Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
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Commentary of 2020 
Article 27 : Clothing
Text of the provision*
(1) Clothing, underwear and footwear shall be supplied to prisoners of war in sufficient quantities by the Detaining Power, which shall make allowance for the climate of the region where the prisoners are detained. Uniforms of enemy armed forces captured by the Detaining Power should, if suitable for the climate, be made available to clothe prisoners of war.
(2) The regular replacement and repair of the above articles shall be assured by the Detaining Power. In addition, prisoners of war who work shall receive appropriate clothing, wherever the nature of the work demands.
* Paragraph numbers have been added for ease of reference.
Declarations or reservations
None
Contents

A. Introduction
2144  The requirement in Article 27 to supply prisoners of war with sufficient quantities of clothing, underwear and footwear plays two important roles. First, it ensures the comfort and physical well-being of prisoners of war, and second, it contributes to their humane treatment and ensures respect for their dignity and honour.
2145  The obligation to provide persons deprived of their liberty with adequate clothing is also part of customary international law.[1]
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B. Historical background
2146  Historically, the ‘principle of assimilation’ set the standard for the clothing to be provided to prisoners of war.[2] The 1899 and 1907 Hague Conventions also each contained a provision requiring that prisoners of war ‘be treated as regards food, quarters and clothing, on the same footing as the troops of the Government which has captured them’.[3] More detailed regulations relating to clothing can be found in several First World War agreements concerning prisoners of war. Such agreements upheld the principle of assimilation in relation to clothing, while also setting certain minimum requirements on the type and number of clothing items to be provided.[4] Article 12(1) of the 1929 Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War recognized the importance of providing prisoners of war with clothing, underwear and footwear, but did not specify that those items must be suitable for the climate.[5] The 1949 text, however, does require that allowance be made for the climate of the region where the prisoners are held.
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C. Paragraph 1: Supply of the articles of clothing
1. First sentence: Obligation of the Detaining Power
2147  Under Article 27, the Detaining Power is obliged to supply clothing, underwear and footwear to prisoners of war. The term ‘clothing’ includes outerwear and is sufficiently broad to encompass other items such as hats and gloves, where needed. Indeed, adapting the clothing to the climate is important to ensure that prisoners’ health is not adversely affected. The obligation on the Detaining Power remains even if the prisoners receive additional clothing from other sources, such as the Power on which they depend, relief organizations mentioned in Article 125 or the ICRC. On the basis of Article 38(1), the Detaining Power is required to provide ‘necessary equipment’ for prisoners of war to practice sports and games, among other intellectual and recreational pursuits. The term ‘necessary equipment’ includes sports gear.[6]
2148  Article 27 requires clothing and footwear to be ‘sufficient’ in quantity. In the experience of the ICRC since the Second World War, one set of clothes is insufficient and has adversely affected other rights of prisoners of war, such as the right to a clean and healthful environment and to being outdoors,[7] since it obliges prisoners to remain indoors or in bed while their clothes are being laundered. Nor is it acceptable for prisoners of war to have to remain in undergarments or sleepwear while their daywear is being cleaned or repaired. Prisoners of war generally require at least two sets of clothing and sleepwear so that they have a second set to change into. It has been found that ‘the failure to provide prisoners with any change of clothing or facility to wash their clothes (… for over a month)’ amounted to a serious breach of the Conventions.[8]
2149  In addition, the clothing, underwear and footwear supplied must fit each person properly and be appropriate for the climate. In places where the climate changes with the seasons, this means that clothing must be adapted or supplemented throughout the period of detention. Sweaters, coats, warm underwear, protective headwear and different footwear are among the additional items that may need to be supplied.
2150  Several provisions in the Third Convention suggest that prisoners of war should normally be allowed to wear their own uniforms, especially as the wearing of badges of rank and nationality must be permitted and cannot be prohibited even as a disciplinary measure.[9] According to Article 18, prisoners of war must be permitted to retain their clothing and other items such as helmets and gas masks. Prisoners of war have not always been permitted to keep their boots after capture, with some Detaining Powers citing security reasons for this. If prisoners of war are not allowed to keep their own boots or uniforms, or if their own uniforms are inadequate, they must be provided, as soon as practically possible, with sufficient and climate-appropriate clothing and footwear.[10] Even in the absence of uniforms, the provisions on badges and insignia still hold. Moreover, even if the prisoners may keep their uniforms and boots, these must be supplemented or replaced as necessary and appropriate, pursuant to Article 27.
