Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
  • Print page
Commentary of 2020 
Article 122 : National information bureaux
Text of the provision*
(1) Upon the outbreak of a conflict and in all cases of occupation, each of the Parties to the conflict shall institute an official Information Bureau for prisoners of war who are in its power. Neutral or non-belligerent Powers who may have received within their territory persons belonging to one of the categories referred to in Article 4, shall take the same action with respect to such persons. The Power concerned shall ensure that the Prisoners of War Information Bureau is provided with the necessary accommodation, equipment and staff to ensure its efficient working. It shall be at liberty to employ prisoners of war in such a Bureau under the conditions laid down in the Section of the present Convention dealing with work by prisoners of war.
(2) Within the shortest possible period, each of the Parties to the conflict shall give its Bureau the information referred to in the fourth, fifth and sixth paragraphs of this Article regarding any enemy person belonging to one of the categories referred to in Article 4, who has fallen into its power. Neutral or non-belligerent Powers shall take the same action with regard to persons belonging to such categories whom they have received within their territory.
(3) The Bureau shall immediately forward such information by the most rapid means to the Powers concerned, through the intermediary of the Protecting Powers and likewise of the Central Agency provided for in Article 123.
(4) This information shall make it possible quickly to advise the next of kin concerned. Subject to the provisions of Article 17, the information shall include, in so far as available to the Information Bureau, in respect of each prisoner of war, his surname, first names, rank, army, regimental, personal or serial number, place and full date of birth, indication of the Power on which he depends, first name of the father and maiden name of the mother, name and address of the person to be informed and the address to which correspondence for the prisoner may be sent.
(5) The Information Bureau shall receive from the various departments concerned information regarding transfers, releases, repatriations, escapes, admissions to hospital, and deaths, and shall transmit such information in the manner described in the third paragraph above.
(6) Likewise, information regarding the state of health of prisoners of war who are seriously ill or seriously wounded shall be supplied regularly, every week if possible.
(7) The Information Bureau shall also be responsible for replying to all enquiries sent to it concerning prisoners of war, including those who have died in captivity; it will make any enquiries necessary to obtain the information which is asked for if this is not in its possession.
(8) All written communications made by the Bureau shall be authenticated by a signature or a seal.
(9) The Information Bureau shall furthermore be charged with collecting all personal valuables, including sums in currencies other than that of the Detaining Power and documents of importance to the next of kin, left by prisoners of war who have been repatriated or released, or who have escaped or died, and shall forward the said valuables to the Powers concerned. Such articles shall be sent by the Bureau in sealed packets which shall be accompanied by statements giving clear and full particulars of the identity of the person to whom the articles belonged, and by a complete list of the contents of the parcel. Other personal effects of such prisoners of war shall be transmitted under arrangements agreed upon between the Parties to the conflict concerned.
* Paragraph numbers have been added for ease of reference.
Reservations or declarations
None
Contents

A. Introduction
4688  Article 122 regulates the establishment and functioning of national information bureaux.[1] The main task of these bureaux is to manage and process information, including its collection, centralization and transmission, about persons protected by international humanitarian law who have fallen into enemy hands. Articles 136–139 of the Fourth Convention contain parallel provisions concerning persons protected under that Convention.
4689  By setting up a bureau in accordance with this provision, a Party to an armed conflict gives itself a means of collecting, centralizing and transmitting information on the identity and status of prisoners of war. The bureau thus plays a pivotal role in preventing the disappearance of prisoners of war and eases the anguish of the families by providing information on the fate and whereabouts of their relatives.
4690  This commentary focuses on the work of national information bureaux for prisoners of war under the Third Convention, with some references to other beneficiaries under the First and Second Conventions, such as the wounded, the sick, the shipwrecked and the dead.[2] The work of bureaux for civilian internees and other protected persons,[3] as well as for individuals who do not benefit from any other treaty protection, is dealt with in the commentaries on Articles 136–139 of the Fourth Convention. The two sets of commentaries are complementary and should be read together for an understanding of the full extent of the bureaux’s tasks under the Conventions.[4] Article 122 also needs to be read in conjunction with other provisions in the Convention that relate to, in particular, the dead[5] and the Central Tracing Agency.[6]
4691  In practice, national information bureaux have not always been set up. However, many States have established organs and processes that perform the functions of a bureau. Regardless of whether a ‘national information bureau’ exists as such, authorities often gather information on protected persons without making a distinction as to the nature of their situation or their status. In that sense, the purpose of this provision is still achieved, and its technical details continue to be relevant, but have to be understood in the light of this reality.
Back to top
B. Historical background
4692  The need to centralize information on prisoners of war was addressed very early in the drafting history of instruments governing armed conflict. Article 122 is an improved version of a provision that goes back to the 1899 Hague Regulations and takes into consideration the lessons drawn from the First and Second World Wars.
Back to top
1. From the Hague Regulations to the 1929 Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War
4693  Article 14 of the 1899 and 1907 Hague Regulations requires belligerent States and neutral countries which have received belligerents in their territory to establish an ‘inquiry office for prisoners of war’. The 1907 version also listed the information that the inquiry office was obliged to collect and record.[7] The main task of these offices, which proved most valuable during the First World War, was to answer enquiries addressed to them and, for this purpose, to receive all information concerning prisoners of war (notably on their internment, transfer, release on parole, exchange, escape, admission to hospital and death).[8] A card had to be established for each prisoner of war, containing detailed personal information (regimental number, name and surname, age, place of origin, rank, unit, wounds, date and place of capture, internment, wounding and death), which then had to be sent to the Power on which the prisoner depended after the conclusion of peace.[9] The Regulations also specified that ‘all objects of personal use, valuables, letters, etc., found on the field of battle or left by prisoners who have been released on parole, or exchanged or who have escaped, or died’ must be collected and forwarded to those concerned.[10]
4694  Article 77 of the 1929 Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War reproduced this provision, but, for the first time, the purpose of the bureau was expressly stated, i.e. ‘to enable the families concerned to be quickly notified’. Further details were also given on the nature of the information to be transmitted.[11]
Back to top
2. Preparatory work
4695  During the discussions held prior to the 1949 Diplomatic Conference, particular attention was paid to the role of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (hereinafter National Societies) vis-à-vis national information bureaux. Many National Societies were eager to be called upon by their governments to ensure the proper working of the bureau. At the Preliminary Conference of National Societies in 1946, the majority of delegations recommended that governments should nominate their National Societies to undertake the work of the bureau.[12] However, the Conference of Government Experts in 1947 did not think it advisable to specify this in the text of the draft convention, preferring to leave governments the freedom to choose which entity to designate for this task.[13]
4696  In light of the practice of certain neutral Powers during the Second World War of refusing to furnish the Prisoner of War Information Agency (since renamed the Central Tracing Agency)[14] with information concerning military internees and escaped prisoners of war on their territory, the government experts agreed with the ICRC’s suggestion that, with regard to the transmission of information, neutral States should have the same obligations as the Parties to the conflict. The draft provision submitted to the Diplomatic Conference in 1949 was adjusted accordingly.[15]
4697  Other discussions at the 1947 Conference of Government Experts centred on the importance of unifying the forms used for transmitting the information and of ensuring it was done speedily (‘by the quickest means available’).[16] In the draft convention submitted to the 17th International Conference of the Red Cross in Stockholm in 1948, the ICRC abandoned its proposal to establish uniform identity cards, recognizing that it was preferable to determine which information relative to identity needed to be transmitted to the bureau and to specify that all communications made by the bureau must be authenticated.[17] The ICRC also dropped the requirement in Article 77, paragraph 7, of the 1929 Convention of establishing a weekly list containing all additional particulars capable of facilitating the identification of each prisoner, explaining that it had been seldom applied and did not meet any particular need.[18] However, it kept the requirement to supply regularly, every week if possible, information regarding the state of health of seriously ill or seriously wounded prisoners of war.
4698  Lastly, the bureau’s activities were extended to cover all prisoners of war in the power of the detaining State and not, as in 1929, only those on its territory.[19]
Back to top
3. The 1949 Diplomatic Conference
4699  At the 1949 Diplomatic Conference, no one questioned the usefulness of establishing a national information bureau or of having a provision in this regard in both the Third and Fourth Conventions. Most discussions aimed at improving the content of the draft provisions.[20]
4700  The Second Committee proposed stating expressly that the Power concerned should take steps to ensure that its bureau was provided with adequate premises, supplies and personnel to enable it to function properly. For this purpose, the Detaining Power was authorized to employ prisoners of war in its bureau. The Committee also added a new paragraph stating that the bureau would be responsible for answering all enquiries regarding prisoners of war. Moreover, it fleshed out the last paragraph of the draft article on prisoners’ valuables by specifying that articles belonging to prisoners of war were to be handed over to the Power on which the prisoners depended, on the understanding that any articles not handed over directly were to be returned in accordance with arrangements agreed upon between the Parties concerned.[21]
4701  Lastly, the Conference’s Coordination Committee pointed out that the draft article did not contain the reservation found in the parallel provision of the Fourth Convention (Article 137(2)), which exempts the bureau from transmitting information when doing so ‘might be detrimental to the persons concerned or to his or her relatives’.[22] It was generally agreed, however, to leave the article as it was, because, as the representative of the United Kingdom pointed out, there is a clear difference between the situation of civilians and that of prisoners of war. Civilians might already be on foreign territory at the outbreak of hostilities and might have reasons for not wishing to give news of themselves to their country of origin, whereas prisoners of war were at the time of capture in the service of their country, which likely already knew all essential particulars concerning them. The Committee concurred, and the article remained unchanged.[23]
Back to top
C. Establishment and organization of the bureaux
1. Obligation to establish a bureau
4702  As evidenced by the wording ‘shall institute’ in the first sentence of Article 122(1), Parties to an international armed conflict are bound to establish a national information bureau and to do so ‘[u]pon the outbreak of a conflict and in all cases of occupation’.[24] This wording leaves no doubt as to the absolute nature of the obligation. For the bureau to be able to fulfil its tasks as soon as possible after the outbreak of an armed conflict, States should consider taking such measures as may be necessary already in peacetime.[25]
4703  In the case of occupation, whether facing armed resistance or not, the Occupying Power must establish a bureau immediately. The bureau or a branch of the bureau should be located in the occupied territory itself, owing to the special position of protected persons in such territories, which differs in many respects from that of persons in the national territory of the Occupying Power.
