ICRC databases on international humanitarian law
Treaties and Documents
1949 Conventions and Additional Protocols, and their Commentaries
Historical Treaties and Documents
Convention (I) for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field. Geneva, 12 August 1949.
Art. 16. Chapter II : Wounded and sick
-- RECORDING AND FORWARDING
[p.159] As we have seen in connection with Articles 13
, military wounded and sick picked up by the enemy are prisoners of war. But before that, they are wounded and sick and, as such, entitled to special protection and respect. Their position as prisoners of war -- to whom the provisions of the Third Convention as a whole apply -- already exists, but is (in a manner of speaking) latent, and will not develop until the wounded are brought back behind the lines and are on the way to convalescence and cure. The gradual improvement in their condition implies a corresponding change in their claim to protection. From the moment when the wounded are picked up by the enemy's medical personnel they are under the protection of two Conventions, the First and the Third. But certain provisions of the latter Convention will remain (so to speak) in the background until such time as the individual who has been picked up is no longer a wounded man in need of special protection and care. Gradually, as he ceases to be a wounded man, the Third Convention
as a whole will become applicable, until finally, when he has recovered, it is the only instrument governing his status.
It will readily be understood that there is an intermediate stage in the process, when the provisions relating to prisoners of war will have to be applied to the wounded with due regard to their special situation. It would have been possible to indicate these shades of difference in the Third Convention; but it was thought more logical to do so in the First Convention, as being the Convention dealing exclusively with the wounded and sick. The decision to do so was, moreover, in conformity with the general principle of making each Convention, as far as possible, complete in itself.
The First and Third Conventions will therefore be found to contain a certain number of provisions which differ only slightly from one another. Article 16, the provisions of which deal with the identification [p.160] of the wounded, sick and dead picked up on the battlefield and the communication to the enemy of the information obtained, is a case in Point. So far as the wounded are concerned, its provisions are almost the same as the provisions relating to prisoners in unimpaired health, who have just been captured. They only differ from them in so far as allowance has to be made for the fact that it is not always possible to interrogate a wounded man, and that the authorities in whose charge he is may not always be as well equipped as those in charge of prisoners for obtaining and transmitting information. The same thing is true of the following Article (Article 17
), which forms a complete whole with Article 16. Article 17
groups together the special provisions relating to the dead found on the battlefield; similar provisions, relating to prisoners who die in captivity (1), are to be found in the Third Convention.
In the 1929 Convention all these provisions were contained in a single Article (Article 4
), which was very short and even rudimentary. The International Committee of the Red Cross introduced numerous improvements in the draft which it submitted to the Diplomatic Conference of 1949, and these were made more explicit and amplified still further by the Conference. As a result the Article became so long that it became necessary to split it up, forming a new Article -- Article 17
-- which is considered below.
Whereas Article 15
deals with soldiers who have fallen wounded or sick in the actual area where fighting takes place, and defines the obligations incumbent on both friend and foe in regard to them, Article 16
begins laying down the rules concerning the duties which the Powers must assume in regard to the wounded or sick of the opposing army, whom they have picked up, once the latter have been brought back behind the lines.
The Articles of the Third Convention which correspond to Article 16 are Articles 17
, 120, paragraphs 1 and 2
, and 122
, which refer to the recording and communication of information concerning prisoners of war as a whole. These three Articles will apply to the wounded and sick from the front at a later stage, when they are in a condition to assume the status of prisoners of war without qualification, and have been re-registered as such.
[p.161] In the meantime it is sufficient that their home Power should know that they have been picked up, wounded or dead, by the enemy; and this is what Article 16 of the First Convention is there to ensure. Hence its comparatively summary character.
As, however, the provisions of the Third Convention in this connection are very much fuller and more precise than those of the First Convention, it is well to refer to them, or at any rate to bear them constantly in mind, in any case where Article 16 has to be applied. Certain of the provisions in question are of such real importance that we shall have to refer to them here.
PARAGRAPHS 1 AND 2 -- RECORDING (2)
Paragraph 1 requires the Parties to the conflict to record without delay any particulars which may assist in the identification of the wounded, sick and dead of the adverse Party falling into their hands (3). Paragraph 2 gives a list of the particulars which may be regarded as indispensable.
