ICRC databases on international humanitarian law
Treaties and Documents
1949 Conventions and Additional Protocols, and their Commentaries
Historical Treaties and Documents
Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.
Art. 15. Part II : General protection of prisoners of war
. -- MAINTENANCE OF PRISONERS
The requirement of principle contained in this Article already existed in the 1929 Convention (Article 4
) (1). The phrase "free of charge", which strengthens the present text, was implicit in the 1929 text.
Maintenance must be understood to mean the supply of what is necessary for the life and continuing physical health of prisoners of war. These various requirements are confirmed by special articles regarding quarters (Article 25
), food (Article 26
), clothing (Article 28
), medical attention (Article 30
), and possibly, although the link is less direct, working pay (Articles 54
) and advances of pay (Articles 60
). The funds made available to prisoners of war in the form of working pay or advances of pay enable them to purchase certain items which also contribute to their maintenance. We have in mind [p.153] particularly material for correspondence. Such items are probably included among the "articles in daily use" which must be available in camp canteens, in accordance with Article 28, paragraph 1
. During the Second World War, most Detaining Powers provided writing-paper free of charge, particularly in the case of special forms, and it is to be hoped that this practice will continue.
One should also mention intellectual, educational and recreational pursuits, sports and games for prisoners of war. In accordance with Article 38
, the Detaining power must encourage these activities, and must therefore also provide prisoners with the necessary premises and equipment.
Although the principle has never been questioned, in practice these obligations were not always respected during the Second World War, particularly as regards clothing and medical attention (2).
This responsibility is an absolute one; it is in no way diminished by any relief supplies which prisoners may receive from their country of origin or from humanitarian organizations. In fact, maintenance is well compensated, since prisoners of war may be required to work, and their working pay represents only a part of the value of the work done by them.
Can a power legitimately plead that it is impossible for it to provide prisoners with the minimum maintenance required by the Convention?
In our view, the reply to this question must be in the negative. If the Detaining Power is unable or unwilling to fulfil its obligations in respect of maintenance, it should no longer detain any prisoners of war. The treatment accorded to the armed forces of the Detaining Power is not a determining factor, since in general the principle of assimilation comes second to standards which are expressly laid down.
Does this mean that in such a case the Detaining Power would be obliged to hand over the prisoners of war concerned to the Power on which they depend? This would certainly be the ideal solution, if the end of hostilities was in sight; otherwise, internment in a neutral country would have to be considered, pursuant to Article 111
* (1) [(1) p.152] Also in other legal texts of Conventions or of
doctrine; ' Lieber Laws, ' Art. 76; ' Brussels
Declaration, ' Art. 27; ' Oxford Manual, ' Art. 69; ' The
Hague Regulations, ' Art. 7;
(2) [(1) p.153] See ' Report of the International Committee of
the Red Cross on its activities during the Second World
War, ' Vol. I, pp. 258-267. See also Maurice BRETONNIERE,
' L'application de la Convention de Genève aux prisonniers
français en Allemagne durant la seconde guerre mondiale '
(thesis in typewritten form), Paris 1949, pp. 60-61. At
the Conference of Government Experts, some delegations
suggested that a detailed statement of obligations in
respect of "maintenance" should be included in this
Article, but this proposal was rejected in order to
preserve the general nature of the principle stated in the
See ' Report on the Work of the Conference of
Government Experts, ' p. 120;