4704  A number of States have established a national information bureau in peacetime.[26] In some cases, Parties to an armed conflict have not established a ‘national information bureau’ as such but have gathered the required information on protected persons and forwarded it to the Central Tracing Agency. This has held true even when States deployed their armed forces outside national territory, including when participating in multinational forces. In these various ways, the authorities have complied with their obligation laid down in the Convention to transmit information to the Central Tracing Agency and the families concerned regarding protected persons in their hands and recognize the importance of ensuring that the tasks of the bureau are carried out, even in the absence of such bureaux. In several conflicts since 1949, States have been unable or unwilling to collect the required information.[27] In these and other conflicts, the work has been done in practice by the Central Tracing Agency or by ICRC delegates visiting prisoners of war.[28]
4705  The obligation to institute a national information bureau is also binding on ‘neutral or non-belligerent Powers’. There is no substantive difference between the terms ‘neutral’ and ‘non-belligerent’; both refer to a State that is not a Party to an international armed conflict.[29] As soon as a ‘neutral’ or ‘non-belligerent’ State receives a person who is entitled to the status of prisoner of war,[30] it must ensure that the tasks assigned to a national information bureau are carried out for that protected person, without prejudice to any more favourable treatment it may choose or be obliged to give to the protected person under its domestic legal framework.[31] Neutral or non-belligerent States should ensure that this protection is granted to all prisoners of war who have fallen under their control or jurisdiction, and not only when they have received them within their territory.[32]
Back to top
2. Personal jurisdiction
4706  The tasks of a national information bureau are to receive and transmit information in respect of all protected persons entitled to the status of prisoner of war ‘who are [in the] power’ or ‘who ha[ve] fallen into [the] power’ of the Party to the conflict to which that bureau belongs.[33] This is an improvement on the 1929 Convention, which limited the work of the bureau to prisoners of war within the territory of the Party to the conflict.[34]
4707  When persons entitled to prisoner-of-war status fall into its power, the Detaining Power must ensure, within the shortest possible time, that the tasks assigned to a national information bureau are carried out for those protected persons, regardless of where they are located. This holds true, therefore, for detention facilities located outside the Party’s national territory.
4708  The activities of the bureau should also cover medical and religious personnel retained to assist prisoners of war.[35]
Back to top
3. Organization
4709  No detail is provided in this article or elsewhere in the Conventions on the proposed nature, composition and working methods of the national information bureau. Apart from the obligation in the Fourth Convention to establish a special section of the bureau for children in occupied territories whose identity is in doubt,[36] no instruction is given as to what body should be responsible for establishing and running the bureau.[37] All these matters are left to the discretion of the national authorities responsible for setting up the bureau.
4710  Because the bureau needs to be operational from the outbreak of hostilities, the authorities should take steps in peacetime to set down the procedures and mechanisms for its creation and functioning. In particular, they should determine the bureau’s structure and working methods, specify its funding sources and resources, allocate responsibilities and define the role of the National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society in relation to the bureau.[38] In practice, some States set up a dormant or basic structure in peacetime, which can be activated or expanded in the event of an international armed conflict.[39] To ensure the proper functioning of the bureau, it is highly recommended that persons who will be assigned to it during an armed conflict receive suitable training in advance, as well as during the process.
4711  States may choose to institute two bureaux, one for prisoners of war and one for other protected persons, or one bureau, covering both. If a government authority is to be in charge, it may be logical to have one bureau for the military and another for civilians, since these two categories of persons are usually dealt with by different authorities.[40] If the bureau is not integrated into a government administration, it may be better to have one structure, to avoid gaps or duplication and to pool experience.[41]
4712  During the Second World War, national information bureaux dealing with prisoners of war were usually run by government bodies. Bureaux that had the task of transmitting information concerning civilian internees varied in nature and origin. In some cases, they were the same as the bureaux responsible for prisoners of war; in others, they were set up by National Societies. Most often, however, they depended directly on government authorities, such as the Ministry of the Interior or the Ministry of Security.
4713  Recent practice shows that States establish their national information bureau in a variety of ways. Some issue instructions to their administrations to set up the bureau, whose mandate can be limited to prisoners of war only or cover both prisoners of war and protected civilians.[42]
4714  Some States have chosen to assign the task of running the bureau to the National Society.[43]
4715  In some cases, the bureau’s authority to collect, centralize and transmit information may extend to the State’s own nationals,[44] and may cover all types of armed conflicts, whether international or non-international, other emergencies and disasters.[45]
4716  Whatever form it takes, the bureau should maintain a link with the authorities, since these ultimately bear responsibility under international law for its proper functioning. The authorities must therefore be able to maintain some control over the bureau’s functions, regardless of how it is organized.[46]
4717  The authorities need to put in place coordination mechanisms to ensure that the bureau receives all the information necessary for it to carry out its humanitarian tasks. They should also grant the bureau the power to request such information from all relevant sources, including public institutions.[47] Being attached to the highest authorities of the country may facilitate the bureau’s work. At any rate, clear procedures and lines of communication between the authorities in whose hands the protected persons are and the national information bureau are essential to ensure that those who are actually recording the information forward it to the bureau. The forms to be used for collecting and transmitting the information should be decided on in advance.[48] Applicable rules on data protection must be complied with.[49]
Back to top
4. Staffing and facilities
4718  Article 122(1), third sentence, expressly states that the bureau must be provided with the necessary accommodation, equipment and staff to function efficiently. In focusing on the efficiency of the bureau, the 1949 Diplomatic Conference considered that it was not so much the way the bureau was organized that mattered, but that it should have the necessary capacity to carry out its humanitarian tasks effectively.
4719  For the bureau to function efficiently, the facilities accorded to it should be determined in advance, by legislative or regulatory means. They include, but are not limited to:
– provision of the necessary accommodation, equipment and staff, as specified in Article 122(1);
– exemption from postal dues for the correspondence, relief shipments and remittances of money addressed to prisoners of war, despatched by the bureau;[50]
– ‘so far as possible, exemption from telegraphic charges or, at least, greatly reduced rates’;[51]
– the provision of special means of transportation organized by the Protecting Powers or by the ICRC to convey the correspondence, lists and reports exchanged between the bureau and the Central Tracing Agency.[52]
4720  Furthermore, the fourth sentence of Article 122(1) recognizes a practice that has been followed in the past and proved of great assistance to belligerents: employing prisoners of war in the bureau.[53] Such prisoners often have knowledge of a language that the Detaining Power’s own personnel may lack and thus contribute to a better understanding of the processing of personal information of prisoners of war. Prisoners thus employed continue to be protected by the provisions in the present Convention regarding labour.[54] The prisoners working in the bureau must be repatriated, like other prisoners, without delay after the cessation of active hostilities.[55]
Back to top
D. Purpose of the bureaux
4721  The first sentence of Article 122(4) summarizes the purpose of the national information bureau: to receive and transmit information enabling prisoners of war to be exactly identified and their families rapidly notified. Although this information is communicated to the Power on which a prisoner of war depends, that Power is not the final addressee. It can, of course, take note of the particulars in passing for its own ends, but it must forward them to those for whom they were collected, i.e. the family of the protected person, who have the right to know the fate of their relative.[56]
4722  Under this article, the information transmitted must be such that it makes it possible to quickly advise a prisoner’s next of kin. It would be unacceptable for families not to be provided with news intended for them because, for example, of an incomplete or inaccurate address, or a similarity in names. The Convention therefore lists with exactitude the identity particulars which must be collected (see section F.2).
4723  The English version of Article 122(2) uses the term ‘next of kin’, while in the French version the obligation is to communicate the information to ‘the interested families’ (‘les familles intéressées’). Thus, the term ‘next of kin’ can be seen here as a synonym of ‘relative’ or ‘family’ of a protected person and should not be limited to the stricter meaning of ‘closest immediate relative’. In the view of the ICRC, the term should include, at a minimum, children born in and out of wedlock, adopted children or step-children; lawfully wedded partner or unwedded partner; parents (including step-mother, step-father, adopter); and full or half or adopted sisters and brothers.[57] The notion of ‘family’ or ‘relative’ should also be interpreted in the best interest of the person concerned. This means that all the elements necessary to make a decision in a specific situation for a specific individual must be examined, taking into account the individual’s own views.
4724  The obligation to inform the next of kin does not mean that all information must be communicated to the families, as the protected persons themselves might have legitimate reasons to withhold some information.[58] However, ‘in so far as available’, at least the information detailed in Article 122(4)–(6) must be transmitted.
Back to top
E. Tasks of the bureaux
1. Managing and processing of information
4725  First and foremost, the national information bureau of a Party to an international armed conflict is tasked with collecting, centralizing and transmitting information on protected persons of the adverse Party who are in its hands. Under the Convention, the bureau must transmit the information to the Protecting Power, if there is one, and to the Central Tracing Agency, both of which must pass it on to the Power on which the protected persons depend. This function aims to ensure that prisoners’ families are informed of the fate and whereabouts of their relatives, even if they are in enemy-controlled territory, and to prevent them from becoming missing.
