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Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Additional Protocols, and their Commentaries
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Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.
[p.309] ARTICLE 55
-- FOOD AND MEDICAL SUPPLIES
FOR THE POPULATION (1)
Article 55 is concerned exclusively with the question of food and medical supplies for the population of an occupied territory. The provisions relating to relief consignments will be discussed further on under Articles 59
PARAGRAPH 1. -- PROVISION OF FOOD AND MEDICAL SUPPLIES
Article 55 extends very considerably the responsibility of an Occupying Power in regard to the help to be given to the occupied territory. Article 43
of the Hague Regulations merely spoke of ensuring, as far as possible, public order and safety, while under the present Article the Occupying Power is placed under an obligation to ensure, to the fullest extent of the means available to it, the food and medical supplies of the population.
During recent conflicts thousands of human beings suffered from starvation during the occupation of the country. Their destitution was made still worse by requisitioning. The absence of food and medical supplies and unhygienic conditions encouraged the spreading of epidemics. The spirit behind Article 55 represents a happy return [p.310] to the traditional idea of the law of war, according to which belligerents sought to destroy the power of the enemy State, and not individuals. The rule that the Occupying Power is responsible for the provision of supplies for the population places that Power under a definite obligation to maintain at a reasonable level the material conditions under which the population of the occupied territory lives. The inclusion of the phrase "to the fullest extent of the means available to it" shows, however, that the authors of the Convention did not wish to disregard the material difficulties with which the Occupying Power might be faced in wartime (financial and transport problems, etc.); but the Occupying Power is
nevertheless under an obligation to utilize all the means at its disposal.
Supplies for the population are not limited to food, but include medical supplies and any article necessary to support life.
The term "population" is general; it is not confined to civilians but will on occasion include members of the armed forces detained in the occupied territory (2).
The duty of ensuring supplies is reinforced by an obligation to bring in the necessary articles when the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate. It should be noted that the Convention does not lay down the method by which this is to be done. The occupying authorities retain complete freedom of action in regard to this, and are thus in a position to take the circumstances of the moment into account.
What is essential is that the Occupying Power should, in good time and with the means available to it, take measures to procure the necessary food for the population of the occupied territory; it does not matter whether it comes from its own national territory or from any other country -- allied, neutral or even enemy.
In the absence of special provisions relating to these imports, rules similar to those laid down in the case of relief supplies would seem to be applicable; supplies imported by the Occupying Power for the exclusive use of the population of an occupied territory should, for example, enjoy free transit, subject to the right of verification and regulation by the Power according such transit; as has been seen in the comments on Article 23
, a right of free passage must be granted, under certain circumstances, even to consignments intended for the civilian population of the enemy Power; that right is obviously even more legitimate when assistance is being given to the population of an occupied country.
[p.311] PARAGRAPH 2. -- REQUISITIONING
1. ' Conditions '
The occupying authorities not only have the right to requisition the services of the inhabitants of the occupied territory but also to make requisitions in kind. The decision to do so is a unilateral one and must be considered as being a form of expropriation, a form of requisitioning, which, like the requisitioning of services, was already recognized by Article 52
of the Hague Regulations (3).
The Hague text referred only to the needs of the army of occupation, but the Geneva Convention also includes those of the "administration personnel"; at all events the Occupying Power's rights are clearly defined. It may not requisition supplies for use by its own population. On the other hand it may still obtain surplus food and provisions by means other than requisitioning, in order to supply occupied areas where food and medical supplies are inadequate (4).
As a general rule, the Occupying Power must take the "requirements o the civilian population" into account. By this stipulation the Convention endorses a rule already set forth in the Hague Regulations, according to which requisitions "shall be in proportion to the resources of the country".
2. ' Payment '
The second sentence of the paragraph lays down that fair value is to be paid for any requisitioned goods. That idea was already recognized in international law. It was expressed in Article 52
of the Hague Regulations, but the experience of two world wars showed that it was necessary to reaffirm it. The reservation in regard to the "provision of other international Conventions" was adopted in order to avoid any danger of the provision conflicting with the Hague Regulations or any revised version which might be adopted.
[p.312] It will be seen later that Article 57
of the Convention lays down special conditions in cases where civilian hospitals are requisitioned.
It should be noted lastly that Article 147
describes the "extensive appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity" as a grave breach of the Convention. That wording covers the case of requisitioning on an excessive scale.
PARAGRAPH 3. -- PROTECTING POWERS
The last paragraph refers to verification by the Protecting Power of the state of food and medical supplies. This check freely carried out by a neutral agent is a valuable safeguard for the population of occupied territory. The assistance given by the Protecting Powers is not limited to mere supervision; it can extend to the measures taken by the occupation authorities to ensure the food and medical supplies of the population; the Protecting Powers may, for example, usefully lend their good offices for the importing of food and medicaments, such action being in conformity with their general mission under Article 9
of the Convention.
The only reservation on such activities by the Protecting Powers is when "temporary restrictions are made necessary by imperative military requirements"; this wording shows clearly that supervision may only be suspended for a limited time. Restrictions are moreover only authorized as an exceptional measure. They may not at any time be of a general or permanent nature, as that would make the rule in regard to verification inoperative.
Notes: (1) [(1) p.309] For the discussions on Article 55, see ' Final
Record, ' Vol. I, pp. 121-122; Vol. II-A, pp. 666-668,
745-747, 829-830; Vol. II-B, p. 418; Vol. III, pp.
(2) [(1) p.310] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, p. 745; (3) [(1) p.311] The Article in question reads as follows:
"Requisitions in kind and services shall not be demanded
from municipalities or inhabitants except for the needs of
the army of occupation. They shall be in proportion to the
resources of the country, and of such a nature as not to
involve the inhabitants in the obligation of taking part
in military operations against their own country.
"Such requisitions and services shall only be
demanded on the authority of the commander in the locality
"Contributions in kind shall as far as possible be
paid for in cash; if not a receipt shall be given, and the
payment of the amount due shall be made as soon as
(4) [(2) p.311] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, pp. 745-747,
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