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Commentary - Art. 139. Part III : Status and treatment of protected persons #Section V : Information bureaux and central agency
    ARTICLE 139. -- FORWARDING OF PERSONAL VALUABLES


    This Article, but for a few unimportant modifications, is a copy of paragraph 9 of Article 122 in the Third Convention. The Diplomatic Conference, on the advice of the International Committee of the Red Cross, considered that among the tasks assumed by national Bureaux on behalf of prisoners of war and whose extension to civilians seemed necessary, mention should be made of the forwarding of personal valuables, as was the case during the last world war.

    1. ' First sentence -- Collection and forwarding '

    A. ' Collection '

    The responsibility for collecting personal belongings devolves on the national Information Bureau. In fact, it will be the various bodies concerned: the administrative services of camps or other places of detention, municipal or village authorities in places of assigned residence, etc. who will have to look for, collect and forward these objects to the Bureau which, will, however, remain fully responsible.

    [p.538] B. ' Personal valuables '

    The term "personal valuables" should be understood to mean all the articles which belonged to the person who is no longer there -- whether he has been repatriated or has died -- which are of any commercial worth or sentimental value. It must always be remembered that an article of absolutely no intrinsic worth may often have very great sentimental value for the next of kin of the deceased person. In practice, therefore, almost all the articles found on the spot will be collected and forwarded.
    The corresponding provision of the Third Convention (Article 122, paragraph 9 ) adds to the expression "personal valuables" the words "including sums in currencies other than that of the Detaining Power and documents of importance to the next of kin". This expression has not been retained in the Fourth Convention mainly because it was considered that the term "valuables" covered sums of money and that since the value of papers could be judged only by the next of kin, they should be forwarded to those persons, particularly if they seemed to be of a legal nature. It will be for the Detaining Power to decide what foreign currency may be sent if any.
    Among the documents which should be carefully kept are wills, which are particularly important.

    C. ' Owners of the valuables '

    Protected persons covered by this measure are those who have been repatriated or released or have escaped or have died when, in accordance with paragraph 9 of Article 136 to which reference is made, they had been put into custody, subjected to forced residence or interned. As far as the persons in custody are concerned, the minimum time limit of two weeks envisaged in that paragraph does not apply here. Obviously, property abandoned by persons who escaped or died during imprisonment of short duration must also be collected.
    The list of occurrences which may lead to the collection and forwarding of the personal valuables of a protected person (repatriation, release, escape or death) is preceded by the words "in particular" which do not occur in paragraph 9 of Article 122 of the Third Convention. The list given here, then, is not restrictive. Though it is difficult to see, to begin with, what other events could occur in the lives of protected persons as defined in Article 136 which would justify similar measures, it may nevertheless be useful to make provision for special cases, which are left to the discretion of the national Bureaux.

    [p.539] D. ' Forwarding '

    Personal valuables will, as a rule, be forwarded direct to the persons concerned by the national Bureau. In many cases, however, it will not be possible for valuables to be forwarded in this way, either because the conflict is still in progress and postal relations have not been re-established, or because the address of the person concerned is unknown to the Bureau. The Central Agency will therefore arrange for forwarding. The reasons which led to the choosing of the Agency instead of the Protecting Power are that the Agency was more specifically designed for this sort of humanitarian task, which it carried out successfully during the Second World War, thus amassing, in this rather special sphere, a considerable amount of experience, since it had dealt with no less than 90,500 cases of the forwarding of property to members of the armed forces and civilians by the end of June 1947 (1).

    2. ' Second and third sentences -- The forwarding
    of articles and other effects '

    A. ' The forwarding of articles '

    The second sentence reproduces without change the corresponding sentence in paragraph 9 of Article 122 of the Third Convention.
    The provision in that Convention was a new one. It met a real need. Too often, during the last war, the Central Agency received personal effects in inadequate parcels, open, torn, and with no indication of the owner of the articles. The necessary detailed provisions have therefore been added not only to Article 122 of the Third Convention, but here also. Henceforth, therefore, parcels containing personal effects, apart from being well made up, will be sealed with the seal of the national Bureau and will contain an inventory of the contents and full identity particulars of the persons to whom the effects belonged.
    Furthermore, Committee III of the Diplomatic Conference, anxious to ensure maximum safety for obviously very valuable parcels, added to Article 139 a third and last sentence which does not occur in paragraph 9 of Article 122 of the Third Convention, to the effect that detailed records must be maintained of the receipt and despatch of all valuables. This obligation is binding not only on the national Bureau itself, but also on the Central Agency in regard to those consignments which the Bureau sends through its intermediary.

    [p.540] B. ' Other effects '

    It should be pointed out here that the corresponding provision of the Third Convention applies to a case not envisaged by the Article we are now discussing. Indeed, the last sentence of paragraph 9 of Article 122 says : "Other personal effects of such prisoners of war shall be transmitted under arrangements agreed upon between the Parties to the conflict concerned". This provision underlines the fact that the obligations of the Bureau relate essentially to articles and documents of small volume and which can therefore be sent in parcels benefiting from the exemption from postal charges granted to national Bureaux (2). Other personal effects, such as clothes, books, musical instruments, works of art, etc., may in some cases involve quite high transport expenses. It was therefore provided that they would be sent "under arrangements agreed upon between the Parties to the conflict concerned", arrangements which will lay down methods of transport and responsibility for payment of costs.
    This provision of the Third Convention shows the path which must be followed by the Powers concerned if similar problems should arise with regard to personal effects belonging to civilians.


    Notes: (1) [(1) p.539] See ' Report of the International Committee of
    the Red Cross on its activities during the Second World
    War, ' Vol. II, pp. 76-81;

    (2) [(1) p.540] See below, Article 141;