Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
Treaties and Documents
Geneva Conventions of 1949 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.
. -- RELIEF SHIPMENTS: III. EXEMPTION FROM
POSTAL AND TRANSPORT CHARGES
[p.459] This Article corresponds in general to Article 74
of the 1949 Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Unlike that Article, however, it does not expressly mention correspondence and for that reason it has been placed under the heading of relief shipments.
PARAGRAPH 1. -- IMPORT, CUSTOMS AND OTHER DUES
This paragraph repeats the provisions of Article 16
of the Hague Regulations and Article 38
of the 1929 Convention, both of which concern prisoners of war. It covers customs duties, implicitly included in the phrase "all import and other duties" which occurs in both treaties. The rule is quite clear: exemption is complete and applies to all dues of any kind whatsoever levied on goods entering a country from abroad.
PARAGRAPH 2. -- EXEMPTION FROM POSTAL CHARGES
The Stockholm Draft (Article 96), identical with the text relating to prisoners of war, said: "Correspondence, relief shipments and remittances of money addressed to prisoners of war or despatched by them through the post office.... shall be exempt from any postal [p.460] dues, both in the countries of origin and destination and in intermediate countries".
The text adopted by the Diplomatic Conference differs from this in two respects. First of all, the reference to correspondence has disappeared, and secondly, the words "from other countries" have been inserted between "addressed" and "to internees or despatched by them".
It is to be concluded from this that the Convention nowhere mentions the principle of exemption from postal charges on mail, since it is not mentioned in Article 107
, which deals specifically with correspondence, and Article 110 is concerned only with consignments of relief and states that exemption is not granted on such consignments unless they come from countries other than the country of internment?
It would perhaps be a little hasty to do so. Indeed, the marginal notes inserted to make the Convention easier to read, are not binding on the signatories. It is true that in this particular case one delegation expressed the opinion that internees' correspondence was of an entirely different nature from that of prisoners of war, since it was addressed in general to persons in the country of internment and the internees should be able to pay the ordinary postal charges (1); but it is also true that the Conference, when discussing this provision had in mind Article 52 of the Universal Postal Convention of 1947 (2), which is concerned mainly with correspondence. Furthermore, the Report of Committee III, without however further explanation, states that the Committee thought that internees should be given the right of free postage for their own correspondence within the territory where they are detained (3). There remains, however, some obscurity in the text of the Convention with regard to internees' correspondence. The resulting difficulty was
eliminated on the suggestion of the Universal Postal Union which, in its revision of the Universal Postal Convention in 1952, succeeded in having a clause adopted under which correspondence from internees is post-free wherever it is addressed, whereas the correspondence addressed to internees is only exempt from postal charges if it comes from countries other than the country of internment. In short, the restrictive wording of this provision as it applies to [p.461] relief shipments has been extended to cover correspondence (4). The internees can therefore write free of charge to persons in the country of internment but those who write to them in that country must pay the ordinary postal charges. It may be wondered whether it would not have been better for internees' correspondence, whether incoming or outgoing, to be completely exempt from postal charges. In view of the fact that internment must never be considered as a punishment and that it would be humane to alleviate its hardships as much as possible, a generous decision on these lines would
have been preferable.
The same comment applies to relief parcels sent by post from places in the country of internment itself.
Relief sent by post from countries other than the country of internment or sent by the internee to any destination would be exempt under this provision. This rule applies to all consignments whose weight does not exceed the limits accepted in international postal traffic (5).
It should be noted that the obligation to grant exemption applies also to any States parties to the Convention which have not agreed to certain arrangements with regard to parcels under the Universal Postal Union.
With regard to the reference to the Universal Postal Convention, the present paragraph merely extends to all protected persons subjected to internment the right to exemption laid down in the Postal Convention on behalf of civilians of enemy nationality detained in civil camps or prisons. The Diplomatic Conference wished to avoid too close a concordance between the new text and the provisions of the Universal Postal Convention in force, to avoid the creation of insurmountable difficulties through the fact that the signatories to the two treaties are not the same. Furthermore, the Universal Postal Convention only covers international postal traffic and the authors of Article 110, as already stated, were anxious to cover postal traffic in the country of internment also (6). Moreover, in order to remove any [p.462] ambiguity concerning the application of the Universal Postal Convention, it is stated expressly that countries which have not acceded to the Postal Convention but have acceded to the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 are
nevertheless bound to grant internees the exemptions laid down, and under the same conditions.