Back to top
a. Collecting and centralizing information
4726  The bureau collects and centralizes the information that other authorities have an obligation to gather. This information covers all persons protected by the Convention, i.e. who are entitled to prisoner-of-war status or treatment, as long as they are in the power of the adverse Party. The word ‘shall’ in the first sentence of Article 122(2) makes it clear that this task is mandatory and not left to the discretion of the Parties to the conflict. Centralizing information includes taking all necessary steps in due time, even before the outbreak of hostilities, to ensure that the services, administrative departments or other authorities responsible for persons protected by the Convention are able to transmit the relevant information to it.
4727  The Convention leaves it to the Detaining Power to choose the method by which the bureau collects and centralizes the information. It requires only that it be centralized ‘within the shortest possible period’, leaving room for technical and technological advances. The need for speed is obvious from the system’s rationale: to be able to quickly advise the next of kin and to comply with the obligation to take all feasible measures to account for persons reported missing as a result of armed conflict and to provide their family members with information on their fate and whereabouts.[59] Timely collection of such information by the competent authorities and its centralization by the bureau reduces the risk of persons going missing, in particular when prisoners have been transferred multiple times. Particular care should be taken in respect of prisoners of war who, because they are wounded or sick and have been transferred to hospital, fall outside the usual handling and registration processes.[60] Furthermore, the information that is recorded and forwarded should be as accurate as possible.[61]
4728  In addition to the information mentioned in Article 122(4)–(6), the bureau must endeavour to obtain information relating, among others, to the wounded, sick, shipwrecked and dead.[62] While the centralization of information is mandatory, furnishing the required information does not depend entirely on the Detaining Power. The Detaining Power must, however, endeavour to obtain it, using its best efforts, with a view to forwarding it to the Power concerned.[63] Much of the information will usually come from the prisoners themselves, who are bound to give only certain details about their identity.[64] No physical or mental torture nor any other form of coercion may be inflicted on prisoners to secure from them any information whatsoever.[65] If they refuse to provide the required details, prisoners of war may be subject only to a restriction of the privileges accorded to their rank and status.[66]
4729  The second sentence of Article 122(2) requires that neutral or non-belligerent States comply with the same obligation to collect and centralize information regarding persons protected by the Convention who have fallen under their control or jurisdiction.[67]
Back to top
b. Transmission of information
4730  By centralizing the information, the bureau is able to comply with another obligation found in Article 122(3), which requires (‘shall’) that the bureau ‘immediately’ forward information to the ‘Powers concerned’ through the intermediary of the Protecting Power and the Central Tracing Agency. Even if a high number of individuals are concerned, it would not excuse the non-execution of this obligation.
4731  Under the 1929 Convention, it was already a requirement for the Detaining Power to forward information on prisoners of war in its hands to both the Protecting Power and the Central Tracing Agency. The dual system of transmission of information through both the Protecting Power and the Central Tracing Agency is designed to reduce the risk of error or loss. Importantly, it enables all the information exchanged between the various sides to be brought together in a single place – the Central Tracing Agency – which will thereby have an overview of the situation of the protected persons in the hands of all the Parties to a conflict.
4732  If a bureau must choose between two Protecting Powers because a prisoner of war depends on a Power other than their country of origin, it should take into account the interests of the protected person, bearing in mind that the information is above all destined for the family. Given that Protecting Powers have been designated in only five armed conflicts since the Second World War, the obligation to transmit information to them has rarely needed to be implemented in recent decades.[68] In contemporary practice, the information is transmitted through the Central Tracing Agency.
4733  The meaning of the expression ‘Powers concerned’ is clarified in Article 123, which specifies that the Central Tracing Agency is to transmit the information received from the bureau to the Power on which the prisoner depends. Usually that Power is the same as the person’s State of nationality. However, a person may be fighting for a State of which they are not a national. Whether or not it is appropriate to transmit the information to a given Power depends on the harm that it might cause to the person concerned. In certain cases, informing the country of origin that one of its nationals was fighting for the armed forces of another country may be detrimental to that person and their family, in which case withholding the information may be justified.[69]
4734  If the country of origin of the prisoner of war has maintained normal diplomatic relations with the Detaining Power, the former’s consular services should likewise be informed, if the prisoner so requests.[70]
4735  Notifying the country of origin depends on the prisoner’s consent, because there is no obligation on prisoners of war to reveal their country of origin. It is indeed because of the potential consequences of that information that it was not listed among the particulars that the prisoner of war is bound to provide.[71]
Back to top
c. Exception to transmission of information
4736  Contrary to the corresponding provision in Article 137(2) of the Fourth Convention, Article 122 does not provide an exception to the transmission of information by the bureau.[72] In principle, the bureau is obliged to transmit the information listed in Article 122(4)–(6) to the Power concerned through the intermediary of the Protecting Power, if there is one, and the Central Tracing Agency.
4737  Nevertheless, the absolute character of the obligation has to be reconciled with protection against the transmission of information that might be detrimental to the individual concerned and/or their family. Prisoners of war who fear that the information they provide might be used against them or their families may request that it be withheld from the Powers concerned.[73] In such a case, the bureau must still inform the Central Tracing Agency because transmitting information to the Agency is never considered detrimental to the protected persons.[74] However, the transmission of information by the Agency to the Power concerned may then be suspended in such cases.[75]
Back to top
d. Protection of personal information
4738  The tasks assigned to the national information bureaux require the management and processing of personal information. Since Article 122 was drafted, numerous national, regional and international instruments relating to privacy and data protection have been adopted. The principles they contain were developed to ensure that personal information is properly processed and protected, including in crisis situations.[76] The collection and transmission of information on prisoners of war by bureaux can be reconciled with these data-protection principles, which include the principles of lawful processing and purpose specification.[77]
4739  The principle of lawful processing (e.g. collection and transmission) requires that there be a legal basis for the processing of information on prisoners of war. Compliance with a legal obligation, in this case Article 122 itself, provides a valid legal basis for these tasks. Furthermore, the processing of information on prisoners of war is carried out on important grounds of public interest, as it is a component of the mandates of both the bureaux and the Central Tracing Agency. In addition, it may be in the vital interest of the prisoner (the data subject) or of another person to ensure that the data subject does not go missing.
4740  At the outset of the collection of information on prisoners of war, a specific purpose (or purposes) for its processing should be determined and set out. Such a purpose should be explicit and legitimate. Consistent with this principle, Article 122 refers to the purpose for collecting and transmitting such information, i.e. to ensure that the families of protected persons are informed rapidly of the fate and whereabouts of their relatives and that such persons do not go missing.[78]
4741  Domestic laws and regulations should be interpreted in such a way as to ensure that the authorities both fulfil the obligations set out in the Convention as regards the protection of prisoners of war (to inform their families and prevent protected persons from going missing) and comply with more recent instruments on privacy and data processing and protection.[79] In all cases, transmission of information to the Central Tracing Agency must be made possible.[80] When a National Society is involved in the work of the bureau, its work should be considered as serving the public interest.[81]
4742  In recent years, advances in information technology have greatly aided the work of the bureaux in collecting, centralizing and transmitting the information they are tasked with managing. While technology has enhanced the efficiency of the bureaux in reducing the likelihood of persons remaining unaccounted for, it may also increase the risks related to the protection of personal information, particularly the accidental or unauthorized disclosure, tampering or loss of such information. Controllers of information must therefore put in place measures ensuring an appropriate level of security in order to mitigate such risks, taking into account available technology and logistical conditions.[82]
Back to top
e. Means and process of transmission
4743  Article 122(3) requires that information be transmitted ‘immediately’ and ‘by the most rapid means’ to the Powers concerned, through the intermediary of the Protecting Powers and the Central Tracing Agency. The need for speediness is evident from the provision’s purpose and was clearly understood by the drafters as necessary to protect individuals and prevent disappearances.[83]
4744  The responsibility of the national information bureau extends only to the forwarding of the information to the Protecting Power and the Central Tracing Agency (even if it is being transmitted so that the next of kin may be rapidly informed). To give full effect to this provision, the Protecting Power and the Central Tracing Agency must retransmit the information ‘as rapidly as possible’ to the Powers concerned, and in doing so must receive all facilities from the Parties to the conflict.[84]
4745  The Convention’s use of the expression ‘by the most rapid means’ requires authorities to endeavour, according to their own level of technological progress, to use the most up-to-date methods of communication available.[85] During the Second World War, information concerning prisoners of war was generally sent by post, sometimes entailing long delays. To remedy this, the Central Tracing Agency sometimes sent information via telegraph or radio.
4746  Some of the earlier means of communication, in particular telegraph, have fallen into relative disuse.[86] The requirement to use the most rapid means available therefore suggests that more modern means, including electronic ones (such as protected electronic networks and databases or email), would nowadays be most appropriate. However, in deciding on the most rapid means of communication, the bureau should also consider its reliability and integrity. This might mean, in certain circumstances, using portable data-storage devices, such as CD-ROMs or USB/thumb drives, rather than, for example, relying on electronic methods of transmission such as the internet. It may also mean password-protecting or encrypting electronic files. Importantly, the use of modern technology to facilitate registration processes does not relieve the Parties of their obligation to send the original of the capture card to the Central Tracing Agency.[87]
4747  Whatever the means and process chosen, practice has shown that there are a number of elements that are essential to ensuring that the system elaborated in the Convention operates effectively. In particular, the authorities should ensure that:
– the system of transmission includes a process to collect and transmit information from the armed forces to the bureau;
– the system of transmission used by the bureau and the authorities is compatible with the case management system of the Central Tracing Agency;[88]
– the information is cross-checked to ensure it is accurate and reliable and the system of transmission secure;
– names and surnames of protected persons are spelled correctly, according to standardized transcription rules if different alphabets are involved;
– procedures are tightened when a change occurs (to avoid confusion and ‘administrative’ disappearance), particularly when prisoners of war are transferred outside regular holding/detention processes;
– the information provided in the notification to the adverse Party is as complete as possible (based on the information provided by the prisoner);
– the information is updated when necessary;
– if multinational forces are involved, registration, notification and transfer processes are standardized.
f. Authentication of written communications
4748  Article 122(7) requires that all written communications by the bureau be authenticated by means of a signature or a seal. This could, in appropriate circumstances, be an electronic signature. It is of the utmost importance that the information forwarded should not only be as detailed and as complete as possible but also leave no room for doubt. Those concerned – the families, the authorities and the Central Tracing Agency – must have full confidence in the authenticity of a message announcing a capture, death, illness, repatriation or release. Every effort should be made to reduce errors to a minimum. By making it obligatory to authenticate its written communications in this way, the Convention seeks to ensure this objective can be achieved.
