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Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Additional Protocols, and their Commentaries
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Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.
. -- CAPTURE CARD
Article 36, paragraph 2
of the 1929 Convention (1) stated that not later than one week after his arrival in camp and similarly in case of illness, each prisoner must be enabled to inform his family.
That provision was generally respected during the Second World War. The International Committee of the Red Cross noticed, however, that the Information Bureaux of Detaining Powers invariably required some time to notify captures and transfers; it therefore suggested to the Detaining Powers the despatch to the Central Prisoners of War Agency of printed cards, called "capture cards", in order to expedite receipt by the Agency and subsequently by their families of essential information concerning prisoners of war. This procedure, which was adopted by most of the belligerents, also enabled families who had been driven from their homes by the conflict and had not received the card sent by the prisoner to obtain the necessary information from the Central Prisoners of War Agency.
This arrangement proved its worth, and the 1949 Diplomatic Conference made express provision for it in this clause, while maintaining the stipulation concerning the card for the prisoner's family. [p.341] The system of capture cards does not in any way diminish the rôle of the Information Bureaux provided for in Article 122
A. ' Preparation of the card. ' -- Every prisoner of war must be enabled to write the first card immediately upon capture or, at the latest, not more than one week after arrival at a camp. This time-limit was not always respected during the Second World War, but the Conference of Government Experts nevertheless maintained the provision (2).
The introduction of a standard card as provided under the present Convention will enable the Detaining Power to prepare a stock of such cards at the commencement of hostilities, ready for distribution to prisoners of war during the first formalities after capture. These cards, on which the main headings are printed, can be filled in easily and within the required time-limit.
Article 70 is not only applicable when a prisoner of war is definitely installed in a camp, since there is an express reference to transit camps. Once prisoners of war have spent seven consecutive days in a camp of any kind, the time-limit must be considered as having expired. Furthermore, this is a maximum time-limit since the Article states: "not more than one week" and in fact the Detaining Power is required to enable prisoners of war to fill in the cards at the earliest possible moment following capture.
The Detaining Power may subsequently have to enable prisoners of war to complete new cards in certain specified cases: in the event of sickness, transfer to hospital, or transfer to another camp (3).
The expression "in case of sickness" is rather vague; it is obvious that a special notification is not necessary in every case of sickness, however slight. On the other hand, every prisoner of war must be enabled to fill in a capture card if he is transferred to hospital or to another camp, because there is a change in his postal address and his family and the Central Prisoners of War Agency must therefore be informed (4).
[p.342] B. ' Recipients of the card. ' -- Article 70 provides that a capture card must be sent to the prisoner's family, on the one hand, and to the Central Prisoners of War Agency, on the other hand. Since the Central Agency is not necessarily the most direct means of notification, the Conference of Government Experts recommended that the next of kin should, if possible, be notified directly.
Article 123, paragraph 2
, provides that the Central Agency must transmit as rapidly as possible all the information it may obtain through official or private channels to the country of origin of the prisoners of war concerned; this clause applies first of all to the information recorded on capture cards.
C. ' Form and content. ' -- The Conference of Government Experts recommended that a model capture card should be annexed to the Convention, and the Diplomatic Conference agreed.
Annex IV B therefore contains a model capture card comprising a number of headings which can be rapidly filled in concerning the prisoner's identity, address and state of health. The card is addressed to the Central Prisoners of War Agency, International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva; a similar card may be used for notifying the next of kin (5).
At the 1949 Diplomatic Conference, there was a discussion concerning the advisability of mentioning the nationality of prisoners of war on the capture card. In view of the risk involved for those whose nationality is not that of the army in which they serve, particularly if their country is occupied by the forces of the Detaining Power, it was decided to delete the reference to nationality on the model card and in its place to record the Power on which the prisoner depends (6).
The States party to the Convention are not obliged to use a card identical to the model; it is merely recommended that they should do so, as is clear from the words "if possible". Although the card may be different in form from that contained in Annex IV B, however, the belligerents have no discretion regarding its contents; the information given on the card must refer to capture, address and state of health, as specified in the present Article. The word "capture" must be taken in a general sense and it naturally covers an indication of the identity of the person captured. It should also be noted that pursuant [p.343] to Article 17
, prisoners of war are at liberty not to give all the information for which space is provided on the model card; they may, if they wish, merely fill in items 2, 3, 5, 7 and 8. If necessary, capture cards will be prepared in at least two languages: the prisoner's own language and that of the Detaining Power. In any case, they must be in a language which the prisoners of war can understand.
D. ' Forwarding. ' -- Capture cards must be given priority in forwarding. This is emphatically stated in the last sentence of Article 70. One can well understand why the drafters of the Convention included this, since the application of the clause ultimately depends on the rapid forwarding of capture cards to the addressees. The cards should therefore be sent by air mail wherever possible and will be exempt from postal dues, being correspondence despatched by prisoners of war. The information on the cards is of a very summary kind and censorship should therefore be a mere formality. Cards addressed to the Central Agency might even perhaps be forwarded without censorship.
Lastly, it is clear from the wording ("every prisoner of war shall be enabled...") that the prisoner is entirely free to fill in capture cards or not, as he pleases. But the Detaining Power must give him an opportunity to do so, in the conditions specified. If need be, his attention should be drawn to the fact that it is in his own interest to fill in a capture card.
* (1) [(1) p.340] See below, p. 718;
(2) [(1) p.341] See ' Report on the Work of the Conference of
Government Experts, ' pp. 184-185;
(3) [(2) p.341] As has already been seen, Article 36,
paragraph 2, of the 1929 Convention stipulated that
prisoners of war must be enabled to inform their family in
case of sickness; but this provision does not seem to have
been respected during the Second World War. See
BRETONNI RE, op. cit., p. 230;
(4) [(3) p.341] When prisoners are transferred to another
camp, capture cards will be sent before their departure,
since Article 48 states that they must be officially
advised of their departure and of their new postal address
in time for them to inform their next of kin. If it proved
impossible to give them the new postal address before
their departure, or if there were any subsequent change in
that address, or if the actual transfer were to last a
long time, cards should also be sent upon arrival;
(5) [(1) p.342] For the latter card, the front of the model in
Annex IV C.I. (correspondence card) and the reverse side
of the capture card might possibly be used;
(6) [(2) p.342] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, pp. 283-284;