Section B. Recording of the location of graves
Geneva Convention (1929)
Article 4, sixth and seventh paragraphs, of the 1929 Geneva Convention provides:
At the commencement of hostilities, [the belligerents] shall organize officially a graves registration service, to render eventual exhumations possible, and to ensure the identification of bodies whatever may be the subsequent site of the grave. After the cessation of hostilities they shall exchange the list of graves and of dead interred in their cemeteries and elsewhere.
Geneva Convention I
Article 17, fourth and fifth paragraphs, of the 1949 Geneva Convention I provides:
[Parties to the conflict] shall further ensure that the dead are honourably interred, if possible according to the rites of the religion to which they belonged, that their graves are respected, grouped if possible according to the nationality of the deceased, properly maintained and marked so that they may always be found. For this purpose, they shall organize at the commencement of hostilities an Official Graves Registration Service, to allow subsequent exhumations and to ensure the identification of bodies, whatever the site of the graves, and the possible transportation to the home country. These provisions shall likewise apply to the ashes, which shall be kept by the Graves Registration Service until proper disposal thereof in accordance with the wishes of the home country.
As soon as circumstances permit, and at latest at the end of hostilities, these Services shall exchange, through the Information Bureau mentioned in the second paragraph of Article 16, lists showing the exact location and markings of the graves together with particulars of the dead interred therein. that lists showing the exact location and markings of the graves together with the particulars of the dead interred therein shall be made by the Graves Registration Service in order to allow subsequent exhumations, to ensure the identification of the bodies and the possible transportation to the home country. These lists are also meant to be forwarded to the Power on whom the deceased depended.
Geneva Convention III
Article 120, second and sixth paragraphs, of the 1949 Geneva Convention III provides:
Death certificates in the form annexed to the present Convention, or lists certified by a responsible officer, of all persons who die as prisoners of war shall be forwarded as rapidly as possible to the Prisoner of War Information Bureau established in accordance with Article 122. The death certificates or certified lists shall show particulars of identity as set out in the third paragraph of Article 17, and also the date and place of death, the cause of death, the date and place of burial and all particulars necessary to identify the graves.
In order that graves may always be found, all particulars of burials and graves shall be recorded with a Graves Registration Service established by the Detaining Power. Lists of graves and particulars of the prisoners of war interred in cemeteries and elsewhere shall be transmitted to the Power on which such prisoners of war depended. Responsibility for the care of these graves and for records of any subsequent moves of the bodies shall rest on the Power controlling the territory, if a Party to the present Convention. These provisions shall also apply to the ashes, which shall be kept by the Graves Registration Service until proper disposal thereof in accordance with the wishes of the home country.
Geneva Convention IV
Article 130, third paragraph, of the 1949 Geneva Convention IV provides:
As soon as circumstances permit, and not later than the close of hostilities, the Detaining Power shall forward lists of graves of deceased internees to the Powers on whom the deceased internees depended, through the Information Bureaux provided for in Article 136. Such lists shall include all particulars necessary for the identification of the deceased internees, as well as the exact location of their graves.
Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Viet-Nam
Article 8(b) of the 1973 Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Viet-Nam contains provisions requiring the parties to determine the location of the graves of the dead so as to facilitate the exhumation and repatriation of the remains.
Argentina’s Law of War Manual (1969) provides:
When circumstances so permit and at latest at the end of the hostilities [the obituary] services shall communicate to each other, through the Information Office … the lists indicating the location and designation of the graves.
Australia’s Defence Force Manual (1994) provides:
As soon as is practical following the death of a combatant, a belligerent shall record the following information to aid identification … [including] the exact location of the remains to enable future exhumation of the body or remains if necessary.
Australia’s LOAC Manual (2006) states: “As soon as is practical following the death of a combatant, a belligerent shall record the following information to aid identification [including] the exact location of the remains to enable future exhumation of the body, or remains if necessary.”