4749  For other communications that are not in hard copy, the nature of the channels through which they are generally sent may be considered to constitute a sufficient guarantee of their authenticity. When electronic means are used for the collection, centralization and/or transmission of information, the authorities should have recourse to protection devices (including encryption) and limit its access and handling to a restricted number of authorized staff members.
Back to top
2. Enquiries
a. Introduction
4750  According to Article 122(7), the bureau is also responsible for replying to all ‘enquiries’ received concerning prisoners of war, including those who have died in captivity. If the Convention is fully respected, the bureau should have the information referred to in paragraphs 4–6 in its possession. However, the provision also recognizes that if this is not the case, the bureau will in turn have to make ‘enquiries’ to obtain it. The English version of the Convention uses the term ‘enquiries’ for both the requests for information addressed to the bureau and to the bureau’s own ‘enquiries’ i.e. searches for information.[89] However, these two elements are distinct.
Back to top
b. Requests for information
4751  All protected persons under the Convention – i.e. persons enjoying prisoner-of-war status and retained medical and religious personnel – can be the subject of a request for information and related enquiry. Article 122 does not cover enquiries concerning nationals of the Party to which the bureau belongs. However, nothing precludes the authorities from extending the bureau’s personal jurisdiction to their own nationals.[90] Additional Protocol I extends the obligation on each Party to a conflict to search for and collect information on all persons who have been reported missing by an adverse Party, and not only persons protected under the Third and Fourth Conventions.[91]
4752  The Convention does not provide any detail on who can make a request for information to the national information bureau. In practice, applications will be either from an official body, most likely the Central Tracing Agency or the adverse Party (possibly through its own bureau), or from a private body, including humanitarian organizations such as the ICRC or National Societies.
4753  The lack of detail on this point in Article 122 indicates that the drafters wished to leave this open, so that private persons could also file an application for an enquiry, since the very purpose of the bureau is to inform families of the fate and whereabouts of their relatives.[92] However, depending on the circumstances, national authorities may decide that applications from families should be channelled through the Central Tracing Agency. What is important is that individuals know where to address their requests for information and that they receive a response.
4754  Current practice shows that authorities are inclined to recognize a wide range of persons and entities as having the capacity to file a request for information with the bureau.[93] However, criteria for receiving applications must be set down for each context, and the authorities should ensure that any person or entity with a legitimate interest is able to make a request. In addition to the Power on which the prisoner depends, the Protecting Power and the Central Tracing Agency, this includes family members and other relatives, as well as the legal representatives of protected persons. It may also include other persons who are able to demonstrate a legitimate interest, including humanitarian organizations, when this is not incompatible with privacy and data-protection rules.[94]
4755  The bureau is obliged to reply to all requests for information. However, its activities are motivated by the interests of the protected persons and their families, so it should not transmit information against the prisoners’ will or that could be detrimental to them or their families.[95] Applications from the Central Tracing Agency are not subject to this rule. The Agency is authorized to receive all the information it needs for its own files and to carry out its tasks, which are of an exclusively humanitarian nature.[96]
Back to top
c. Enquiries by the bureau
4756  Responsibility for replying to all requests concerning prisoners of war includes undertaking all steps possible to obtain the required information. This provision thus implicitly recognizes an obligation to search for prisoners of war who have been reported missing.[97]
4757  There is no standard method for making enquiries. During the Second World War, all particulars of the successive stages of a request for information, the subsequent enquiry and information obtained were concisely added to an application card. Details included the date of application, the date the enquiry was opened, its nature, results, date of reply, and particulars of the applicant and of the individuals or bodies approached for information. Thus, at any moment it was possible to see at a glance how the enquiry was progressing, without having to take out the full file. In addition to keeping the application cards up to date, positive replies were entered on information cards; this was the rule when the reply gave a notification of death. Chronological indexes were also kept in order to pursue enquiries more easily and to facilitate the necessary follow-up. Printed forms, which considerably simplified the handling of applications, were also used for enquiries and led to more speedy and accurate results.[98]
4758  In its enquiries, the bureau bears an obligation of means and should turn to all possible sources capable of providing the information sought by the applicant. As noted, in principle the bureau should have all relevant information in its possession as the Detaining Power has a corresponding obligation to provide it under this provision. However, in exceptional circumstances, prisoners might nevertheless become unaccounted for. For instance, this could be the case if a Party to a conflict unexpectedly loses control over or access to a prisoner-of-war camp or if a prisoner escapes. In such cases, enquiries should be carried out as soon as circumstances permit, and at the latest from the end of active hostilities.[99]
4759  In the conduct of these enquiries, it is recommended that the bureau observe the following good practices. Any public or private organization or individual able to provide useful information may be approached, including institutions, municipal authorities, other bureaux, National Societies, the ICRC, prisoners’ representatives, camp commanders, medical and religious personnel, and fellow prisoners of war. Forms tailored to the context have proved to be very valuable for the systematic collection, centralization and transmission of information. Furthermore, it is recommended that all information relating to the same person is gathered in a single, individual file with a unique number. The file should contain the request for information and all other available relevant information, such as witness accounts, letters from the family, press cuttings, photographs, returned mail, and responses from the authorities approached. It can also contain pieces of incomplete information that may nevertheless be valuable once cross-checked with other pieces. Any piece of information, any action taken and any result should be added to the file.
4760  Today’s practice shows that the bureau’s ability to provide answers depends as much on its capacity to gather the initial information as it does on its capacity to match and compare this information with that obtained from other public and private sources. The bureau’s computer systems and software should be able to exchange and make use of information coming from other public and private databases.
4761  A request for information should not be closed until the applicant has received an adequate response to the enquiry. This means in practice that the request may only be closed when information on the fate and whereabouts of the person sought has been provided to the family. The request may also be suspended when all possible avenues available at the time have been exhausted and the applicant has been informed accordingly. However, as soon as additional information is obtained, the enquiry should be resumed. Depending on the request, the information provided to the applicant may include where the protected person is held, whether contact can be re-established or, in the case of death, the place of burial or grave site. Once an enquiry has been concluded, all personal information collected with a view to settling the case should be treated in accordance with applicable standards on data protection (regardless of whether the person is found to be alive or dead), including, where necessary, deleting or destroying the data.[100]
Back to top
3. Forwarding of valuables
4762  Under Article 122(9), the bureau is responsible for collecting all personal valuables left by the protected person and for forwarding them to the Powers concerned. The use of the word ‘shall’ indicates that this task is compulsory. In practice, it will be the various bodies concerned (the administrative services of the camps or other places of detention) that will have to look for, collect and forward these valuables to the bureau, which will, however, bear overall responsibility for forwarding them to their final destination.
4763  Protected persons covered by this provision are prisoners of war who are no longer in the hands of the adverse Party because they were released, repatriated or have escaped or died.
4764  Pursuant to the First and Second Conventions, the same applies to personal valuables of the dead collected on the battlefield.[101] Pursuant to these Conventions, the Parties to a conflict must gather certain items concerning the dead and forward them to their national information bureau. This obligation has been interpreted broadly in practice and is now part of customary international law.[102]
4765  All valuables of such persons must be collected. These should be understood to mean all articles which are of any commercial worth or sentimental value, including sums in currencies other that that of the Detaining Power and documents of importance to the next of kin. An article of no intrinsic commercial worth may often have enormous sentimental value for the family. In practice, therefore, almost all personal articles left by prisoners of war or found on the dead should be collected and forwarded.
4766  Once all personal valuables have been collected, the bureau must forward them to the Powers concerned, either directly or through the intermediary of the Protecting Power or the Central Tracing Agency. Because of its importance to the persons concerned or their families, the transmission of personal valuables follows the same rule as for information on protected persons: it should take place as soon as possible and persists after the end of hostilities.[103]
4767  Because they are most likely to be physical objects, personal valuables will need to be transported first to the bureau and then to the Central Tracing Agency. This may happen via the postal service, hence the requirement under the Convention that the bureaux enjoy free postage.[104] But other reliable means can also be used, such as by hand or private delivery services. What is important is that all feasible measures be taken to ensure that personal valuables safely reach their intended destination, bearing in mind the interests and protection of their owners and their families.
4768  Lastly, personal valuables need to be sent in sealed packets, together with a full inventory of the contents and all the particulars of the person concerned. Too often during the Second World War, the Central Tracing Agency received inadequately packaged personal effects, for example in open or torn parcels or with no indication of the owner. Detailed provisions in this respect were therefore deemed necessary.
