Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
  • Print page
Commentary of 1960 


Captivity makes great demands not only on the bodily health of prisoners of war but also on their morale and it may even have the gravest psychical effects. It is therefore essential to ensure that prisoners of war have time for mental and physical relaxation. During the First World War, there was considerable development of "intellectual relief", as a result of joint action by the Governments of neutral States, Red Cross Societies and other philanthropic or cultural associations. In the Second World War, when large numbers of prisoners were held captive for years, special efforts were made throughout the world to combat the detrimental effects of captivity (1).


Intellectual, educational and recreational pursuits, sports and games must, in the first place, afford prisoners of war with a means of relaxation; every prisoner must be able to follow his individual preferences. This is clearly stipulated in the opening phrase of the [p.237] paragraph, which requires the Detaining Power to respect "the individual preferences of every prisoner". The use of radio in camps for the entertainment of prisoners must not, therefore, be recommended too categorically, since it can easily be used for propaganda purposes.
The following comments may be made in this connection: where propaganda involves inhuman treatment, it is ipso facto contrary to the Conventions, since such treatment is expressly prohibited. Where no inhuman treatment is involved, propaganda is nevertheless usually dangerous for prisoners of war and contrary to the Conventions, since it may be inconsistent with equality of treatment, respect for honour and, in particular, the present provision which affirms the right of prisoners to use their leisure time according to their own preferences.
Article 17 of the 1929 Convention referred expressly to "the organization of intellectual and sporting pursuits by the prisoners of war", which the Detaining Power was to encourage. This wording was somewhat restrictive and the present text requires the Detaining Power to provide "adequate premises and necessary equipment" for the organization of leisure time. During the Second World War the problem was often solved to the complete satisfaction of the prisoners of war. They were provided with musical instruments, theatrical accessories, books, language courses, recreation rooms, football fields, etc. The necessary equipment was usually supplied by relief societies or purchased by the prisoners themselves (2).


This paragraph is based on Article 13, paragraph 4 , of the 1929 Convention, which sometimes served as a pretext for persecution during the Second World War (3). However, prisoners were usually able to play games (4). The present text is more explicit than the 1929 provision which, in stating the principle, implied that the Detaining Power must permit its application. One of the characteristics of the new Convention is that some of its provisions are stated in such a detailed way that no violation can pass unnoticed.

* (1) [(1) p.236] See ' Report of the International Committee of
the Red Cross on its activities during the Second World
War ', Vol. I, pp. 276-281;

(2) [(1) p.237] One should also refer to Article 72 of the
present Convention, which states expressly, in paragraph
1, that prisoners of war must be allowed to receive by
post or by any other means articles of a religious,
educational or recreational character which may meet their

(3) [(2) p.237] See BRETONNI RE, op. cit., pp. 114-115;

(4) [(3) p.237] See ' Report of the International Committee of
the Red Cross on its activities during the Second World
War ', Vol. I, pp. 280-281;