PARAGRAPH 3. -- RELIEF CONSIGNMENTS NOT SENT
THROUGH THE POST OFFICE
Consignments which are not sent through the post office -- i.e., as a rule, collective relief shipments -- are sent carriage free in all the territories under the control of the Detaining Power. This means not only the metropolitan territory of the Detaining Power, but its colonies, mandated territories and dependencies of every kind, as well as territories it has occupied. Exemption is granted in the same way on the territory of other Powers or on territories controlled by them and situated on the transport route (7).
It should be noted that the word used is "territories". This paragraph does not, therefore, cover transport by sea, to which exemption does not therefore apply. Coastal shipping, however, should be considered as covered by this paragraph.
Whatever the mode of transport used on the territory of the Powers party to the Convention -- railway, lorry or aeroplane -- exemption from carriage charges must be granted at the expense of the State -- i.e. if these means of transport are the property of private companies, the State must make the necessary arrangements, in agreement with the companies, to exempt the relief shipments from all payment for carriage.
PARAGRAPH 4. -- SUNDRY EXPENSES
The cost of transport by Sea and the cost of transport in the territory of a Power not party to the Convention together with the import and other dues levied by such a Power are not covered by the preceding provisions. These various expenses could be dealt with by special arrangements between the Powers concerned but if this is not done they will be charged to the sender. However obvious this may seem, the authors of the Convention considered it better to state it expressly in view of the disputes which have arisen in the past or might arise in the future.
[p.463] PARAGRAPH 5. -- CHARGES FOR TELEGRAMS
In the commentary on paragraph 2 of Article 107
, it was seen that internees in certain cases were authorized to send telegrams "the charges being paid by them". The Diplomatic Conference was not unanimous on the expediency of allowing this form of correspondence; whereas some wished to regard it as an exceptional privilege justified only in certain specific cases and always limited by the cost of telegrams, others were inclined to encourage its use through reduced tariffs or even exemption. This opinion prevailed but the provision was not made mandatory, merely expressing a wish which it was left to governments to comply with or not. It is in this spirit that the present provision was drafted, which is reproduced in Article 141
concerning the correspondence of the national Information Bureaux and the Central Information Agency. A similar recommendation can be inferred from Resolution 9 annexed to this Convention, which requests the International Committee of the Red Cross to prepare a series of specimen messages for submission to Governments
which would enable the transmission of family and other news in the form of brief coded messages at low cost. The XVIIIth International Red Cross Conference (Toronto 1952) referred to this Resolution and the provisions of the Convention, and the International Telecommunication Conference held soon after in Buenos Aires adopted a recommendation that a future Conference should consider the idea of complete exemption (8).
Notes: (1) [(1) p.460] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, pp. 682-683;
(2) [(2) p.460] An amendment supported by several delegations
even suggested mentioning this Article expressly in the
text of the Convention. See ' Final Record, ' Vol. II-A,
(3) [(3) p.460] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, p. 841;
(4) [(1) p.461] The text of Article 37, para. 2. of the Postal
Convention as revised in 1952 and applicable from July 1,
1953 is given in full in the commentary on Article 141 of
(5) [(2) p.461] Article 37 of the Postal Convention (Record of
the Universal Postal Union, Brussels 1952) provides among
other things: "... (5) Parcels are admitted free of
postage up to a weight of 5 kgs. The weight limit is
increased to 10 kgs. in the case of parcels whose contents
cannot be split up and of parcels addressed to a camp or
the prisoners' representatives there ... for
distribution". Furthermore, according to the record of the
discussions at Brussels, this exemption also applies to
parcels sent C.O.D. (Documents of the Brussels Congress,
Volume II, 4th Commission, 30th meeting);
(6) [(3) p.461] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, p. 841;
(7) [(1) p.462] The obligation on transit countries to
authorize the passage of relief shipments is based on
Article 111, as will be seen in the commentary on that
(8) [(1) p.463] Indeed, Recommendation No. 3 of the Buenos
Aires Conference of 1952 entitled "Application of a
special Telegraph Tariff for Prisoners of War and for
Civilians interned in Wartime", refers not only to the
Geneva Conventions but also to Article 35 of the
International Telecommunication Convention of Buenos Aires
(1952), which reads as follows: "The provisions regarding
charges for telecommunication and the various cases in
which free service is accorded are set forth in the
Regulations annexed to this Conventions." Recommendation
No. 3 "Recommends the next International Telegraph and
(1) to consider sympathetically whether, and to what
extent, the telegraph franking privileges and the
reductions in telegraph charged envisaged in the Geneva
Conventions mentioned above could be accorded;
(2) to make any necessary modifications to the
International Telegraph Regulations."
Since in general Conferences are held every five
years, the next one will probably take place in 1957 or