4769  It is clear from the last sentence of Article 122(9) – which covers arrangements for sending other personal effects – that the obligations of the bureaux in this respect mainly concern articles and documents which are not voluminous and can be sent in packages exempt from postal charges. The transport of other personal effects, such as clothing, books, computers and other electronic devices, musical instruments or works of art, may incur higher costs. It is therefore specified that such effects will be forwarded ‘under arrangements agreed upon between the Parties to the conflict concerned’; such arrangements could specify the means of transport and responsibility for payment of the costs involved.[105]
4770  To ensure the information is secure, the bureau should maintain detailed records of the receipt and despatch of all personal valuables of protected persons, as expressly stated in the Fourth Convention.[106]
4771  When the Central Tracing Agency receives the items, it sends them unopened to the persons concerned or their families.
Back to top
4. Other tasks not mentioned in the Convention
4772  In addition to the tasks expressly assigned to national information bureaux by the Conventions, each Party to a conflict is free to extend the mandate of its bureau, including to other tasks which are also specified in the Conventions but not expressly entrusted to them.
4773  These tasks can be divided into two categories: those on behalf of protected persons of the adverse Party, either civilian or military, who are in the hands of the State to which the national information bureau belongs; and those on behalf of protected persons who belong to the same Party as the bureau but who are in enemy hands.
4774  As regards the first category, the bureau could be tasked, among other things, with:
– forwarding other information and documents on prisoners of war that a Detaining Power must transmit to the Central Tracing Agency, such as medical certificates,[107] statements to back up claims for compensation,[108] or legal documents, such as powers of attorney or wills;[109]
– registering prisoners of war and, where relevant, forwarding their capture cards,[110] while carrying out their specified task of obtaining the information that must be transmitted to the other Party;
– forwarding the correspondence of prisoners of war, especially since bureaux benefit from exemption from postal charges;[111]
– transmitting to the Protecting Power, or the ICRC, information on legal proceedings instituted or administrative measures taken against a prisoner of war;[112]
– transmitting information on missing persons other than missing prisoners of war and registering categories of persons specifically mentioned in Additional Protocol I.[113]
4775  With respect to protected persons who belong to the same Party as the bureau and who are in enemy hands, the bureau could be designated as the focal point for their families. For example, it could receive information from the Central Tracing Agency and the Protecting Power concerning persons in the hands of the adverse Party, enabling it to forward the information directly to the families concerned.[114] Also, the bureau could be instructed to forward to the families the capture cards received from the adverse Party, to distribute to the families the mail received from prisoners of war in the hands of the enemy and to collect the replies from the families.
4776  If the bureau is assigned such activities, it would be of the utmost importance that it coordinates them with those of the National Society.[115] In all cases, the files concerning nationals and those related to enemy nationals in the hands of the State to which the bureau belongs should be kept separate.
Back to top
F. Nature of the information managed and processed by the bureau
1. Introduction
4777  The 1929 Convention did not specify what information exactly the bureau was called upon to transmit to the other Party. A consequence of this omission was that certain bureaux gave the Central Tracing Agency information that was unsatisfactory both in its detail and in its presentation.[116]
4778  The present Convention identifies the specific type of information that the bureau should gather and transmit to the Powers concerned through the intermediary of the Protecting Power, where there is one, and the Central Tracing Agency. This information can be divided into two categories. The first covers the information that depends on the protected persons themselves and relates to their identity (section F.2). The second covers information that the authorities should have as a matter of course and relates to the status or situation of protected persons and the changes thereto while such persons are in their hands (sections F.3–F.5). This commentary additionally discusses other information not mentioned in the Convention that may nonetheless be useful in identifying prisoners, such as fingerprints and other biometric information (section F.6).
Back to top
2. Identity particulars of prisoners of war
4779  Article 122(4) lists the particulars that the bureau should collect in relation to the identity of prisoners of war. The list is illustrative and not exhaustive since the purpose of the bureau is to collect as much information as is relevant to be able to inform the family appropriately.[117] This may include telephone numbers, email addresses or the contact details of other relatives. The identity particulars of a prisoner of war will usually be obtained through questioning upon capture (Article 17) and the capture cards to be filled out by prisoners (Article 70).
4780  When questioned, prisoners of war are bound only to give the following information: surname and first names, rank, date of birth and army, regimental, personal or serial number, or failing this, equivalent information.[118] In light of past experience, the drafters of the Convention considered that additional information might constitute a source of danger, as the Detaining Power had sometimes made use of it to subject the families of certain prisoners of war to reprisals.[119] Those are exceptional cases, however, and concern mostly prisoners of war whose country of origin is occupied by the Detaining Power, or who are nationals of the latter. As a general rule, members of the armed forces should be duly informed by their authorities of the purpose of collecting such information, their obligation to provide it and the role of the bureau in maintaining links with their families, to avoid unnecessary reluctance to share information.
4781  Pursuant to paragraph 4, using the information collected directly from the prisoners and other sources, the bureau has to register the following identity particulars of the prisoners, in so far as available: surname(s); first name(s); rank; army, regimental, personal or serial numbers; full date of birth; place of birth; indication of the Power on which the prisoner depends;[120] first name of the father; maiden name of the mother; name and address of the person to be informed; and address to which correspondence for the prisoner may be sent.
4782  This list is identical to the one found in Article 77(5) of the 1929 Convention, with the exception of the unit in which the prisoner served, which was dropped in 1949. During the Second World War, some of the belligerents tended to consider that the information on the unit was of military significance and should therefore not be provided, despite its value to the Central Tracing Agency.[121]
4783  Furthermore, pursuant to the First and the Second Conventions, the bureau must collect and transmit the following information on all wounded, sick, shipwrecked or dead persons, even if they were not at any time a prisoner of war because they died before capture: surname(s); first name(s); army, regimental, personal or serial numbers; date of birth; designation of the Power on which the person depends; any other particulars shown on the identity card or disc; date and place of capture or death; and particulars concerning wounds or illness, or cause of death.[122]
Back to top
3. Information on change of status or situation of prisoners of war
4784  Unlike identity particulars, which can be furnished primarily by the prisoner of war concerned, all the information on change of status or situation mentioned in Article 122(5) is known to the Detaining Power, and there can be no excuse for it not being transmitted to the bureau. The Party into whose hands the prisoners of war have fallen should be able to transmit this information at all times and the bureau should make sure that it obtains it.
4785  This information concerns any change of status or situation, such as transfers, releases, including releases on parole,[123] repatriations, escapes and recaptures,[124] admissions to hospital, state of health[125] and death.[126]
4786  The Detaining Power must notify the bureau in respect of any of the situations listed above. Regardless of the number of prisoners of war concerned, the notification must be made immediately and by the most rapid means available, as required by Article 122(3). In order to avoid disappearances, particular care should be taken to keep track of prisoners of war who may who fall outside the normal detention/holding processes, such as when transferred to hospitals or other facilities that are outside the direct control of the detaining authorities.[127]
Back to top
4. Information on the dead
4787  The information that the bureau needs to transmit on the dead is specified in Article 120. Detaining Powers must forward to their respective bureau death certificates or duly authenticated lists of the dead of all persons who die as prisoners of war. Such certificates should always include, in addition to the essential details of identity listed in Article 17(3), the following information: date and place of death; cause of death; date and place of burial; and all particulars necessary to identify the grave.[128]
4788  Because of its important legal consequences for the next of kin, the bureau must collect this information and forward it as rapidly as possible to the Power concerned through the intermediary of the Protecting Power, if there is one, and the Central Tracing Agency.
Back to top
5. Information regarding state of health of prisoners of war
4789  Article 122(6) requires that information on the state of health of ‘seriously ill’ or ‘seriously wounded’ prisoners of war be transmitted. In its ordinary meaning, an illness or wound is serious if it is ‘significant or worrying in terms of danger or risk’.[129] In the context of this provision, these terms should be interpreted in the light of Articles 109 and 110.[130]
4790  A combined reading of paragraphs 5 and 6 of the present article leads to the conclusion that information on all prisoners of war transferred to a hospital – and not only those who are seriously ill or seriously wounded – needs to be collected, because paragraph 5 expressly states that the bureau must receive within the shortest period of time information regarding ‘admissions to hospital’. Accordingly, the bureau must be notified whenever a prisoner of war is admitted to hospital as soon as it happens. The same goes for when that person is discharged from hospital and/or transferred back to a detention facility. In the case of seriously ill or seriously wounded prisoners, paragraph 6 adds that the authorities must provide the bureau with information on their state of health regularly, every week if possible.
4791  Information on the state of health of prisoners of war is of a medical nature and constitutes particularly sensitive personal information. The unauthorized disclosure of such information can expose the person to serious risks, particularly to their physical and mental integrity. This is why confidentiality is a cornerstone of medical ethics and must be protected by domestic law. Since Article 122(6) was drafted, international standards of medical ethics have developed considerably and the rule of confidentiality reaffirmed.[131] Medical personnel owe a duty of confidentiality to their patients, including after their death. Respect for medical confidentiality is essential for establishing trust between the patient and health-care provider. This is even more important in situations in which the patient may have reason to mistrust the medical staff, for example because they belong to the adverse Party.
4792  In light of the foregoing, information to be sent to the national information bureau on the state of health of seriously ill or seriously wounded prisoners of war should be collected by duly qualified staff in full respect for applicable standards of medical ethics. When circumstances permit, the persons concerned should be informed of the reasons why this information is being collected and transmitted to the bureau.[132] Access to this information by staff must be restricted to ensure confidentiality, and clear standard operating procedures adopted to specify, among other things, what type of information should be collected, retained and/or deleted.
4793  According to contemporary standards of medical ethics, medical personnel must treat all medical information with confidentiality.[133] There must be a lawful basis for the disclosure or transmission of medical information, for example when it is required by law (in this case Article 122 itself), it is justified in the public interest or it is in the vital interest of the prisoner of war (the data subject) or another person.[134] This is a delicate matter, which must be handled with the utmost care given the person’s high degree of vulnerability.