The LOAC Manual (2006) replaces both the Defence Force Manual (1994) and the Commanders’ Guide (1994).
Canada’s LOAC Manual (1999) states that the 1977 Additional Protocol I “also imposes obligations … to report upon the disposal of the remains of the dead”.
Canada’s LOAC Manual (2001) states in its chapter on the treatment of the wounded, sick and shipwrecked:
The Geneva Conventions impose certain obligations on Detaining Powers with regard to the burial and reporting of dead personnel belonging to the adverse party. [The 1977 Additional Protocol I] also imposes obligations to search for the missing and to report upon the disposal of the remains of the dead.
Canada’s Prisoner of War Handling and Detainees Manual (2004) states with regard to the funeral arrangements for prisoners of war: “Details of all burials and graves are [to be] recorded with the Graves Registration Service.”
Chad’s Instructor’s Manual (2006) states that “a Graves Registration Service must be set up to record information about burials and graves”.
Kenya’s LOAC Manual (1997) provides: “As soon as the tactical situation permits, a report on the death and the subsequent measures taken shall be established.”
The Military Manual (1993) of the Netherlands provides:
As soon as circumstances and the relation between the parties to the conflict permit, the parties, in whose territories graves of the persons who have died as a result of hostilities are located, shall conclude agreements in order … to facilitate access to the gravesites.
The Military Manual (2005) of the Netherlands states:
As soon as circumstances and the relations between the parties to the conflict permit, the parties whose territory contains graves of persons who died during the conflict must conclude agreements in order:
- to facilitate access to the graves for family members and officials of graves associations; …
Poland’s Procedures Governing the Interment of Soldiers Killed in Action (2009) states: “Detailed information shall also be provided on the location of the grave [of the bodies of persons whose identity cannot be verified]”.
The Russian Federation’s Regulations on the Application of IHL (2001) provides:
165. Burial of the dead members of the enemy armed forces and other victims of armed conflicts shall be organized by the deputy division (regiment) commander for logistics. Collection, identification and burial of the dead as well as the graves (gravesites) registration shall be performed by the units (teams) headed by officers appointed by a division (regiment) commander’s order. Such units (teams) commanders shall be provided with transport, tools, materials and disinfectants.
168. Gravesites and individual graves shall be located in open and dry areas (public gardens, squares, forest and grove edgings, road crossings). After proper recording, gravesites (graves) shall be conveyed by record to the local authorities or military commandants who shall henceforth be responsible for their maintenance.
169. After the burial, a proper statement shall be drawn up containing a description of the burial site (its precise coordinates), with enclosed lists of identified bodies, and specifying the number of unidentified bodies and their description. The statement shall be made in two copies.
The burial statement and the lists of the dead shall be certified by the signature of a person in charge of the burial, stamped with the official seal of the military unit (organization) and confirmed by the superior commander.
The first copy of the burial statement, as well as the first copies of the inventory of the personal effects of the deceased and a cover letter, shall be sent to the army headquarters. As soon as circumstances permit and at the latest at the end of hostilities, the second copy of the statement with the enclosures and the parcels containing the personal effects of the deceased shall be handed over through international channels to the competent authorities of the adverse party.
Sierra Leone’s Instructor Manual (2007) states:
It is therefore the responsibility that at the end of every engagement soldiers should …
e. Mark the gravesite with local material so that it can easily be located. Record the details.
j. The above mentioned actions shall be applied to all dead persons, whether civilian or military, own or enemy forces.
South Africa’s LOAC Teaching Manual (2008) states:
- Graves must be marked and the precise location must be recorded.
- As soon as circumstances permit, and at latest at the end of hostilities, [the Graves Registration] Services shall exchange, through the Information Bureau mentioned in the second paragraph of Article 16 [of 1949 Geneva Convention I], lists showing the exact location and markings of the graves, together with particulars of the dead interred therein.
