Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
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Commentary of 2020 
Article 28 : Canteens
Text of the provision*
(1) Canteens shall be installed in all camps, where prisoners of war may procure foodstuffs, soap and tobacco and ordinary articles in daily use. The tariff shall never be in excess of local market prices.
(2) The profits made by camp canteens shall be used for the benefit of the prisoners; a special fund shall be created for this purpose. The prisoners’ representative shall have the right to collaborate in the management of the canteen and of this fund.
(3) When a camp is closed down, the credit balance of the special fund shall be handed to an international welfare organization, to be employed for the benefit of prisoners of war of the same nationality as those who have contributed to the fund. In case of a general repatriation, such profits shall be kept by the Detaining Power, subject to any agreement to the contrary between the Powers concerned.
* Paragraph numbers have been added for ease of reference.
Reservations or declarations
None
Contents

A. Introduction
2159  The original meaning of ‘canteen’ is a shop selling provisions or alcohol in a barracks.[1] In the sense of Article 28, the term refers to an establishment where prisoners of war can procure ordinary articles for daily use. The ability to purchase such items improves prisoners’ morale,[2] and allows them a degree of autonomy. Both before and after the Second World War, canteens were established in camps holding large numbers of prisoners of war. In conflicts with fewer prisoners of war, or when there was not sufficient time or space to set up a canteen, alternative arrangements were made to enable prisoners to purchase items that are normally available in a canteen.
2160  Article 28 contains three obligations. First, canteens must be established in all camps to enable prisoners of war to purchase goods that are, in terms of quality, quantity and variety, over and above what the Detaining Power is obliged to provide. Second, the canteen profits must be held in a special fund, which may not be used for any purpose other than for the prisoners’ benefit. If the camp closes, the fund is to be transferred to an international welfare organization, which must also manage the fund for the benefit of prisoners of war of the same nationality as those who contributed to the fund. Third, the prisoners’ representatives have the right to be involved in the management of the canteen and the fund.
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B. Historical background
2161  A provision on canteens was included in several First World War agreements relating to the treatment of prisoners of war.[3] On a multilateral level, a provision on canteens was first put forward in Article 8 of the 1921 Proposed International Regulations for the Treatment of Prisoners of War,[4] which were never adopted as a convention. With some modifications, Article 12 of the 1929 Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War also included provisions on canteens.
2162  While the third paragraph of Article 12 of the 1929 Convention had expressly provided that canteen profits be used for prisoners’ benefit, this did not always happen during the Second World War. At the Conference of Government Experts in 1947, the ICRC delegate therefore raised the issue of regulating such profits, arguing that because they could be very high, prisoners needed to have some control over them.[5] He also suggested that it would be useful to determine what to do with the profits when camps closed.[6]
2163  Consequently, Article 28 of the Third Convention included a provision on the creation of a special fund composed solely of canteen profits and specified how the fund should be disbursed on closure of a camp.[7]
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C. Paragraph 1: Establishment of canteens
2164  The first sentence of Article 28(1) makes clear that the Detaining Power is under an obligation to set up canteens in the prisoner-of-war camps it operates. This should be done as soon as practicable. However, in certain situations, for example in conflicts of short duration or where prisoners of war are to be transferred to another camp or to another Party to the conflict, it may be unnecessary or unreasonable to establish such a canteen.[8] Establishing a canteen represents an additional obligation on the Detaining Power, over and above the general obligation to provide free of charge for the maintenance of the prisoners of war in its hands, which is set forth in Article 15 and supplemented by other related special provisions.