Back to top
6. Other information on prisoners of war
4794  Practice has shown that other information may be useful in identifying prisoners of war, in particular the dead and missing, and may also speed up notification of their families. In certain cases, for instance, authorities have forwarded items of information such as fingerprints and other biometric information, photographs and distinguishing marks.[135]
4795  Article 122 does not provide a basis to collect biological samples and the resulting DNA profiles from all prisoners of war; there must be a specific purpose for doing so.[136] DNA is increasingly used in criminal investigations and proceedings, as well as in natural disasters, accidents and the search for missing persons. Authorities wishing to use DNA within the framework of their bureau’s activities, in particular to identify the dead and the missing, must specify the legal basis, which will detail, among other things, in which situations DNA may be collected and how the resulting data may be processed to achieve the intended purpose.[137]
Back to top
G. Coordination between the bureau, the Central Tracing Agency and National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society
4796  To fulfil its tasks, the national information bureau must enjoy the full cooperation of other national bodies. Clear instructions should be given to ensure the timely and accurate transmission of information to and from concerned ministries, departments and institutions, as well as effective coordination between them.[138] In some countries, national committees on humanitarian law have been designated to help identify the appropriate flow of information from the various stakeholders to the bureau.[139]
4797  The bureau also needs to coordinate its activities with the Central Tracing Agency, whose tasks are complementary and partially overlap with the bureau’s tasks, notably:
– Both have a responsibility to collect and centralize the same type of information on protected persons, including on prisoners of war (from all Parties by the Central Tracing Agency, from the adverse Party by the national information bureau).
– Both have the task of forwarding family news and other documents or personal items.
– Both have the task to search for missing persons, including of missing prisoners of war.[140]
4798  While there is complementarity in their respective functions (especially with regard to sources of information and transmission channels), there is also a certain duplication, which is intended and reflects the idea that two parallel channels ensure better protection than only one.
4799  The bureau should also coordinate its activities with the National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society in its country, in line with their respective mandates. National Societies have a responsibility to help restore and maintain links between separated members of families and to search for those who are reported missing as a consequence of armed conflict, tensions, natural disasters or migration.[141] Their role in facilitating the exchange of family news during international armed conflict, in cooperation with the Central Tracing Agency, is specifically provided for.[142]
4800  Mailing and tracing activities for nationals who are in the hands of the enemy are traditionally performed by the ICRC and its Central Tracing Agency, in cooperation with National Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies. The latter are part of a unique global network whose components are present in almost all countries and, unlike bureaux, they usually have local branches in the country of origin of the prisoners of war. They can thus ensure that information relating to prisoners is forwarded to their families and that requests for information are collected and transmitted to the Agency. If this task is assigned to a national information bureau, it should work with the National Society concerned to ensure coherence, continuity and sustainability.
4801  In practice, some States have assigned activities on behalf of their own nationals to their National Society and reserved tasks on behalf of nationals of an adverse Party for the national information bureau. In all cases, National Societies and the Central Tracing Agency can provide advice in setting up national information bureaux and, in the case of the former, remind their respective governments of their obligations under the Conventions to establish and organize an effective bureau.
4802  National information bureaux may also be called upon to play a role within coordination mechanisms whose aim is to exchange information on missing persons between the Parties to an armed conflict. In these cases, a bureau would be responsible for searching for and providing relevant information on the fate and whereabouts of persons who have disappeared and for cooperating with the coordination mechanism.[143]
Back to top
Select bibliography
Crettol, Monique and La Rosa, Anne-Marie, ‘The missing and transitional justice: The right to know and the fight against impunity’, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 88, No. 862, June 2006, pp. 355–362.
Crettol, Monique, Milner, Lina, La Rosa, Anne-Marie and Stockwell, Jill, ‘Establishing mechanisms to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing persons: A proposed humanitarian approach’, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 99, No. 905, 2017, pp. 589–618.
Dinstein, Yoram, ‘The release of prisoners of war’, in Christophe Swinarski (ed.), Studies and Essays on International Humanitarian Law and Red Cross Principles in Honour of Jean Pictet, ICRC/Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, The Hague, 1984, pp. 37–45.
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.
Kuner, Christopher and Marelli, Massimo (eds), Handbook on Data Protection and Humanitarian Action, ICRC and Brussels Privacy Hub, 2nd edition, Geneva, 2020.
La Vaccara, Alessandra, When the conflict ends, while uncertainty continues: accounting for missing persons between war and peace in international law, Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2019.
Petrig, Anna, ‘Search for Missing Persons’, in Andrew Clapham, Paola Gaeta and Marco Sassòli (eds), The 1949 Geneva Conventions: A Commentary, Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 257–276.
Sandoz, Yves, ‘Rights, Powers and Obligations of Neutral Powers under the Conventions’, in Andrew Clapham, Paola Gaeta and Marco Sassòli (eds), The 1949 Geneva Conventions: A Commentary, Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 85–108.
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. 977–1012.
Sassòli, Marco, ‘The status, treatment and repatriation of deserters under international humanitarian law’, Yearbook of the International Institute of Humanitarian Law, 1985, pp. 9–36.
– ‘The National Information Bureau in aid of the victims of armed conflicts’, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 27, No. 256, February 1987, pp. 6–24.
Sassòli, Marco, Bouvier, Antoine A. and Quintin, Anne, How Does Law Protect in War?, 3rd edition, ICRC, Geneva, 2011.
Shapiro, L.B., ‘Repatriation of Deserters’, British Yearbook of International Law, Vol. 29, 1952, pp. 310–324.

1 - While the text of this provision uses the terms ‘official Information Bureau’ and ‘Prisoners of War Information Bureau’, the title provided in the margin by the Depositary was ‘National Bureaux’. The commentary on this article uses ‘national information bureau’, a term often used in domestic law, which, for practical reasons, is hereinafter sometimes shortened to ‘bureau’.
2 - The relevant provisions in the First and Second Conventions are: First Convention, Articles 16(3) and 17(4), and Second Convention, Article 19(2)–(3).
3 - See Fourth Convention, Article 4.
4 - In practice, the bureaux may also have a role to play in non-international armed conflicts. See the commentary on Article 3, fn. 321.
5 - See Article 120(2).
6 - See Article 123.
7 - See Proceedings of the Hague Peace Conference of 1907, Vol. I, p. 98, and Vol. III, p. 10 (amendments introduced by Japan and Cuba).
8 - For practice during the First World War, see Agreement between Austria-Hungary and Serbia concerning Prisoners of War and Civilian Internees (1918), Article 138(VII)(1), and Agreement between the United States of America and Germany concerning Prisoners of War, Sanitary Personnel and Civilians (1918), Article 107.
9 - Hague Regulations (1907), Article 14.
10 - Ibid.
11 - For practice on the application of Article 77 of the 1929 Convention during the Second World War, see Maurice Bretonnière, L’application de la convention de Genève aux prisonniers français en Allemagne durant la seconde guerre mondiale (typewritten thesis), Paris, 1949, pp. 478–480.
12 - Report of the Preliminary Conference of National Societies of 1946, pp. 75–76. During the Conference, the delegation of Italy (supported by Iran) proposed that, as soon as circumstances permit, a permanent social service be set up within National Societies, which in time of war would constitute the nucleus of an information bureau. Other delegations – in particular that of the United Kingdom – stressed the usefulness of having two separate sources of information, one governmental and the other the National Society. The UK delegation also observed that certain governments might be disinclined to relinquish a task that they considered to be of their peculiar competence.
13 - Report of the Conference of Government Experts of 1947, pp. 249–250.
14 - On the change of name, see the commentary on Article 123, para. 4804.
15 - Report of the Conference of Government Experts of 1947, p. 251.
16 - Ibid. pp. 250–251.
17 - Draft Conventions submitted to the 1948 Stockholm Conference, p. 129. The 1929 Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War did not specify what information needed to be transmitted to the other Party, which resulted in certain bureaux giving the Central Tracing Agency information that was unsatisfactory in both its detail and its presentation.
18 - Ibid.
19 - Ibid. p. 127, draft article 112(1).
20 - For the modifications that the Drafting Committee brought to the text, see Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of 1949, Vol. II-B, p. 184.
21 - Ibid. Vol. II-A, p. 365.
22 - Ibid. pp. 406–407.
23 - Ibid.
24 - See also UN Security Council, Res. 2474, 11 June 2019, para. 9.
25 - As proposed in 25th International Conference of the Red Cross, Geneva, 1986, Res. XIV, National information bureau, para. 1.
26 - For example, Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, France, Germany, Lebanon (not yet implemented), New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway, Paraguay, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States.
27 - See examples in Krähenmann, p. 385, and Weill, p. 1018. See also Denmark, Military Manual, 2016, p. 243.
28 - Under Article 126 of the Third Convention. See e.g. ICRC, ‘ICRC Activities in favour or prisoners of war during the Iraq-Iran war and the Gulf war’, 11 March 2003 (‘Throughout the eight years of conflict, the ICRC registered and visited POWs in both countries.’).
29 - On the definition of neutral countries and the treatment of prisoners of war after a transfer to such countries, see the commentary on Article 4, section J.2.d and e. The expression ‘neutral or non-belligerent Powers’ is used instead of ‘neutral Power’ on two occasions in the Third Convention (Articles 4B(2) and 122).
30 - See Article 4A. This includes members of the armed forces and assimilated weapon bearers, as well as authorized individuals accompanying the troops. Inhabitants spontaneously taking up arms to resist the invading forces (levée en masse) would also qualify.
31 - See Article 4B(2). Also, Article 32 of Additional Protocol I mentions as a general principle the duty of all Parties to the Protocol, including therefore neutral States, to implement the provisions on missing persons and the dead ‘prompted mainly by the right of families to know the fate of their relatives’.