A. ' Nature of the obligation. ' -- The obligation is an absolute one; and the Powers must accordingly take all the necessary preparatory steps in good time, and even before the commencement of hostilities, in order to ensure that the competent authorities are in a position to perform their duties.
In imposing this obligation the paragraph says that it must be implemented "as soon as possible". Further precision in regard to the time allowed for its fulfilment was not possible as the period required will vary according to circumstances.
Obvious humanitarian considerations explain the emphasis laid on speedy fulfilment of the obligation. The Convention requires the information to be transmitted to the home Power, and the latter must in its turn pass it on to the families of the missing. It is essential that [p.162] these families, whose anxiety increases hourly, should be relieved of their painful uncertainty as soon as this is physically possible. Moreover, speed in establishing the necessary records will assist the capturing Power in its task of distributing the wounded to their various places of accommodation -- including the homes of local inhabitants as laid down in Article 18
-- while keeping a careful check on their movements.
B. ' Recording. ' -- What exactly are we to understand by "recording"? The word means: the action of entering in a record. It is this record which will enable the detaining Power to keep a constant check on the enemy wounded, sick and dead, and which will furnish the particulars that are to be forwarded to the enemy. It may take any form desired -- collections of lists, card indexes, etc.
C. ' Elements of identification. ' -- Paragraph 2 goes on to give a list of the particulars required for the identification of the wounded, sick or dead picked up by the enemy. This is an innovation introduced by the Diplomatic Conference of 1949. It was felt that everything possible should be done to ensure that persons falling into enemy hands or missing at the front were duly identified; and it was desired that the process of identification should, if possible, be the same for all belligerents. Hence the inclusion in all four Conventions of similar detailed provisions.
The list in Article 16 is neither limitative nor imperative, as is shown by the introductory phrase: "These records should, if possible, include." It indicates the particulars which would appear most likely to assist in establishing the identity of an individual. But additions may be made to the list, and where certain of the particulars indicated are missing, others (such as photographs, body measurements, or descriptions of teeth or special features which the families of the individuals concerned may be expected to know) may be supplied in their place.
One striking point about the list is that all the particulars can be obtained without any necessity for interrogating the wounded or sick man, who may often be unable to reply to questions. This point is of particular importance in connection with the identification of the dead. Items (a) to (f) of the list appear on the identity card which all military personnel should carry on them, while items (g) and (h) are supplied by the Detaining Power.
[p.163] D. ' Identity card. ' -- Item (f) speaks of "any other particulars shown on his identity card or disc". The exact position with regard to identity discs will be seen later. The identity cards referred to here are those provided for in the Third Convention (in Article 17, paragraph 3
, in the case of combatant members of the armed forces and in Article 4, A
(4), in the case of persons who accompany the armed forces without actually being members thereof).
The text of paragraph 3 of Article 17
of the Third Convention is as follows:
"Each Party to a conflict is required to furnish the persons under its jurisdiction who are liable to become prisoners of war, with an identity card showing the owner's surname, first names, rank, army, regimental, personal or serial number or equivalent information, and date of birth. the identity card may, furthermore, bear the signature or the fingerprints, or both, of the owner, and may bear, as well, any other information the Party to the conflict may wish to add concerning persons belonging to its armed forces. As far as possible the card shall measure 6.5 x 10 cm. and shall be issued in duplicate. The identity card shall be shown by the prisoner of war upon demand, but may in no case be taken from him."
It will be noted that the particulars which are to appear on the identity card are not exactly the same as those which are required under the list in Article 16 of the First Convention. The identity card, for example, specifies the rank of the owner, for which there is no provision in Article 16. The latter, on the other hand, in the absence of the army, regimental, personal or serial number, requires a statement of the arm to which the identified party is attached (air, artillery, etc., together with a mention of his unit) (4); the identity card in the same case only requires "equivalent information". In practice, however, these differences are unimportant. All that matters is that the particulars given on the identity card should be sufficient to identify its holder without any possibility of error, and that these particulars should be recorded and transmitted to the Power on which he depends. Consequently, one can understand the value of the identity card, and how essential it is that all those who are liable to fall on the battlefield should be provided with [p.164] such cards, and should, moreover, always carry them on their persons. All troops should be fully informed of the importance of this.