2165  Four categories of items must be available for purchase in the canteen: ‘foodstuffs, soap and tobacco and ordinary articles in daily use’. The items that a canteen might stock are those used by prisoners of war daily or frequently, over and above the articles the Detaining Power is obliged to supply free of charge pursuant to Articles 26, 27 and 29, among others.[9] Foodstuffs may include items such as sugar, bread and cheese to supplement the daily ration provided by the Detaining Power and beverages such as juices, milk, coffee and tea. To the extent possible, the foodstuffs available in the canteen should not be limited to highly processed and calorie-dense items but should include healthy options for prisoners to supplement their diet.[10] Article 28 mentions tobacco among the items that prisoners of war may purchase in the canteen. Some Detaining Powers may have commitments under domestic legislation or other international instruments to, for example, restrict or prohibit the sale of tobacco to minors.[11] Camp authorities are not obliged to permit the sale of alcoholic drinks.[12]
2166  Canteens may also stock stationery,[13] toiletries (including shaving equipment and towels), clothing and other personal effects and means of repairing them,[14] recreational materials (such as playing cards),[15] and other items that are likely to contribute to the prisoners’ comfort and well-being.[16] Canteens may also sell items of cultural or religious significance, such as books and magazines.[17]
2167  To determine which items should be stocked in the canteen, it may be useful for the Detaining Power to consult the prisoners’ representatives, an approach the ICRC has encountered in some conflicts since 1949. When considering appropriate items, the Detaining Power must take into consideration how the needs of prisoners may differ based on, for example, their age or gender.[18]
2168  Where the canteen is small, compared with the overall size of the camp, practical questions regarding access may arise. In such cases, one option the ICRC has observed in recent conflicts is to allow the prisoners’ representatives to take orders from their fellow prisoners and to purchase the items on their behalf.
2169  Furthermore, where a canteen has yet to be established, or where the existing infrastructure prevents space being set aside for one, consideration must be given to other options. Examples drawn from the ICRC’s experience in recent international armed conflicts include operating a mobile canteen out of a truck or similar; allowing prisoners’ representatives to take orders from their fellow prisoners and to make purchases at the canteen used by camp authorities, at canteens in nearby prisoner-of-war camps or at local markets; and allowing prisoners of war to make requests directly to the camp authorities for purchases at local markets. The military doctrine of one country provides that ‘sundry/health and comfort packs, which may be supplemented with items tailored to their cultural needs’ may be provided to prisoners of war as a substitute where no canteen is in operation yet, or at all in view of the short duration of the armed conflict.[19]
2170  Article 8 of the 1921 Proposed International Regulations for the Treatment of Prisoners of War provided that articles of daily use should be obtainable at ‘reasonable prices’ from the canteen. The 1929 Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War replaced the requirement of reasonable prices with the notion of ‘local market price’.[20] The emphasis on local market prices is maintained in the second sentence of Article 28(1), with the modification that canteen prices ‘shall never be in excess of local market prices’ (emphasis added). A textual interpretation of Article 28, therefore, does not exclude prices being lower than the ‘local market price’. However, it should be kept in mind that the drafters considered it important that the civilian population does not object to prisoners of war being charged better prices.[21] Although it is not required by the terms of the article, having the camp commander approve the price list and displaying prices openly in the canteen can be effective measures to ensure that this obligation is met.[22] Based on ICRC experience in conflicts since the end of the Second World War, this provision has generally been respected.
2171  The practice of some States that address the issue in their military manuals and doctrine suggests that they continue to consider the establishment of canteens to be relevant to the treatment of prisoners of war.[23] The United Kingdom’s approach concerning the management of canteens is illustrative from at least two perspectives. First, it suggests that a canteen system should use canteen credits rather than cash for purchasing items. The preference for a credit system is because if ‘cash is used it can lead to bullying, trafficking and, in extreme cases, a skewing of the local economy’.[24] Second, it shows how the canteen system might be used as a means of both managing camp order and discipline and enhancing morale:
Experience has shown that a system which automatically supplies all items, including cigarettes and sweets to CPERS [captured persons], while convenient and easy to administer, does not allow the commandant [of the camp] to remove them as a result of disciplinary action and nor does it allow CPERS to engage in managing a small aspect of their daily lives.[25]
2172  In any case, for a canteen to be an effective source of relief for prisoners of war, they must have access to money or credit for purchasing items. Practice known to the ICRC since the end of the Second World War has involved the Powers on which the prisoners depend transferring funds for them for this purpose.[26] In some cases, the ICRC has distributed these funds to prisoners of war. Similarly, family and friends can send money in the form of remittances to enable prisoners to make purchases in the canteen.[27]
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D. Paragraph 2: Canteen profits
2173  The need to specify how canteen profits should be managed arose from the experience of the Second World War in Europe, during which a number of canteens made large profits that the Detaining Power used in an arbitrary manner.[28] The drafters of Article 28 therefore settled on including an explicit obligation on the Detaining Power to create a special fund for canteen profits, which is to be used for the prisoners’ benefit.