32 - The purpose of the Conventions is to ensure that the persons they cover receive the benefit of the protections to which they are entitled no matter where they are. See, to the same effect, the commentary on Article 5 of the Second Convention, para. 971.
33 - See the first sentences of the first and second paragraphs of the present article. In case of doubt, a person who took part in hostilities and has fallen into the power of an adverse Party must be presumed to be a prisoner of war; see Article 5 of the Third Convention and Article 45(1) of Additional Protocol I.
34 - Geneva Convention (1929), Article 77(1).
35 - See Article 33.
36 - Fourth Convention, Article 50(4).
37 - Resolution XIV on national information bureaux adopted by the 25th International Conference of the Red Cross (Geneva, 1986) merely states that National Societies and the ICRC should be invited to lend their assistance.
38 - For further information on the role of National Societies, see section G.
39 - For instance, the capacity of the UK bureau can be increased to five officers in time of crisis. In Canada, the bureau ‘is activated when hostilities are imminent and is likely to require significant augmentation if it is to undertake its responsibilities, including those mandated under [the Third Convention].’; see Prisoner of War Handling Manual, 2004, p. 1-4, para. 107.3. With regard to Sweden, see fn. 43.
40 - The UK bureau is split in two. In Belgium, a single bureau has been set up, comprising a civilian and a military section.
41 - In these circumstances, the bureau needs to be aware of the differences between the obligations contained in Article 122 of the Third Convention and those in Article 137(2) of the Fourth Convention relating to the transmission of information when it could be detrimental to the person concerned or their family.
42 - For bureaux having jurisdiction over prisoners of war and civilians, see Paraguay, Decree Establishing a National Information Bureau, 2010, and United States, Law of War Manual, 2016, p. 638, para. 9.31.4. For bureaux having jurisdiction over prisoners of war only, see Argentina, Decree on the Creation of the National Information Bureau, 2004; Canada, Prisoner of War Handling Manual, 2004, pp. 1-4 –1-5, para. 107.3; and France, Circular on the National Information Bureau on Prisoners of War, 2010.
43 - See e.g. Germany, Red Cross Act, 2008, Article 2.1.3; Croatia, Law on the Croatian Red Cross, 2010, Article 9; and Slovenia, Law on the Slovenian Red Cross, 1993, as amended, Article 14. Sweden and Norway signed agreements with their governments in 1996 and 2007, respectively, which provided that preparations must be made by the National Societies to set up a national information bureau. See also Netherlands, Royal Red Cross Decree, 1988, Article 3, para. 4, and Directives to the Netherlands Red Cross concerning the Information Bureau, 1971. A national information bureau has existed under the auspices of the Netherlands Red Cross since 1971. In Sweden, for example, the authorities and the National Society have signed an agreement providing that, even though the decision to activate the bureau in the event of an armed conflict lies with the government, the National Society is responsible for setting it up and running it and for all the preparatory work during peacetime. If a conflict should arise, the national information bureau would become ‘an official bureau’, an autonomous service independent from the Swedish Red Cross line management.
44 - See e.g. Armenia, Presidential Decree on the Creation of the Commission on Prisoners of War, Captives and Missing Persons, 2000, Articles 4 and 5; Azerbaijan, Presidential Ordinance on the State Commission for War Prisoners, Hostages and Disappeared Persons, 2001, Articles I and II; Croatia, Law on the Croatian Red Cross, 2010, Article 9; and Slovenia, Law on the Slovenian Red Cross, 1993, as amended, Article 14.
45 - See e.g. Croatia, Law on the Croatian Red Cross, 2010, Article 9; Slovenia, Law on the Slovenian Red Cross, 1993, as amended, Article 14; Sweden, Ordinance on Prisoners of War and Other Protected Persons, 1996, section 2, noting that a national information bureau may be set up also in situations other than armed conflict, subject to agreement by the government and the Swedish Red Cross; and United Kingdom, Joint Doctrine Captured Persons, 2015, p. 4-40, paras 466–467, noting that the provisions concerning the national information bureau should, as a matter of good practice, also apply to detainees or internees in a non-international armed conflict, and that the United Kingdom may open ‘a National Information Bureau or something similar’ also in operations other than armed conflict. See also ICRC, Guiding Principles/Model Law on the Missing, 2009, commentary on Article 13, p. 30, para. 2, noting that national information bureaux ‘may also be authorized and structured to play a larger role in supporting the search for missing persons in a wider context, during times of peace and internal violence’.
46 - See also Sassòli, p. 8, and Petrig, p. 267.
47 - As is the case, for instance, in Argentina, France and Paraguay.
48 - See e.g. France, Circular on the National Information Bureau on Prisoners of War, 2010, Annexes.
49 - For more details, see section E.1.d.
50 - See Articles 74(2) and 124. These provisions are given effect through, among others, the Universal Postal Convention (2016), Articles 16.2.2.1–16.2.2.3; the Letter Post Regulations (2017), Articles 16-000 and 16-003 (which specifically mention national information bureaux); and the Postal Payment Services Regulations (2017), Article RP 1005. See Universal Postal Union, Letter Post Manual, International Bureau of the Universal Postal Union, Bern, 2013, pp. 10.4–10.6. For further details, see the commentary on Article 74, section D.
51 - See Article 124. See also Article 74(5).
52 - See Article 75.
53 - See Pictet (ed.), Commentary on the Third Geneva Convention, ICRC, 1960, p. 574.
54 - See, in particular, Article 51 (working conditions), Article 53 (duration of labour), Article 54(1) (working pay) and Article 64 (working pay).
55 - Article 118.
56 - See Additional Protocol I, Article 32; Jean-Marie Henckaerts and Louise Doswald-Beck, Customary International Humanitarian Law, Volume I: Rules, ICRC/Cambridge University Press, 2005, commentary on Rule 117, pp. 423–424, https://www.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v1_rul; and 33rd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Geneva, 2019, Res. 4, Restoring Family Links while respecting privacy, including as it relates to personal data protection, preambular para. 3.
57 - ICRC, Guiding Principles/Model Law on the Missing, 2009, Article 2(2).
58 - On the exception to transmission, see section E.1.c.
59 - See also ICRC Study on Customary International Humanitarian Law (2005), Rule 117.
60 - See also Petrig, p. 267.
61 - See, similarly, the commentary on Article 16 of the First Convention, para. 1541, and the commentary on Article 19 of the Second Convention, para. 1731.
62 - First Convention, Articles 16 and 17; Second Convention, Articles 19 and 20. For a further discussion of the information required, see section F.
63 - See also Petrig, p. 263 (noting that the obligation to collect and record information is not one of result but rather one of means).
64 - See Article 17(1). The nature of the information required is discussed in section F.
65 - Article 17(4).
66 - Article 17(2).
67 - See para. 4705 of this commentary. On the definition of neutral countries and the treatment of prisoners of war after a transfer to such countries, see the commentary on Article 4, section J.2.d and e. The expression ‘neutral or non-belligerent Powers’ is used instead of ‘neutral Power’ on two occasions in the Third Convention (Articles 4B(2) and 122).
68 - See the commentary on Article 8, section H.
69 - See, further, section E.1.c. See also the commentary on Article 123, section D.3.
70 - Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963), Article 36.
71 - See the commentary on Article 17, para. 1797.
72 - On the rationale for this difference, see para. 4701 of this commentary.
73 - See also Petrig, p. 268; Sassòli, pp. 268 and 342; and Weill, p. 1017.
74 - See also the commentary on Article 123, paras 4840–4841.
75 - For details, see the commentary on Article 123, section D.3.
76 - See e.g. UN General Assembly, Res. 45/95, Guidelines for the Regulation of Computerized Personal Data Files, 14 December 1990, and Modernised Convention for the Protection of Individuals with Regard to the Processing of Personal Data (2018), Articles 4–13. See also OECD Guidelines on the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data (1980, as amended in 2013), Annex, paras 7–14; ECOWAS Supplementary Act on Personal Data Protection (2010), chapters V and VI; AU Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection (2014), sections III and IV; APEC Privacy Framework (2015), Part III; OAS Principles on Privacy and Personal Data Protection (2015); and EU General Data Protection Regulation (2016), (Articles 5–11 (Principles); Articles 12–23 (Rights of the data subject); and Recital 112 (Data Transfers due to Important Reasons of Public Interest)).
77 - For more details on the principles of data processing, see Kuner/Marelli, pp. 35–39. See also Crettol/Milner/La Rosa/Stockwell, pp. 612–613.
78 - See section D.
79 - See e.g. France, Circular on the National Information Bureau on Prisoners of War, 2010, para. 3.1.2(3), which specifically mentions that the information collected should be kept confidential and receive the treatment reserved to such documents in French legislation, and should not, for instance, be used for purposes other than the ones for which it was collected.
80 - This is in line with EU General Data Protection Regulation (2016), Recital 112, which states: Any transfer to an international humanitarian organization of personal data of a data subject who is physically or legally incapable of giving consent, with a view to accomplishing a task incumbent under the Geneva Conventions or to complying with international humanitarian law applicable in armed conflicts, could be considered to be necessary for an important reason of public interest or because it is in the vital interest of the data subject.
81 - This is the view expressed by the French Data Protection Commission in its decision of 24 May 2012 (Délibération n° 2012-161 du 24 mai 2012 autorisant la Croix-Rouge Française à mettre en œuvre un traitement automatisé de données à caractère personnel ayant pour finalité le rétablissement des liens familiaux). National Societies must also strive to comply with the Code of Conduct on Data Protection adopted in November 2015 by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement Family Links Network. See also 33rd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Geneva, 2019, Res. 4, Restoring Family Links while respecting privacy, including as it relates to personal data protection, paras 9–10.