2151  Articles 13 and 14(1) require, respectively, that prisoners of war be treated humanely and that their persons and their honour be respected. By implication, therefore, the clothing must respect the individual’s person and honour and be adapted to, for example, their age, gender and religious and cultural background. Additionally, prisoners of war may not be compelled to wear the uniforms of their enemies or other clothing that may negatively impact their sense of allegiance or honour.[11] Nor may they be compelled to wear clothing of a degrading character, such as convict’s dress.[12]
2152  There is no obligation to provide prisoners of war with civilian clothing. Detaining Powers generally do not allow such clothing, in order not to make escape easier.[13] It is, however, permissible to mark prisoners’ clothing, for example by printing the letters ‘PW’ on it, to render escape more difficult.[14]
2153  In some situations, the Detaining Power has permitted prisoners of war to make their own clothing and footwear. Others have provided the materials and tools for prisoners to mend their clothing or have established tailoring shops within the camps where some prisoners were able to work. In yet other cases, prisoners of war have been able to supplement the clothing provided by purchasing additional items in the canteen (e.g. slippers, extra sets of underwear).[15] The availability of such items for purchase does not, however, release the Detaining Power from its obligation to provide the basic minimum detailed above.
2154  Without prejudice to the Detaining Power’s obligation under Article 27, prisoners of war ‘shall’, on the basis of Article 72(1), ‘be allowed to receive by post or by any other means individual parcels or collective shipments’, which may, inter alia, contain ‘clothing’. Article 73 applies to the receipt and distribution of collective relief shipments.[16]
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2. Second sentence: Use of uniforms of enemy armed forces captured by the Detaining Power
2155  Article 27(1) permits the Detaining Power to use captured uniforms of the enemy armed forces to clothe prisoners of war. This provision should not be interpreted as referring solely to the prisoners’ own uniforms. While it is desirable that prisoners of war wear the uniforms of the armed forces to which they belong, in the absence of such, they must be provided with the uniforms of countries aligned to their own, captured by the Detaining Power.[17]
2156  The question arises as to whether prisoners of war may be made to wear the uniforms of the Detaining Power’s own armed forces. Such practices were widely used by Germany during the Second World War even when alternatives were available.[18] However, as evidenced in the drafting history of this provision, in the interest of the prisoners this possibility is not excluded.[19] If it is necessary (for example because no alternatives are available), the uniforms of the Detaining Power’s own forces may be made available but must – as a minimum – be altered, in particular by removing all badges of nationality, rank and any other insignia.[20] However, prisoners may in no case be obliged to wear the uniform of the Detaining Power if they consider that their honour would not so permit.[21] Obliging them to do so may therefore constitute a violation of Article 14.
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D. Paragraph 2: Replacement, repair and working outfits
2157  Given that the clothing and footwear of prisoners of war will inevitably deteriorate, there is a continuing obligation on the Detaining Power to repair and/or replace them. In the ICRC’s experience since the Second World War, new clothing for prisoners of war tends to be issued in any case when seasonal weather conditions require different clothing. When captivity persists for long periods, new clothes, underwear and footwear need to be supplied on a regular basis, depending on factors such as the quality of the clothes and footwear, the climate and the prisoners’ occupations.
2158  The final sentence of Article 27(2) deals specifically with prisoners of war who work: they ‘shall receive appropriate clothing, wherever the nature of the work demands’. Pursuant to Article 51(1), prisoners of war must be ‘granted suitable working conditions, especially as regards … clothing’. That article further provides that the clothing must not be inferior to that of ‘nationals of the Detaining Power employed in similar work’. The effect of both Articles 27(2) and 51(1) is to reinforce the duty of care obligation to provide prisoners with appropriate clothing and footwear. Furthermore, according to Article 51(2), the Detaining Power must apply domestic regulations for the safety of workers to prisoners of war who perform work. If domestic legislation does not provide for clothing that is appropriate to the nature of the work demanded of prisoners of war, the requirement in Article 27(2) prevails. A Detaining Power intending to involve prisoners of war in potentially hazardous work should seek expert advice on health and safety in the workplace including, where necessary, from or through international organizations.[22] Depending on the tasks involved, suitable clothing could include high-visibility garments, safety boots, helmets, gloves and protective glasses.