E. ' Other particulars. ' -- Item (f) refers to "other particulars" which may be shown on the identity card or disc. What other particulars? Article 17
of the Third Convention says that the identity card may, furthermore, bear the signature or the fingerprints, or both, of the owner, and may bear, as well, any other information the Parties to the conflict may wish to add. The signature and fingerprints cannot, of course, be "recorded"; but they can be photographed, and will then afford a valuable means of identification in the absence of general particulars, e. g. in cases where the card is partially destroyed. "Any other particulars" which have been added on the card should be forwarded with the general particulars, whenever the authorities of the Power which has picked up the wounded or dead have reason to believe that the general particulars may not be sufficient.
F. ' Date of death. ' -- It has been pointed out already that the two last items in the list are to be supplied by the Detaining Power. Item (g) specifies the date and place of capture or death. It will not always be possible to give the exact date on which death occurred in cases where the dead man was picked up on the battlefield. But the date is nevertheless of great importance for reasons mainly connected with civil law. It must therefore be determined with all the precision which present-day medical science affords; and mention should be made of this medical examination among the particulars which are forwarded.
G. ' Medical particulars. ' -- The last item of the list, item (h), relates to particulars concerning wounds or illness, or cause of death. The information under this heading is medical, and can only be supplied by a doctor. Provision must in consequence be made for the constant presence of a doctor with the competent administrative authorities. The importance of such information, especially for the families of the deceased, is self-evident. The Parties to the conflict must therefore endeavour to supply these particulars, with as many details as possible.
H. ' Uncollected wounded. ' -- Lastly, it may be pointed out in connection with this paragraph that the general obligation to inform the enemy [p.165] of the identity of his wounded or dead is not confined to the case of wounded or dead who have been picked up. It covers also that of wounded or dead, whose existence is known or has been detected, though there has been no possibility of picking them up. It will no doubt be impossible to communicate their identity; but the enemy should at least be informed without delay of their existence and given all the necessary particulars, so that he may search for them himself.
PARAGRAPH 3 (5) -- FORWARDING OF INFORMATION
This paragraph describes what has to be done with the information that has been collected. It fills an important gap in the previous Geneva Conventions, none of which specified how or to whom the information was to be transmitted. The provision is now quite clear. The information is to be forwarded as soon as possible by the persons or authorities by whom it has been collected to the Information Bureau which the belligerent is required to open on his territory. The Information Bureau will transmit it to the Protecting Power and to the Central Prisoners of War Agency, and the Protecting Power and the Central Prisoners of War Agency will each pass it on to the Power to which the wounded, sick or dead in question belong. It thus travels by two different routes.
1. ' Official Information Bureau '
The Information Bureau to which the paragraph refers is that described in Article 122
of the Third Convention.
The 1929 Convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war had already provided (in its Article 77
) that at the commencement of hostilities each of the belligerent Powers was to institute an official bureau to give information about the prisoners of war in its territory. The purpose of the provision was to centralize, not only the lists of prisoners taken, but also everything relating to them (such as movements, releases, illnesses or deaths). This was necessary both for administrative reasons and to enable particulars to be forwarded to the Power of Origin and to their families.
[p.166] Experience during the Second World War showed, however, that the provisions of the 1929 Convention were still inadequate and lacked precision. Accordingly, the National Red Cross Societies, many of which had been instructed by their Governments to set up these Bureaux, asked in 1946 for fuller and more detailed provisions. They also urged the extension of the activities of the Information Bureaux to all categories of persons falling as a result of hostilities into the hands of a belligerent.
The Diplomatic Conference of 1949 fell in with these views, and expanded Article 122
of the Third Convention to the requisite fullness, while it extended the activities of the Bureaux to all persons protected by the First and Second Conventions (6). As these individuals, when they lose their special status as wounded, sick or shipwrecked persons, become ordinary prisoners of war, it was only logical to centralize all the particulars concerning them, advising one and the same office of everything happening to them, whether they came under the First, the Second or the Third Convention.