Spain’s LOAC Manual (1996) states: “The Graves Registration Service shall be responsible for recording all particulars concerning the deceased and their graves, as well as for the conservation of ashes.”
Spain’s LOAC Manual (2007) states: “An official graves registration service must be set up by each State involved in the conflict to record information relating to burials and gravesites and conserve the ashes of cremated remains. This service can act in coordination with the national information bureau.”
Ukraine’s IHL Manual (2004) states:
Following burial, the commander of the funeral detachment (grave registration unit) shall make a protocol of the burial with the description of its place (with precise geographical coordinates). Such a protocol shall be supplemented with detailed lists of identified bodies and information on the number of unidentified bodies and their description. Burial protocols and detailed lists of the deceased shall be signed by the person responsible for the burning, officially sealed and stamped and certified by the senior commander (commanding officer).
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
The UK Military Manual (1958) provides: “As soon as possible, and at latest at the end of the hostilities, these services must exchange lists showing the location and marking of the graves and giving particulars of the dead interred therein.”
United States of America
The US Field Manual (1956) reproduces Article 17 of the 1949 Geneva Convention I.
United States of America
The US Operational Law Handbook (1993) provides: “The Parties must … register grave sites, and, as soon as circumstances permit, relay to the affected Party, the exact location of burial and details of death.”
Azerbaijan’s Law concerning the Protection of Civilian Persons and the Rights of Prisoners of War (1995) provides:
The appropriate authorities and governmental bodies of the Azerbaijan Republic shall ensure that the necessary measures be taken that: … all the information regarding the burial and graves should be registered by the funeral parlour.
Bangladesh’s International Crimes (Tribunal) Act (1973) states that the “violation of any humanitarian rules applicable in armed conflicts laid down in the Geneva Conventions of 1949” is a crime.
Denmark’s Military Criminal Code (1973), as amended in 1978, provides:
Any person who uses war instruments or procedures the application of which violates an international agreement entered into by Denmark or the general rules of international law, shall be liable to the same penalty [i.e. a fine, lenient imprisonment or up to 12 years’ imprisonment].
Denmark’s Military Criminal Code (2005) provides:
Any person who deliberately uses war means [“krigsmiddel”] or procedures the application of which violates an international agreement entered into by Denmark or international customary law, shall be liable to the same penalty [i.e. imprisonment up to life imprisonment].
Under Ireland’s Geneva Conventions Act (1962), as amended in 1998, any “minor breach” of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, including violations of Article 17 of the Geneva Convention I, Article 120 of the Geneva Convention III and Article 130 of the Geneva Convention IV, is a punishable offence.
Norway’s Military Penal Code (1902), as amended in 1981, provides:
Anyone who contravenes or is accessory to the contravention of provisions relating to the protection of persons or property laid down in … the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 … is liable to imprisonment.
In 1995, the Colombian Council of State stated that the bodies of enemy dead must be placed at the disposal of the competent authority and may not be concealed. Commanders are bound to report the death of detainees and their place of burial.
UN General Assembly
In a resolution adopted in 1974 on assistance and cooperation in accounting for persons who are missing or dead in armed conflicts, the UN General Assembly:
parties to armed conflicts, regardless of their character or location, during and after the end of hostilities and in accordance with the Geneva Conventions of 1949, to take such action as may be within their power to help locate … the graves of the dead.
International Conference of the Red Cross (1965)
The 20th International Conference of the Red Cross in 1965 adopted a resolution on the tracing of burial places of persons killed during armed conflict in which it recommended “the exchange among National Societies in agreement with their respective Governments and in co-operation with the International Committee of the Red Cross, of all available data concerning these places of burial” and “the tracing, by any appropriate means, of places of burial which have not so far been registered”.
International Conference of the Red Cross (1973)
The 22nd International Conference of the Red Cross in 1973 adopted a resolution on the missing and dead in armed conflicts in which it called on parties to armed conflicts “during hostilities and after cessation of hostilities, to help … care for the graves of the dead”.