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Select bibliography
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, at 396.
Levie, Howard S., Prisoners of War in International Armed Conflict, International Law Studies, U.S. Naval War College, Vol. 59, 1978, pp. 130–131.
Maia, Catherine, Kolb, Robert and Scalia Damian, La Protection des Prisonniers de Guerre en Droit International Humanitaire, Bruylant, Brussels, 2015.
Sanna, Silvia, ‘Treatment of Prisoners of War’, in Andrew Clapham, Paola Gaeta and Marco Sassòli (eds), The 1949 Geneva Conventions: A Commentary, Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 977–1011, at 997–998.

1 - See ICRC Study on Customary International Humanitarian Law (2005), Rule 118.
2 - For a general discussion of the principle of assimilation, see Introduction, section A.3.c.
3 - Hague Convention II (1899), Article 7, and Hague Regulations (1907), Article 7. The 1907 text is worded slightly differently but is substantively the same as that of the 1899 Convention, which is quoted here.
4 - See Agreement between Austria-Hungary and Italy concerning Prisoners of War and Civilians (1918), Article 39(1), and Agreement between the United States of America and Germany concerning Prisoners of War, Sanitary Personnel and Civilians (1918), Article 38.
5 - Article 12(1) of the 1929 Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War provided: ‘Clothing, underwear and footwear shall be supplied to prisoners of war by the Detaining Power. The regular replacement and repair of such articles shall be assured.’
6 - See also the commentary on Article 38, para. 2470.
7 - On the requirement to ensure the cleanliness and healthfulness of camps, see Articles 22(1) and 29, and on the right of being outdoors, see Article 38(2).
8 - United Kingdom, High Court of Justice, Alseran case, Judgment, 2017, para. 514.
9 - See Articles 40, 44 and 87.
10 - The Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission made an adverse finding against both Eritrea and Ethiopia for, among other things, permitting the shoes of some prisoners to be taken from them upon capture and for never issuing footwear to prisoners; see Prisoners of War, Eritrea’s Claim, Partial Award, 2003, para. 68, and Prisoners of War, Ethiopia’s Claim, Partial Award, 2003, para. 74. See also Sean D. Murphy, Won Kidane and Thomas R. Snider, Litigating War: Mass Civil Injury and the Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission, Oxford University Press, 2013, p. 289, and Maia/Kolb/Scalia, pp. 275–276.
11 - Preliminary Documents submitted by the ICRC to the Conference of Government Experts of 1947, p. 48. See also section C.2 of this commentary.
12 - Preliminary Documents submitted by the ICRC to the Conference of Government Experts of 1947, p. 48.
13 - See also Maia/Kolb/Scalia, p. 276.
14 - See e.g. United States, Law of War Manual, 2016, p. 569, para. 9.13.4.1. For practice during the Second World War, see John Brown Mason, ‘German Prisoners of War in the United States’, American Journal of International Law, Vol. 39, No. 2, April 1945, pp. 198–215, at 208.
15 - See the commentary on Article 28, para. 2166.
16 - See also Annex III, which gives the prisoners’ representatives wide powers regarding the distribution and allocation of clothing received in relief shipments.
17 - Preliminary Documents submitted by the ICRC to the Conference of Government Experts of 1947, p. 48.
18 - Bretonnière, pp. 108–109.
19 - Minutes of the Conference of Government Experts of 1947, Committee II, Vol. III, 7th meeting, p. 175.
20 - See e.g. United Kingdom, Manual of the Law of Armed Conflict, 2004, p. 163, para. 8.53.1; United States, Law of War Manual, 2016, p. 569, para. 9.13.4.1.
21 - See also Maia/Kolb/Scalia, p. 274.
22 - For example, to date, the International Labour Organization has adopted more than 40 standards dealing with occupational safety and health, as well as over 40 codes of practice. For information on international labour standards on occupational safety and health, see http://www.ilo.org/global/standards/subjects-covered-by-international-labour-standards/occupational-safety-and-health/lang--en/index.htm.