ICRC databases on international humanitarian law
  • Print page
Commentary - Art. 89. Part III : Status and treatment of protected persons #Section IV : Regulations for the treatment of internees #Chapter III : Food and clothing
    ARTICLE 89. -- FOOD


    PARAGRAPH 1. -- NORMAL RATION

    The Government Experts who met in 1947 at the instance of the International Committee of the Red Cross gave detailed consideration to the provision of food for prisoners of war and civilian internees.
    The 1929 Prisoners of War Convention laid down that the food ration of prisoners of war was to be equivalent in quantity and quality to that of depôt troops, but experience had shown that the term "depôt troops" was too vague to be of any real use as a basis of comparison. It was then suggested that the ration for prisoners of [p.393] war and internees should be required to be equivalent to that of the civilian population. The experts, however, remembering that the official rations of the civilian population in wartime are nearly always supplemented from sources which would not be available to men deprived of their liberty, considered that this form of words would have no practical value and considered that it was better merely to recommend the provision of food rations sufficient to keep protected persons "in a good state of health". This expression and the "good health" mentioned in the Third Convention (Article 26, para. 1 ) call for some clarification.
    It might perhaps have been possible to refer to the calorific value of the food. Such a solution was considered, but rejected because of the difficulty of fixing a value which would be suitable in all latitudes and also because of the difficulty of giving sufficient details regarding the distribution of the calories to meet all cases. The Diplomatic Conference accordingly abandoned the suggestion by the Stockholm Conference that the Convention should include the sentence: "International standards bearing on nutrition that may be adopted shall be applied to internees."
    A completely general wording was decided upon. It leaves the Detaining Power some latitude on condition that the state of health of the internees is checked at intervals at the inspections provided for in Article 92 . It will thus be the actual needs of the internees which will determine the amount of the ration, depending on the particular requirements of each internee and on the living conditions: climate, altitude, amount of work required, etc. The second sentence of paragraph 1 was inserted in view of experience gained during the Second World War. Visits to internees' camps had shown how necessary it was for the food to be in accordance with the national tastes of the internees. In the United States, Japanese complained that their food was cooked according to the American taste and that they only had rice eighteen times a month, whereas Americans imprisoned in Japan suffered from inadequate rations, although they were equivalent to the normal rations of the Japanese population. This clause was inserted in paragraph 1 in order to overcome
    such drawbacks so far as possible. Paragraph 2 was included for the same reason.

    PARAGRAPH 2. -- ADDITIONAL FOOD

    This clause corresponds to Article 26, paragraph 4 , of the Prisoners of War Convention. It was considered advisable to give members of the forces in captivity the right to prepare, themselves, any additional food in their possession: the arguments in support of such [p.394] a course apply even more strongly to civilians who are less accustomed than soldiers to community feeding.
    In the case of internees the source of this additional food may be purchased with money they have earned by working, or gifts received from relations or charitable organizations.

    PARAGRAPH 3. -- WATER. -- TOBACCO.

    This provision is based on Article 11, paragraph 3 , of the 1929 Prisoners of War Convention. The obligation which it lays on the Detaining Power is a most important one, particularly in desert areas. On a number of occasions during the Second World War, the International Committee of the Red Cross arranged searches for springs and the laying down of pipes in order to supply internee camps with water (1). Drinking water must be "supplied" by the Detaining Power: but the same is not true of tobacco, which is, however, listed among the articles which must be stocked in canteens (Article 87, para. 1 ). It is mentioned here, although it is not a foodstuff, because experience has shown that for many prisoners tobacco is as necessary as food. Tobacco is not an article of prime necessity; it is even to some extent a poison: many people do completely without it while others may be suddenly deprived of it without suffering physical inconvenience, and even with advantage to their health. But it is a fact that from a psychological point if view tobacco
    plays a very important part in the life of men in confinement. It calms the nerves of the smokers and helps them to bear their suffering, while it provides non-smokers with a valuable form of currency which enables them to procure other advantages in exchange. Tobacco is not harmful in the way that alcohol is, and the Convention, in placing it among the things like water which are essential for the internees, recognizes the important part played by this harmless narcotic in soothing men's minds and nerves.

