Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
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Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Additional Protocols, and their Commentaries
Historical Treaties and Documents
Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.
. -- LABOUR DETACHMENTS
A distinction must be made between two categories of workers who are detached: in the first place, those who continue to live in the camp, which they leave each morning to go to work but return to each evening, and secondly, those who are permanently lodged at their place of work. The labour detachments to which this Article refers comprise the latter category. The provision is all the more important because, in practice, it applies to the majority of prisoners of war (1).
The organization of labour detachments may vary greatly according to the nature of the work, the distance from the base camp and the attitude of the commander of the detachment and the employer. Prisoners of war employed in agriculture are usually given accommodation by their employer, and their living conditions are similar to those of the other persons living at the farm. Detachments working in mines or in industry may be quartered either near their place of work, or on the premises in buildings attached to the mine or industry. The latter solution is not always conducive to respect of the Convention, particularly as regards hygiene.
During the Second World War, many mobile labour detachments were formed, to be sent to places where a job had to be completed rapidly. When detachments were independent, it was often difficult to ensure that the provisions of the Convention were applied, and delegates of the International Committee of the Red Cross intervened on many occasions to request that such mobile detachments should be attached to a base camp.
Prisoners of war were sometimes scattered in small groups over the whole country, and this too made it almost impossible to apply any uniform system.
PARAGRAPH 1. -- ORGANIZATION AND ADMINISTRATION
OF LABOUR DETACHMENTS
A similar provision was included in the 1929 Convention, and it gave by way of indication a list of the principal respects in which the conditions in labour detachments must correspond to those of prisoner-of-war camps: hygiene, food, care in case of accidents or sickness, correspondence and the receipt of parcels.
[p.292] This text was not amended during the preparatory work which preceded the 1949 Diplomatic Conference, but the Conference decided that it was preferable to delete any such enumeration. The deletion implies that the application to labour detachments of the conditions existing in prisoner-of-war camps must not be limited to a few major elements, but must in principle extend to all conditions. This is in fact the true meaning of the word "régime" used in the French text, which may be taken as referring to everything connected with living conditions, and not merely to questions of organization and administration; in this instance the English text seems more restrictive than the French. But although it is specified that the conditions in labour detachments must be similar to those of prisoner-of-war camps, nowhere is it stated that they must be identical. As has already been said, the special conditions pertaining to each detachment must be taken into account.
Thus, as regards organization and administration, the time-table for each day must obviously be arranged so as to take into account the work to be done and also the fact that working hours in agriculture cannot be the same as those in industry.
As regards maintenance, it has already been seen that housing conditions may vary according to circumstances; but the principles set forth in the Convention (Article 25
) must be respected, and this was not always the case during the Second World War in labour detachments assigned to industrial work (2). The question of housing is an important one, for it is impossible to administer a detachment of prisoners who live in private dwellings in the same way as a detachment assembled in appropriate quarters.
Food and clothing (Articles 26
) must be suited to the living conditions and particularly to the nature of the work and the effort required. The same will be true of medical care and medical inspections (Articles 30
). A labour detachment may be so large as to warrant the full-time assignment to it of a doctor. Sometimes one medical officer may be sufficient for several detachments in the same area, and sometimes it will suffice if prisoners can avail themselves of the services of a civilian doctor living near the place where they are stationed. The latter solution also applies to dental care. Each detachment should nevertheless include one or more members of the medical personnel with supplies of medicaments for emergency needs.
Canteens (Article 28
) may also be established for prisoners of war and supplied by the base camp, so that prisoners may purchase the [p.293] same commodities and ordinary articles as their fellow prisoners who have remained in the camp.
Prisoners of war who are members of a labour detachment must be able to satisfy their religious, intellectual and physical needs (Articles 34
-38). A minister of their faith will bring them the spiritual assistance they need, but the same considerations will apply as in the case of doctors, and in many cases one chaplain may be able to minister to several labour detachments.
Prisoners of war must be able to receive individual parcels or collective shipments regularly, through the camp to which the labour detachment is attached. The same will apply to correspondence. Unless the detachment is a very large one, censorship will be carried out at the base camp.
Lastly, it must be remembered that a prisoners' representative must be available to each labour detachment, in accordance with Articles 79
-81. If the prisoners' representative in the base camp can also attend to a labour detachment to the satisfaction of the prisoners of war concerned, another one will not be required; it seems preferable, however, that as a general rule each labour detachment should have its own prisoners' representative on the spot.
PARAGRAPH 2. -- CONTROL, ADMINISTRATIVE DEPENDENCY
A. ' Control '. -- The word "control" must be taken here in its English connotation (and in fact in French it is coming more and more to have the same meaning); it undoubtedly implies an idea of domination, direction and supervision. The labour detachment will therefore be under the authority and supervision of the commander of the base camp who, as already stated in connection with Article 39
, must be a commissioned officer belonging to the regular armed forces of the Detaining Power. It is obvious, however, that authority must be exercised in the camp through subordinates acting on the commander's instructions. The rank of the commander of the labour detachment will depend on the size of the detachment and the camp commander will have full discretion in this matter, within the limits of his competence according to the laws of his country; since Article 39
requires that the camp commander must belong to the regular armed forces of the Detaining Power, so must commanders of labour detachments. Inspections and the exercise of authority will be
organized by the camp commander, according to the regulations applicable to the armed forces of the Detaining Power.
[p.294] B. ' Administrative dependency '. -- A labour detachment which cannot be administratively part of a prisoner-of-war camp should be established as an independent camp. Although this is the rule, certain exceptions may be permissible in the light of circumstances. During the Second World War, for instance, in the prisoners, own interest, the correspondence of labour detachments was sometimes censored, not in the base camp, but at a place less far removed. Exceptions of this kind are perfectly permissible and in no way detract from the general principle.
C. ' Responsibility '. -- The dual responsibility specified here is based not only on the fact that the labour detachment is under the control of the base camp, but also on the general principle of military subordination.
The expression "direction of the Government" (3), which appears in the present paragraph as well as in Article 39
, cannot in any event exclude individual responsibilities as defined by Articles 12
to 132. When the clause was adopted, the participants at the 1949 Diplomatic Conference made a point of specifying this (4).
PARAGRAPH 3. -- RECORDS
The 1929 Convention did not contain this provision, and during the Second World War, delegates of the International Committee of the Red Cross sometimes found it difficult to visit labour detachments because the commander of the main camp did not always have a list of the prisoners of war in the detachments. When the list was in the keeping of the military authorities, long delays sometimes ensued before it was made available.
The present provision states clearly that the lists must be communicated to delegates of the Protecting Power or of the International Committee of the Red Cross; they should at least record the exact location of the detachment and the prisoners of war who are assigned to it.
With regard to the "agencies giving relief to prisoners of war", once they have been authorized by the military authorities of the Detaining Power to visit prisoner-of-war camps, they will be in the same position (4).
* (1) [(1) p.291] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, p. 276;
(2) [(1) p.292] Especially in regard to hygiene. See
BRETONNI RE. op. cit., pp. 214-216;
(3) [(1) p.294] In French, "contrôle";
(4) [(2) p.294] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, p. 277;
(5) [(3) p.294] In this respect, see the commentary on Article
125, paragraph 2;