2174  Article 28(2) gives prisoners’ representatives the right to collaborate in the management of both the canteen itself and the special fund.[29] This means that, while the fund is under the direction of the Detaining Power, and the camp commander has authority over the use of its profits, the prisoners’ representatives should be consulted on matters relating to the running of the canteen and the fund, including, for example, canteen opening hours, what items will be available for sale and their prices, and how the profits will be managed (and, where necessary, disbursed). While not stated explicitly in paragraph 2, for the prisoners’ representatives to properly fulfil their responsibilities, they will need to have access to the canteen accounts and be able to check them.
2175  In practice since the Second World War, in cases where canteens have not been established, and where items are purchased on behalf of prisoners at local markets or at other canteens, prisoners’ representatives have been permitted to accompany whoever is making the purchases on behalf of the prisoners, enabling them to exercise a degree of oversight.
2176  Pursuant to Article 62(3), the prisoners’ representatives and, if any, their advisers and assistants must be paid for their work in relation to the canteen and the special fund. This is one way in which the fund can be used for the prisoners’ benefit. The camp commander approves the scale of payment, subject to Article 62. Where there is no such fund, the Detaining Power must pay those prisoners a ‘fair working rate of pay’.[30]
2177  According to the first sentence of Article 28(2), the profits made by camp canteens must be ‘used for the benefit of the prisoners’. The camp commander may not use the profits for their personal benefit nor for the personal benefit of any other person. In addition, the fund should generally not be used to procure items that the Detaining Power is obliged to provide to prisoners of war free of charge. In the words of one military manual, ‘[t]he wishes expressed by the POWs [prisoners of war] should be considered to the extent consistent with camp regulations, and the profits should be used whenever needed to improve the conditions for POWs’.[31] While the Detaining Power may not use the funds to make up for any shortcomings for which it is responsible, it may use them to ensure that it is not out of pocket where losses made by the canteen are not caused by its management.
2178  Article 28 does not specify whether the beneficiaries of the fund are the prisoners of war at the camp where the canteen profits have accumulated, or prisoners of war more generally. Since the fund is made up of profits to which the prisoners at the camp have contributed, a reasonable interpretation is that the fund should, as a priority, be used for the benefit of those prisoners. This, however, will be a matter to discuss with the prisoners’ representatives.
2179  For the prisoners’ representatives, balancing their obligations and responsibilities will not always be easy. It is therefore important that they are chosen carefully to ensure that they have a good relationship with the other prisoners and camp management. Furthermore, while Article 28(2) refers only to one representative, there is nothing to stop the camp commander appointing a number of prisoners’ representatives on the canteen management team. Such a need might arise if the camp has, for example, prisoners of different nationalities.[32]
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E. Paragraph 3: Disposal of the fund if the camp is closed down
2180  Article 28(3) refers only to the closure of a camp, which may occur either following an administrative measure or the general repatriation of prisoners after the end of hostilities. The drafters of the provision decided against recommending the sharing of profits among the prisoners, since this had sometimes been done during the Second World War and had given rise to complaints.[33] It is in practice very difficult to determine what contribution each prisoner has made to the profits.
2181  If the prisoners interned in one camp are all transferred to another camp, the canteen profits must also be transferred, in the same way as the prisoners’ community property and luggage pursuant to Article 48(3), as well as pursuant to Article 65(3) relating to the transfer of personal accounts. In this case, the provisions of the present paragraph are therefore not applicable.
2182  As it is difficult to determine the most equitable manner to disburse canteen profits, it was decided that any credit be handed over to an ‘international welfare organization’. There is no precise definition of this term. One may assume, however, that it refers to one or more of the relief societies recognized by the Detaining Power in accordance with Article 125. This organization will be designated by the Detaining Power, which is responsible for the management and use of the fund. The prisoners’ representatives may be consulted regarding the organization to be chosen; however, the organization is in any case obliged to consult the prisoners’ representatives before deciding how to make use of the fund, since its position is similar to that of the Detaining Power, which is governed by paragraph 2.
2183  The fund must be used for the benefit of prisoners of war of the same nationality as those who have contributed to it. If the camp comprised prisoners of different nationalities, several societies may be designated. In that case, the credit balance would be shared out among those societies proportionately to the number of prisoners of each nationality in the camp where the canteen profits accumulated. If the welfare organization that takes over the fund looks after prisoners of war of all nationalities, without distinction, it will itself be able to make a fair distribution. When there is a general repatriation of prisoners, such as at the end of a conflict, the matter must be settled between the governments concerned. They may wish to conclude a special agreement, pursuant to Article 6, often depending on the amount of the funds in question. Otherwise, the profits will remain with the Detaining Power.[34]
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Select bibliography
Levie, Howard S., Prisoners of War in International Armed Conflict, International Law Studies, U.S. Naval War College, Vol. 59, 1978, pp. 143–145.