Information which the Information Bureau receives from the competent administrative authorities of the army, is to be forwarded by it to the Power of Origin of the persons to whom the information in question relates.
This communication too must be made without delay, the expression "as soon as possible" covering all stages in the transmission of the information. The communication will accordingly be made by the most rapid means available -- for example, by broadcasting the information, or by televisionary transmission of the index photographs.
The transmission will, moreover, be duplicated -- made, that is to say, both to the Protecting Power and to the Central Prisoners of War Agency. By Protecting Power we mean the Power which represents the interests of the country of origin of the wounded in the country in which they are detained.
In practice the transmission to the Protecting Power will usually be effected by handing over lists direct to the diplomatic staff which the Protecting Power maintains in the country concerned for the purpose of exercising its protective functions. It will then devolve on the diplomatic [p.167] staff in question to arrange for the information to be transmitted as quickly as possible to its own authorities, who will, in their turn, pass it on to the enemy.
2. ' Central Prisoners of War Agency '
Paragraph 3 merely refers to the Central Prisoners of War Agency, the functions of which are defined in Article 123
of the Third Convention. It may be helpful to quote the text of this Article:
"A Central Prisoners of War Information Agency shall be created in a neutral country. The International Committee of the Red Cross shall, if it deems necessary, propose to the Powers concerned the organization of such an Agency.
The function of the Agency shall be to collect all the information it may obtain through official or private channels respecting prisoners of war, and to transmit it as rapidly as possible to the country of origin of the prisoners of war or to the Power on which they depend. It shall receive from the Parties to the conflict all facilities for effecting such transmissions.
The High Contracting Parties, and in particular those whose nationals benefit by the services of the Central Agency, are requested to give the said Agency the financial aid it may require.
The foregoing provisions shall in no way be interpreted as restricting the humanitarian activities of the International Committee of the Red Cross, or of the relief societies provided for in Article 125
It does not fall within the scope of the present study to consider here in detail the nature and operation of this Agency (7). But a short account may be given of its origin. In 1870 the International Committee of the Red Cross was the first to take action when it opened an official Agency for wounded officers and soldiers, together with a prisoners of war information bureau. The experiment was repeated in 1912 in Belgrade. But it was only in 1914 that the establishment of an international Prisoners of War Agency enabled the Geneva Committee really to tackle, in all its complexity, the immense problem of transmitting information about prisoners, the wounded and sick, the dead, and civilian internees, and of ensuring their protection. One year after its establishment this Agency was already employing 1200 persons, [p.168] and its unexpected development had given it a high degree of importance. The valuable experience which it acquired enabled the International Committee to propose to the Diplomatic Conference of 1929 that its existence and operation should receive the sanction of approval in the text of the Convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war. The approval thus accorded (Article 79
) provided the legal basis on the strength of which the International Committee of the Red Cross was able in 1939 to open in Geneva the Central Prisoners of War Agency; the far-reaching activities of this Agency are still alive in everyone's memory.
The Diplomatic Conference of 1949 was careful not to touch the valuable legal basis thus established, the only addition which it made to the existing text being an appeal to the High Contracting Parties to give the Agency the necessary financial aid.
The essential work of the Agency is obviously in connection with prisoners of war. One of its functions is to receive particulars relating to the wounded, sick and dead, and to forward such particulars, always as rapidly as possible, to the Power on which the victims depend. But its chief task is to keep their families informed, and to form a permanent link between them and their captured relatives. It asks the National Bureaux for additional information (including information of a medical character), conducts enquiries of its own, arranges for the exchanging of correspondence (where the ordinary postal channels are closed), and forwards personal assets. Whereas the activities of the Protecting Power are mainly administrative, the Agency is essentially concerned with human relations.
PARAGRAPH 4 (8) -- PARTICULARS OF THE DEAD
The preceding paragraphs deal with the forwarding of particulars which mainly concern the wounded or sick. Paragraph 4, on the other hand, deals with the forwarding of everything relating exclusively to the dead picked up on the battlefield or to wounded who die after being brought back behind the lines -- that is to say, certificates of death and personal assets.
