ICRC databases on international humanitarian law
Treaties and Documents
1949 Conventions and Additional Protocols, and their Commentaries
Historical Treaties and Documents
Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.
Art. 138. Part III : Status and treatment of protected persons #Section V : Information bureaux and central agency
. -- PARTICULARS REQUIRED
[p.534] This Article completes the list of particulars of protected persons which the national Bureaux are to receive and transmit. The first Part of the list, dealing with changes which may occur in the situation of these persons, was given in the last paragraph of Article 136
. Article 138 mentions the identity particulars of the protected persons, their place of residence, their relatives and their state of health.
Inspired, like the preceding Articles, directly by similar provisions in respect of prisoners of war, the stipulations of this Article correspond to paragraphs 4 and 6 of Article 122
of the Third Convention of 1949,
PARAGRAPH 1. -- IDENTITY PARTICULARS
1. ' First sentence -- General definition '
The first sentence of the paragraph summarizes the purposes for which the national Bureaux are to be established and defines the information they will receive and transmit. The national Bureaux will receive and transmit information enabling the exact identification of the protected person and the rapid notification of his family. Although this information is communicated to the Power of which the protected person is a national or in whose territory he resided, those Powers are not the real addressees. They can, of course, make notes in passing for their own information but they must transmit these particulars to those for whom they were collected, -- i.e., the family of the protected person.
The information transmitted must be of such a character as to make it possible "to identify the protected person exactly". This detail is important. Indeed, during the recent conflicts too many families were upset by news not intended for them and which had been badly directed because of insufficient address, similarities of names, etc. The Convention therefore lists in detail and with exactitude the identity particulars which must be collected. This list is contained in the next sentence.
2. ' Second sentence -- List of particulars '
The list may be divided into two parts: on the one hand, it deals with information which can only be obtained by questioning the protected person held in custody, subjected to assigned residence or interned, and, on the other hand, with information which the departments concerned will possess as a matter of course.
The first part consists of identity particulars proper and particulars enabling the finding of the family which is to be informed. These particulars are: surname and first names, complete place and date [p.535] of birth, nationality, last residence, distinguishing characteristics, father's first name and the maiden name of the mother, and the name and address of the person to be informed.
"Last residence" refers to the last address known to the persons to be informed.
In some cases, there will be added to this list a mention of the interrogated person's objection to the transmission of information concerning him to the Power of origin or the Power in whose territory he resided.
Moreover, the questioning of protected persons in order to obtain the information requested should, of course, be done as early as possible. It must take place immediately a protected person is put into one or other of the three situations which make the communication of information to the Bureau obligatory: being held in custody for more than two weeks, or subjection to assigned residence or internment. In the case of interned persons, the interrogation will take place preferably at the time when the internment card mentioned in Article 106
is handed to him for completion. This card, a specimen of which is annexed to the Convention (Annex III) (1), quotes the identity particulars which should be found in it; these are identical with those requested here except for "profession", which does not form part of this list. The two operations, interrogation and issue of the card, can therefore be carried out in conjunction.
While the Detaining Power is under an obligation to try to obtain information by interrogating the protected person, that person is not bound to supply such information. Doubtless, if the person refuses, it will most often be out of fear of seeing his family subjected to some form of reprisals. It will then be enough to calm his fears if the protective measures provided for in the Convention are explained to him and he is assured of the absolute discretion of the national Bureau and the Central Agency. These fears, however, can be quite justified sometimes, particularly in the case of a person whose family resides in the territory of the Detaining Power or in territory occupied by that Power, although the Convention forbids any measures of reprisals against protected persons (members of families in this case being protected). The departments concerned will then have no other solution than to try to obtain the information from another source or to abandon the attempt.
The second part consists of information which can be obtained without interrogating the protected person: the date and nature of the measures taken against the person concerned, the place where [p.536] they were taken and the address to Which correspondence can be sent. This list confirms and completes the information given in the last paragraph of Article 136
, which lists the details which the departments concerned must supply to the national Bureau concerning changes in the condition of protected persons.
PARAGRAPH 2. -- INFORMATION REGARDING STATE OF HEALTH
The information listed in this paragraph will also automatically be known by the departments concerned without any need for the interrogation of the protected person in question. Like the other particulars asked for, they confirm and complete the indications given in the last paragraph of Article 136
dealing with changes in the situation of protected persons.
Paragraph 7 of Article 77
of the 1929 Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War provided that all additional particulars concerning prisoners of war should be transmitted to the interested Powers in weekly lists. This was not done, in general, during the last war and the Central Agency got into the habit of approaching the national Bureau itself for any information it needed, mainly when a prisoner or an internee was notified as being ill.
At the Conference of Government Experts, therefore, the importance of the regular transmission of information on the state of health of the sick or wounded was emphasized. The Diplomatic Conference embodied this idea in the Prisoners of War and Civilians Conventions.
Information on the state of health of internees "seriously ill" or "seriously wounded" will therefore be transmitted obligatorily. While it is not very easy to determine exactly what is meant by these two words, it will be admitted that they apply at least to all wounded and sick so long as their life is in danger.
In practice, information will be transmitted concerning each civilian internee as soon as he enters hospital. Indeed, any admittance to hospital of a protected person must be communicated, under the terms of the last paragraph of Article 136
. It is inconceivable that only those persons whose state of health is serious should be mentioned in further communications and that the progress of those who, although in hospital, are not seriously wounded or sick shall be passed over in silence. If this happened, the families or, failing them, the Central Agency, would be quick to ask for news.
It should be noted, in a general way, that it would be useful if the civilian population were to receive instruction in the provisions of the Convention here discussed. In particular, civilians ought to know that the provisions dealing with the identification of persons [p.537] against whom special measures are taken by an enemy Power, are not intended to assist those measures, but simply to avoid persons disappearing without trace and all links between them and their families being cut. It is only in so far as these persons themselves collaborate spontaneously with the bodies established by the Convention -- the national Bureaux and the Central Agency -- that this purpose can be fully attained.
Notes: (1) [(1) p.535] See below p. 648;