, purpose, unlike the detention of prisoners of war as a disciplinary or penal sanction.
provides details on places and conditions of internment and is supplemented by other provisions, in particular on quarters (Article 25) and hygiene (Article 29).
contains rules on the security of prisoners of war, providing, for example, that they may not be held in areas where they may be exposed to the fire of the combat zone.
requires that the conditions in permanent transit or screening camps be similar to those required by other provisions of the present section and that prisoners in such camps must be afforded the same treatment as prisoners in other camps.
aims to ensure that the essential needs of prisoners of war in terms of shelter, food and clothing are met. While living conditions may vary depending on the geographical context and the capacity of the Detaining Power,
(quarters) imposes minimum standards of accommodation and sets down a particular application of the ‘principle of assimilation’, whereby conditions must be at least as favourable as those of the forces of the Detaining Power billeted in the same area.
The requirement that prisoners of war be accommodated in quarters, rather than in cells, reflects the understanding that the internment of prisoners of war is not a punitive measure.
, concerning the provision of food and water, adds detail to the Detaining Power’s overarching requirement to provide for the maintenance of prisoners of war (Article 15). It recognizes the necessity of food not only for the physical health of prisoners of war, but also for their general well-being.
addresses a further essential need, imposing on the Detaining Power an obligation to supply prisoners of war with sufficient clothing, underwear and footwear.
differs from the other articles in this chapter as it does not regulate items essential to prisoners’ survival. Rather, by requiring the Detaining Power to install a canteen in all camps, where prisoners of war can purchase everyday items to improve their lot during captivity, it allows prisoners a degree of autonomy and promotes their general well-being.
sets out the Detaining Power’s obligations to ensure the health and hygiene of prisoners of war in its hands.
aims to prevent disease by requiring that prisoners of war have access to clean bathroom and laundry facilities, as well as soap and water to wash themselves and their clothes with.
expands on the Detaining Power’s obligation to provide prisoners of war with the medical attention required by their state of health, including access to medical facilities outside the camp if their condition necessitates it. Articles 29 and 30 are complemented by the obligation in
for the Detaining Power to conduct monthly medical inspections to monitor the general state of health, nutrition and cleanliness of the prisoners, detect any communicable diseases and otherwise identify any specific medical needs.
regulates the status and treatment of members of the armed forces who have medical qualifications but are not attached to their armed forces’ medical service.
contains a single, but detailed, article on the rights and privileges of medical and religious personnel who have been retained by the Detaining Power to assist prisoners of war. While they are not considered prisoners of war,
requires that they enjoy every benefit of the Third Convention as well as the facilities necessary to provide for the medical or spiritual care of prisoners of war.
recognizes the importance of religious, intellectual and physical activities for the physical and mental well-being of prisoners of war.
deal specifically with religious matters, enshrining the freedom of prisoners to practise their religion and of ministers of religion or qualified laypersons to minister to prisoners of war of the same religion.
rounds up the chapter, requiring that the Detaining Power take the measures necessary to ensure that prisoners of war are able to practice intellectual, educational and recreational pursuits, sports and games and have opportunities to exercise and spend time outdoors. These articles again underscore the point that prisoners of war are not interned as a punitive measure and their lives should therefore resemble, to the widest extent possible, those of persons not deprived of their liberty.
is one of several components of the Convention that provide for the establishment or strengthening of discipline in prisoner-of-war camps.
Military discipline, to which most of those at risk of becoming prisoners of war are accustomed, depends on a clear hierarchy, which needs to be maintained even in the unusual situation of a prisoner-of-war camp. It is in the interest of both the Detaining Power and the prisoners of war to maintain good order in the camp: on the one hand, it prevents prisoners of war from doing harm to the Detaining Power; on the other hand, ensuring that the prisoners comply with its orders helps the Detaining Power to fulfil its responsibilities towards the prisoners, including allowing them to enjoy a degree of freedom of movement and autonomy within the camp.
A cornerstone of camp discipline is the requirement that both camp authorities and the interned prisoners be familiarized with the provisions of the Third Convention (
, respectively) and that prisoners be informed of any regulations, orders, notices and publications regulating their conduct (
reiterates the Detaining Power’s obligation to protect prisoners of war by providing that the use of weapons against them constitutes an extreme measure, which must always be preceded by warnings appropriate to the circumstances.
By requiring prisoners of war to salute officers of the Detaining Power,
Article 39(2) and (3)
encourages a culture of respect. Respect is reciprocated by the Detaining Power pursuant to
, which permits prisoners to wear badges of rank and nationality and decorations, and the provisions of Chapter VII.
deals with issues of rank.
requires Parties to a conflict to communicate to one other at the outset of hostilities the titles and ranks in use in their armed forces. The aim is to ensure equality of treatment of prisoners of equivalent rank. Being thus notified also enables the Detaining Power to fulfil its obligation to treat prisoners with the regard due to their rank and age, as required by
Articles 44 and 45
governs the transfer of prisoners of war after their initial arrival in a prisoner-of-war camp. In light of previous experiences, the Third Convention builds on provisions of the 1929 Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War by enshrining more robust protections for the safety and well-being of all prisoners of war during transfers. As with the evacuation of newly captured prisoners of war to their initial camp,
these articles must be read together with the general principles established by the Convention, such as the obligation of humane treatment.
In addition to recalling that transfers must be undertaken humanely,
requires that the Detaining Power take into account the prisoners’ interests when deciding whether to transfer them and that any transfer conditions be no less favourable than those applicable to the Detaining Power’s own forces.
prohibits transfers that may be detrimental to the condition of wounded or sick prisoners of war or that risk exposing prisoners to nearby hostilities unless the prisoners’ safety requires it.
sets out the procedure for official notification of transfers and the forwarding of any correspondence or property.
- Most provisions in this section refer to ‘camps’ or ‘camp compounds’; see Articles 21(1), 22(3), 23(3), 24, 25(4), 28, 29, 30, 33(2), 35, 38, 39, 41, 44, 47 and 48.
- See Article 24. See also
Report of the Conference of Government Experts of 1947
, p. 129.
- On labour detachments, see Article 56. See also
Preliminary Documents submitted by the ICRC to the Conference of Government Experts of 1947
, Vol. II, p. 8.
- On penal and disciplinary sanctions, see Articles 82–108.
- For a general discussion of the principle of assimilation, see Introduction, section A.3.c.
- See Articles 4C and 33(1).
- See also Articles 79–81 (prisoners’ representatives); and Articles 82–98 (penal and disciplinary sanctions).
- See Section I, in particular Articles 19 and 20.
- See Article 13.
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