The corresponding provisions of the 1929 Convention (Article 4, [p.169] paragraphs 2 and 3
) dealt most inadequately with this subject, merely reproducing the provisions of 1906 in simplified form. The new clauses, on the other hand, embody the practice of a number of belligerents and of the Central Prisoners of War Agency in the last war, and introduce the precision which was lacking.
1. ' Death certificates '
The paragraph begins by saying that authenticated documents certifying decease are to be communicated to the adverse Party by the same channels as the information about the wounded and sick -- that is to say through (1) the Information Bureau of the country concerned and (2) the Protecting Power and the Central Agency. The documents which certify decease are "certificates of death" or "duly authenticated lists of the dead". The 1929 Convention (Article 4, paragraph 2
) spoke only of "certificates of death", without specifying details or laying down the manner in which they were to be made out. In actual fact belligerents adopted different systems during the Second World War; but some of them made use of a detailed standard form proposed by the International Committee of the Red Cross in the course of the conflict. The First Convention of 1949 does not, however, add any further details as to what these certificates or lists should consist of; and it is necessary, as in the case of most of the provisions of Article 16, to refer to the Third Convention (Article 120, paragraph 2
) which gives all the requisite details in regard to prisoners dying in captivity. As there is no valid reason for making any distinction between enemy dead collected on the battlefield and prisoners who die in captivity, the provisions of Article 120
should apply equally to the first-named, at least in so far as circumstances on the battlefield allow. The point is not without importance, and the attention of responsible authorities should be drawn to it.
The provisions are as follows. Death certificates, preferably in the form annexed to the Third Convention (Annex IV D), or lists certified by a competent officer, are to be forwarded as rapidly as possible to the Information Bureau. They should include (a) the particulars found on the identity cards, viz. name, first names, rank, date of birth and army, regimental, personal or serial number, and (b) mention of the place, date and cause of death, the place and date of burial, and all [p.170] particulars necessary for subsequent identification of the grave. If the bodies have been cremated, the fact is to be stated, together with the reasons for such exceptional treatment, as provided in the second paragraph of Article 17
. All these particulars, it will be noted, with the exception of the last two, are the same as those which the Detaining Power is asked (in Article 16, paragraph 1) to furnish without delay to the Power of Origin of the dead who have been collected. But in the present instance the particulars have a further value in that they are authenticated, which explains the fact of their repetition and makes it important.
The model certificate annexed to the Third Convention was established by the International Committee of the Red Cross on the basis of the war experience of the Central Prisoners of War Agency. It includes, in addition to the above particulars, two headings of the greatest interest to the families of the deceased -- namely, a reference to the possible existence of personal effects and a few details about the last moments of the deceased. It will no doubt only be rarely that particulars can be given under the latter heading in the case of dead picked up on the battlefield. But the responsible authorities should nevertheless endeavour to give as many details as possible, in view of their sentimental and human value.
2. ' Personal assets '
The paragraph goes on to give a list of articles which, if found on the dead, or near by, are in any case to be sent to the Power of Origin through the national Information Bureau. There is no question in this case of twofold transmission -- both by the Protecting Power and by the Central Agency -- because only one of each of the articles exists. The paragraph leaves a free choice as to the channel of communication. In practice it will be the Central Agency which is usually chosen, since it has prepared especially for this particular task. The articles referred to are the following:
(a) one half of a double identity disc;
(b) last wills or other documents of importance;
(d) articles of an intrinsic or sentimental value;
(e) unidentified articles.
[p.171] A. ' Identity disc. ' -- The mention of a ' double ' identity disc calls for some explanation. The practice of providing each member of the armed forces with an identity disc became widespread during the First World War, and now appears to be universally accepted. But the need for standardization of the disc also became apparent very soon. Accordingly, in 1928, the International Committee of the Red Cross asked the International Commission for the Standardization of Medical Equipment, a body which it had itself set up, to study the question. The Commission produced a model identity disc which could be divided in two. One half, it was proposed, was to remain round the neck of the dead person, while the other was to be detached and sent to the State of which he was a national. The model, or at all events its principle, was approved by the XIIIth International Red Cross Conference, and the 1929 Convention accepted it, stating that "one-half" of the identity disc was to be transmitted, "the other half to remain attached to the body". This
wording was not clear, however, and the 1949 text speaks of one-half of a double identity disc, to show that the disc must in fact be composed of two separable parts, each bearing the same indications.