82 - Kuner/Marelli, pp. 43–49; Modernised Convention for the Protection of Individuals with Regard to the Processing of Personal Data (2018), Article 7. See also OECD Guidelines on the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data (1980, as amended in 2013), para. 11 (Security Safeguards Principle); ECOWAS Supplementary Act on Personal Data Protection (2010), Articles 28 and 43; AU Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection (2014), Article 21; OAS Principles on Privacy and Personal Data Protection (2015), Sixth Principle; APEC Privacy Framework (2015), para. 28; and EU General Data Protection Regulation (2016), Article 5(1)(f).
83 - Report of the Conference of Government Experts of 1947, pp. 250–251. See, similarly, the commentaries on Article 16 of the First Convention, para. 1554, and on Article 19 of the Second Convention, para. 1731. For considerations related to naval warfare, see Petrig, p. 266, para. 30.
84 - Article 123.
85 - See also Weill, p. 1017.
86 - See also the commentary on Article 71, para. 3218.
87 - Article 70.
88 - For a practical example, see e.g. European Court of Human Rights, Hassan v. UK, Judgment, 2014, para. 20 (‘details of all prisoners taken into custody by British forces were entered by staff at the detention facility in Iraq and sent to [the UK official responsible for the Prisoners of War Office] in London, who then transferred the data to a spread-sheet and downloaded it to the ICRC’s secure website’).
89 - The French version of the article uses different terms: ‘Le Bureau des renseignements sera, en outre, chargé de répondre à toutes les demandes qui lui seraient adressés concernant les prisonniers de guerre, y compris ceux qui sont morts en captivité; il procédera aux enquêtes nécessaires, afin de se procurer les renseignements demandés qu’il ne posséderait pas.’ (‘The Information Bureau will, moreover, be tasked with responding to all requests addressed to it concerning prisoners of war, including those who have died in captivity; it will undertake the necessary enquiries, in order to obtain the requested information that it does not have in its possession.’) (Emphasis added.)
90 - For more information, see section E.4.
91 - Additional Protocol I, Article 33(1). See also ICRC Study on Customary International Humanitarian Law (2005), Rule 117, and Petrig, p. 269.
92 - See also Petrig, p. 269. But see Howard S. Levie, Prisoners of War in International Armed Conflict, International Law Studies, U.S. Naval War College, Vol. 59, 1978, p. 156, fn. 220 (expressing the view that the bureaux would probably only respond to enquiries from official sources).
93 - This good practice is also reflected in ICRC, Guiding Principles/Model Law on the Missing, 2009, Article 14.
94 - See also Denmark, Military Manual, 2016, pp. 528–529, which includes regional human rights organizations as potentially having a legitimate interest in the information collected.
95 - See also section E.1.c.
96 - Ibid.
97 - See also Petrig, p. 269.
98 - See Pictet (ed.), Commentary on the Third Geneva Convention, ICRC, 1960, p. 579.
99 - In the same vein, see Article 33(1) of Additional Protocol I.
100 - For more details on data protection, see section E.1.d.
101 - First Convention, Article 16(4); Second Convention, Article 19(3).
102 - See ICRC Study on Customary International Humanitarian Law (2005), Rule 114. See also the commentaries on Article 16 of the First Convention, para. 1617, and on Article 19 of the Second Convention, para. 1794.
103 - See also Gabriella Venturini, ‘The Temporal Scope of Application of the Conventions’, in Andrew Clapham, Paola Gaeta and Marco Sassòli (eds), The 1949 Geneva Conventions: A Commentary, Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 51–66, at 63.
104 - Article 124.
105 - This provision corresponds to the rule in Article 119(4) concerning personal effects that repatriated prisoners are obliged to leave behind because of limitations on baggage allowances.
106 - See the last sentence of Article 139 of the Fourth Convention. This obligation is not, however, expressly stated in the current provision.
107 - Articles 30(4) and 54(2).
108 - Article 68(2).
109 - Article 77(1).
110 - Article 70.
111 - Article 71.
112 - Articles 104 and 107.
113 - See Additional Protocol I, Articles 33 and 78.
114 - As provided for in Articles 122(3) and 123(2).
115 - For more on this issue, see section G.
116 - ICRC, The Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949: Analysis for the Use of National Red Cross Societies, Vol. II, Geneva, 1950, pp. 62–63.
117 - See also the commentaries on Article 16 of the First Convention, para. 1559, and on Article 19 of the Second Convention, para. 1736.
118 - Article 17(1).
119 - See also the commentary on Article 17, para. 1789.
120 - This means the Party to the conflict to which the individual is attached. This is usually the same as the person’s State of nationality. However, in certain cases a person may be fighting for a State of which they are not a national. This information is particularly important in the case of a conflict that involves several Parties, so that the correct Party, and in turn the families, are duly informed.
121 - With this information, the Central Tracing Agency was able to adopt a system of regimental enquiries which garnered very good results; see ICRC, Report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on its Activities during the Second World War (September 1, 1939–June 30, 1947), Volume I: General Activities, ICRC, Geneva, May 1948, p. 49.
122 - First Convention, Article 16; Second Convention, Article 19. On the handling of medical information, see section F.5.
123 - See also the commentary on Article 21, para. 1952.
124 - This article should be read in conjunction with Article 94.
125 - This would include medical certificates and work accident certificates; see Articles 30(4) and 54(2).
126 - This would also include wills and certificates of death, burial and cremation or related documents; see Article 120.
127 - See also para. 4727 of this commentary.
128 - Article 120(2). Information must be given either on certified lists of the dead or on individual death certificates, which should conform to the model provided in Annex IV.D to the Convention.
129 - Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 12th edition, Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 1315. See also the commentary on Article 121, para. 4656.
130 - See the commentaries on Article 109, paras 4258–4259, and on Article 110, section C.
131 - For generally recognized standards on medical ethics in armed conflict, see World Medical Association, International Code of Medical Ethics, adopted by the 3rd General Assembly of the World Medical Association, October 1949, as amended, and Ethical Principles of Health Care in Times of Armed Conflict and Other Emergencies (2014).
132 - See Modernised Convention for the Protection of Individuals with Regard to the Processing of Personal Data (2018), Article 8 (A data controller is to inform a data subject of their identity and habitual residence, the legal basis and purpose of intended processing, categories of personal data processed, the recipients of the personal data, the means of exercising the data subjects’ rights and ‘any necessary additional information in order to ensure fair and transparent processing of the personal data’). See also OECD Guidelines Governing the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data (1980, as amended in 2013), Article 12; ECOWAS Supplementary Act on Personal Data Protection (2010), Articles 27 and 38; AU Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection (2014), Articles 13 (Principle 5) and 16; OAS Principles on Privacy and Personal Data Protection (2015), Second Principle; APEC Privacy Framework (2015), paras 21–23 (Notice); and EU General Data Protection Regulation (2016), Article 13.
133 - See World Medical Association, International Code of Medical Ethics, adopted by the 3rd General Assembly of the World Medical Association, October 1949, as amended; ICRC, Health Care in Danger: The Responsibilities of Health-Care Personnel Working in Armed Conflicts and Other Emergencies, ICRC, Geneva, 2012, p. 77.
134 - British Medical Association, Ethical decision-making for doctors in the armed forces: a tool kit, BMA, London, 2012, p. 25; ICRC, Health Care in Danger: The Responsibilities of Health-Care Personnel Working in Armed Conflicts and Other Emergencies, ICRC, Geneva, 2012, pp. 76–78. See also Additional Protocol I, Article 16(3). See, further, Modernised Convention for the Protection of Individuals with Regard to the Processing of Personal Data (2018), Article 5(3), and Explanatory Report to the Protocol amending the Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data, 10 October 2018, paras 46–47. See also OECD Guidelines Governing the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data (1980, as amended in 2013), Articles 7 and 10; ECOWAS Supplementary Act on Personal Data Protection (2010), Articles 23–24 and 31; AU Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection (2014), Articles 13 (Principles 1–2) and 14; OAS Principles on Privacy and Personal Data Protection (2015), First Principle; APEC Privacy Framework (2015), para. 24 (Collection Limitation); and EU General Data Protection Regulation (2016), Article 6.
135 - See e.g. United Kingdom, Manual of the Law of Armed Conflict, 2004, p. 156, para. 8.33.2, and Japan, Act on the Treatment of Prisoners of War and Other Detainees in Armed Attack Situations, 2004, Article 28.
136 - See e.g. the commentary on Article 17, para. 1833.
137 - In such cases, the DNA sample must be taken solely for the purpose of identifying the individual, collected by qualified persons, destroyed after the purpose is served, analysed in laboratories working according to accredited standards and protected from unauthorized access and use; see ICRC, Missing People, DNA Analysis and Identification of Human Remains: A Guide to Best Practice in Armed Conflicts and Other Situations of Armed Violence, 2nd edition, ICRC, Geneva, 2009, p. 42. See also the commentaries on Article 16 of the First Convention, para. 1584, and on Article 19 of the Second Convention, para. 1761.
138 - Examples of authorities from whom cooperation is usually required include Ministries of Defence, Justice, Interior, Health and External Affairs and graves administration services.
139 - This is the case, for instance, in Belgium.
140 - For more details, see the commentary on Article 123, section D.
141 - See 25th International Conference of the Red Cross, Geneva, 1986, Res. XVI, The role of the Central Tracing Agency and National Societies in tracing activities and the reuniting of families; and 33rd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Geneva, 2019, Res. 4, Restoring Family Links while respecting privacy, including as it relates to personal data protection.
142 - See Article 25 of the Fourth Convention, which is applicable to all persons in the territory of a Party to a conflict, and Article 33(3) of Additional Protocol I.
143 - For examples, see Crettol/Milner/La Rosa/Stockwell, p. 612.