Maia, Catherine, Kolb, Robert and Scalia, Damien, 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 - Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 12th edition, Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 207.
2 - See e.g. United States, Law of War Manual, 2016, p. 575, para. 9.17.
3 - Agreement between France and Germany concerning Prisoners of War (1918), Article 38; Agreement between Austria-Hungary and Italy concerning Prisoners of War and Civilians (1918), Articles 45–46; Agreement between the United States of America and Germany concerning Prisoners of War, Sanitary Personnel and Civilians (1918), Article 59.
4 - Proposed International Regulations for the Treatment of Prisoners of War (1921), Article 8.
5 - Report of the Conference of Government Experts of 1947, p. 143.
6 - Ibid.
7 - Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of 1949, Vol. II-B, p. 282.
8 - See e.g. United States, Law of War Manual, 2016, p. 575, para. 9.17.1.
9 - See e.g. the commentary on Article 29, para. 2218.
10 - See e.g. World Health Organization, Prisons and Health, WHO/Europe, Copenhagen, 2014, p. 83.
11 - For example, see WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (2003), Articles 6, 7, 8 and 16. The use of tobacco in camps is also discussed in the commentary on Article 26, section E.2.
12 - See also Maia/Kolb/Scalia, p. 267.
13 - The Detaining Power must supply items necessary for correspondence. See the commentary on Article 71, para. 3184.
14 - See the commentary on Article 27, para. 2153.
15 - See also the commentary on Article 38, para. 2466.
16 - Examples of items sold in canteens in prisoner-of-war camps visited by the ICRC include soap, washing powder, razors, cigarettes, matches, tea, soft drinks, cocoa, writing pads, paper, pencils, scissors, shoe cream, sardines, vegetables, fruits and spices.
17 - See also the commentary on Article 38, section C.2.a.
18 - For a general discussion of the protection of different categories of prisoners with distinct needs, see Introduction, section A.3.b.
19 - United States, Law of War Manual, 2016, p. 575, para. 9.17.1.1, and Army Regulation on Enemy Prisoners, Retained Personnel, Civilian Internees and Other Detainees, 1997, p. 7.
20 - Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War (1929), Article 12.
21 - Report of the Conference of Government Experts of 1947, p. 142.
22 - United Kingdom, Joint Doctrine Captured Persons, 2015, p. 10-30, para. 1053.
23 - See e.g. Canada, Prisoner of War Handling Manual, 2004, p. 3F-11; Netherlands, Military Manual, 2005, p. 89; New Zealand, Military Manual, 2019, Vol. 4, p. 12-50, para. 12.10.50(b); United Kingdom, Joint Doctrine Captured Persons, 2015, pp. 10-29–10-30, paras 1050–1054; and United States, Army Regulation on Enemy Prisoners, Retained Personnel, Civilian Internees and Other Detainees, 1997, p. 7.
24 - United Kingdom, Joint Doctrine Captured Persons, 2015, p. 10-30, para. 1052.
25 - Ibid.
26 - See Article 61.
27 - See Article 63.
28 - Pictet (ed.), Commentary on the Third Geneva Convention, ICRC, 1960, pp. 203–204.
29 - On prisoners’ representatives, see Articles 79–81.
30 - See the commentary on Article 62(3), section E.
31 - United States, Law of War Manual, 2016, p. 576, para. 9.17.3.
32 - See the commentary on Article 79, section G.
33 - Report of the Conference of Government Experts of 1947, p. 143.
34 - As an example of the disbursements of funds, the UK approach, as set forth in United Kingdom, Joint Doctrine Captured Persons, 2015, p. 10E-2, para. 10E6, is: Profits from canteens go into a welfare fund for each facility for the benefit of internees. The internee committee has the right to check how the fund is being managed. On the closure of a CPERS (captured persons( holding facility, the balance of the fund is to be transferred to the welfare fund of another facility for internees of the same nationality. If there is no such facility, it is to be transferred to a central welfare fund for the benefit of all internees remaining in UK captivity. In the event of a general release of internees, the balance of the fund may be retained by the UK unless the states concerned otherwise agree. See also United States, Law of War Manual, 2016, p. 576, para. 9.17.3.2.