These double discs must naturally be made with the greatest care. The inscriptions on them must be indelible, and must be engraved on a substance which is as resistant as possible to the destructive action of chemical and physical agents, especially to fire and heat.
We need hardly stress the importance of such discs, or the desirability of securing their adoption by all armies and of all troops becoming familiar with them. It should, incidentally, be noted that Article 17, paragraph 1
, makes provision for the possibility of soldiers being only provided with single discs. In such cases the whole disc must remain with the body, as it is essential for the latter to be identifiable at any time. But the use of a single disc will deprive the home Power of an additional, and often very valuable, means of identification.
B. ' Wills. Objects of value. ' -- In collecting objects which form estate the sorting of documents and the preservation of those which have legal value, particularly wills, is important. Of equal importance perhaps are objects or documents having an intrinsic or sentimental value. Selection in the latter case will sometimes be more difficult; it must be borne in mind that articles which have little or no apparent value may, for sentimental reasons, be highly prized by near relatives.
[p.172] C. ' Unidentified articles. ' -- Lastly, the reference in the list to "unidentified articles" is probably more important than appears at first sight. It may happen (and did happen in the last World War) that Military personnel -- especially airmen -- are hit with such brutal force that practically nothing is left of them except a few stray objects, usually of metal, scattered around. Such objects will mean nothing to the belligerent who picks them up; but if sent to the Power of Origin of the man who has disappeared, they may frequently make identification possible as a result of enquiries, cross-checking, etc. Sometimes even, a single object of this sort may constitute the only proof of the total disappearance of an entire aircrew.
No doubt the forwarding of such unidentified articles to the adverse Party involves a certain risk of error. The articles may have been lost by combatants who are afterwards picked up wounded or taken prisoner by the adverse Party. In such a case the Power on which they depend may be led, on receiving the articles, to suppose their owners to be dead. Care must therefore be taken not to notify their families prematurely, without having first made sure by every possible means available that the person or persons concerned are in fact missing.
3. ' Forwarding '
Paragraph 4 ends by saying that the Parties to the conflict are to send all these objects forming estate in sealed packets, accompanied by a statement on the identity of the deceased owner, as well as by a complete list of the contents. Precautions must obviously be taken to ensure that parcels of such value are not lost or opened ' en route '. In wartime, postal communications are uncertain and often roundabout, and the risk of damage or deterioration is correspondingly increased.
4. ' Provisions of the Third Convention '
Before concluding this study of Article 16 we must consider two provisions which, though they appear only in the Third Convention, are none the less applicable to the wounded and sick. An explanation has been given above (9) of the reason why certain provisions of the First [p.173] and Third Conventions resemble one another, especially in the case of Article 16 of the First Convention. At the same time it was seen that the First Convention's provisions were presented in summary form, making it necessary to refer on occasion to the Third Convention. The majority of the points in connection with which such reference is necessary (identity cards, Information Bureau, Central Prisoners of War Agency, death certificates) have been mentioned in passing when discussing the Article.
There is no reference in the text of the First Convention to the two provisions which have still to be studied. Their absence, in our opinion, leaves a gap; for they are important, and call for observance by those applying the Convention. The provisions in question relate to the conditions under which the wounded and sick may be interrogated, and to cards giving notice of capture.
A. ' Interrogation of wounded. ' -- Article 17 of the Third Convention, paragraphs 1, 2 and 4
, reads as follows:
"Every prisoner of war, when questioned on the subject, is bound to give only his surname, first names and rank, date of birth, and army, regimental, personal or serial number, or failing this, equivalent information.
If he wilfully infringes this rule, he may render himself liable to a restriction of the privileges accorded to his rank or status.
No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind."
The essential purpose of these provisions is to protect prisoners against pressure which the Detaining Power may be tempted to put upon them in order to obtain information of a military character. The Second World War afforded all too many examples of such pressure. It was also necessary to prevent a Power from being able to use information concerning the families of prisoners for reprisals against such families.