    PARAGRAPH 4. -- SUPPLEMENTARY RATIONS

    Work, and in particular the manual work with which we are concerned here, may have a bad effect on the health of the internees if the ration of food they receive is not commensurate with the hardness of the work done. Observance of the rule laid down in paragraph 1 concerning the maintenance of a good state of health requires that additional efforts made shall be matched by additional food supplied.

    [p.395] PARAGRAPH 5. -- WOMEN AND CHILDREN

    Paragraph 5 lays down that children and expectant and nursing mothers are to be provided with additional food. In their case deficiency diseases would be particularly deplorable, as they would affect future generations (2).
    The International Union for Child Welfare formally supported an amendment submitted by the United Kingdom Delegation at the Diplomatic Conference and insisted on children being protected against the danger of nutritional deficiencies, in order that they might achieve "normal growth".
    The children to be protected were defined as those under the age of fifteen, the clause, which was not included in the Stockholm Draft, being introduced in order to bring the text into line with Part II (Article 24 ) in regard to the classes of person who were to receive preferential treatment. Comparison of the texts leads to the conclusion that international usage has now settled on an age limit of fifteen years as defining what is meant by "children" when no further description is given.
    Formerly it was customary to consider girls or boys of twelve years and under to be "children". E. Gurlt gives many examples of this practice in his collection of texts relating to the care of the sick and wounded in wartime, where he quotes the terms of various Conventions concerning the exchange of prisoners (3).
    In the International Conventions prepared by the International Labour Office the age of fourteen years was originally mentioned as being that below which children could not be employed on certain types of work regarded as being too heavy for them: viz., industrial work (4) and maritime labour (5). The age limit was raised to fifteen when the Conventions were revised a short time before the Second World War.
    [p.396] The International Union for Child Welfare had suggested that the age limit in this Article should be raised to sixteen years; but the authors of the Convention thought it better to keep to the age limit of fifteen years which was generally recognized (6) and represented a considerable advance on former usage (7).


    Notes: (1) [(1) p.394] See ' Report of the International Committee of
    the Red Cross on its activities during the Second World
    War ', Vol. I, pp. 581-582;

    (2) [(1) p.395] When visiting civilian internees' camps during
    the Second World War, delegates of the International
    Committee of the Red Cross always paid particular
    attention to the quantity of milk supplied to young
    children. In Dutch Guiana the International Committee's
    delegate arranged to have a number of cows brought to a
    camp from neighbouring farms (see ' Report of the
    International Committee of the Red Cross on its activities
    during the Second World War ', Vol. I, p. 581);

    (3) [(2) p.395] A Treaty between France and the Netherlands,
    May 21, 1675; Cartel between Denmark and Sweden, August
    16, 1777; Cartel between Brandenburg and Sweden, August
    28, 1678; Treaty between France and Spain, April 11, 1691,
    etc., cited by E. GURLT: ' Zur Geschichte der
    internationalen und freiwilligen Krankenpflege im
    Kriege ', Berlin, 1873, pp. 14 et seq.;

    (4) [(3) p.395] Convention No. 5, entered into force on June
    13, 1921, revised in 1937;

    (5) [(4) p.395] Convention No. 7, entered into force on
    September 27, 1921, revised in 1936;

    (6) [(1) p.396] In white countries at least. In others puberty
    often occurs earlier, but it was thought preferable, in
    the interests of this category of persons in need of
    special protection, to retain the higher age limit;

    (7) [(2) p.396] An age limit of fifteen is nevertheless to be
    found in the texts of certain old treaties. Cf. Cartel
    between Denmark and Sweden, April 30, 1719, quoted by E.
    Gurlt, op. cit., p. 19;