It goes without saying that these safeguards are equally applicable to the wounded and sick picked up by the enemy, since they are already prisoners of war, and will acquire final status as such as soon as they have recovered. It is therefore essential that the authorities and all persons who are called upon to apply the First Convention should be fully conversant with these provisions of Article 17 of the Third Convention
and that they should strictly observe them.
[p.174] B. ' Cards giving notice of capture. ' -- A prisoner of war is not a man placed, as it were, in solitary confinement. On the contrary, his existence should be reported as soon as possible to his family and to the Power on which he depends. Under the 1929 Convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war this was to be done (1) by the prisoner himself, who was allowed to send a card to his family, and (2) by the Detaining Power which was to communicate to the enemy, through its Information Bureau, particulars of the prisoner's identity. Experience showed, however, that factors of all kinds delayed to a considerable extent the sending of these two forms of notification. Accordingly, the Diplomatic Conference of 1949 made provision in Article 70 of the Third Convention
for a third form of notification, which had been instituted by the International Committee of the Red Cross during the Second World War to meet the drawbacks to the first two forms. Each prisoner is authorized to send to the Central Agency, at the same time as
to his family, and not more than one week after his capture, a card to be known as "card giving notice of capture", or for short "capture card", to say what has happened to him. The card is to be the same, if possible, as the model given in the Third Convention in Annex IV B. The identity of the addressee, the limited contents of the card and its standard form should all facilitate its rapid transmission to the Central Agency, which will retransmit the information it contains to the families of the senders. The latter will thus be sure of hearing the news even if the card sent to them direct by the prisoner should be lost.
The chief advantage of these cards is that they arrive soon after the prisoner's capture, and give particulars of his health. Their importance in the case of wounded or sick picked up on the battlefield can thus be judged. Nothing could justify this category of war victims being deprived of an advantage to which they are entitled as prisoners, and which the state of their health makes all the more essential in their case.
The attention of the authorities responsible for applying the First Convention should therefore be drawn to this point; and they must see that their hospital or other accommodation centres, whether close to the front or not, are supplied with a sufficient quantity of these capture cards, which they must arrange for the enemy wounded or sick in these centres to fill in as soon as they are fit to do so.
* (1) [(1) p.160] It would have been difficult to include in the
Prisoners of War Convention provisions concerning
combatants found dead on the battlefield, because such
persons have died without becoming prisoners;
(2) [(1) p.161] Paragraph 1 in the French version of Article
16 corresponds to paragraphs 1 and 2 of the English
version; paragraphs 2 and 3 of the French text correspond
to paragraphs 3 and 4 respectively of the English text. --
(3) [(2) p.161] The recording of particulars of the medical
personnel and their subsequent transmission is covered by
Article 122 of the Third (Prisoners of War) Convention.
Medical personnel, as will be seen below, "receive the
benefits and protection" of the Third Convention under
Article 28 of the First and Article 33 of the Third
(4) [(1) p.163] In the French text of the Conventions, Article
16, paragraph 1 (b), of the First Convention reads
"affectation ou numéro matricule", whereas Article 17,
paragraph 3, of the Third Convention merely speaks of
"numéro matricule". In the English text the wording is the
same in both cases, viz. "army, regimental, personal or
serial number". The above remark, therefore, applies only
to the French text. -- TRANSLATOR;
(5) [(1) p.165] Paragraph 2 in the French text. -- TRANSLATOR;
(6) [(1) p.166] The Fourth Convention also makes provision for
an Information Bureau for interned civilians; but it need
not necessarily be the same as the Information Bureau for
which the present paragraph provides;
(7) [(1) p.167] The reader, if interested in the matter, may
refer to the ' Report of the International Committee of
the Red Cross on its activities during the Second World
War ' (September, 1939 -- June 30, 1947), Vol. II (The
Central Agency for Prisoners of War), Geneva, 1948;
(8) [(1) p.168] Paragraph 3 in the French text. -- TRANSLATOR;
(9) [(1) p.172] See above, page 159;