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. 28. Part III : Captivity #Section II : Internment of prisoners of war #Chapter II : Quarters, food and clothing of prisoners of war
. -- CANTEENS
PARAGRAPH 1. -- ESTABLISHMENT OF CANTEENS
The wording of this provision is imperative, like that of Article 12, paragraph 2
, of the 1929 Convention. It lays on the Detaining Power [p.203] an additional obligation, over and above the general obligation to provide free of charge for the maintenance of prisoners of war, which is set forth in Article 15
and is supplemented by other related special provisions.
In fact, the canteens were poorly supplied during the Second World War (1), because of the general shortage caused by the conflict. In 1949, it was proposed that specific reference should be made to the conclusion of special agreements for the stocking of canteens by the power of Origin. This suggestion was rejected as it was feared that the Detaining Power might consider that such agreements freed it from its obligations (2); the States party to the Convention are nevertheless at liberty to conclude such agreements if they think fit.
What commodities should be available in canteens? The Convention speaks first of "foodstuffs", which should supplement the normal diet of prisoners of war: sugar, bread, cheese, tinned meat. The camp authorities may prohibit the sale of alcoholic drinks, but must permit the sale of all other health-giving, refreshing or fortifying beverages, hot or cold, and, if possible, milk.
The term "ordinary articles in daily use" means, in addition to soap and tobacco, which are specifically mentioned:
(a) all necessary supplies for correspondence (paper, pencils, pens, ink,
(b) all necessary toilet articles (towels, brushes, razors, combs, nail
(c) all necessary supplies for repairing personal effects (buttons,
thread, needles, shoe-laces, etc.);
(d) miscellaneous articles (pocket torches and batteries, string,
penknives, handkerchiefs, etc.).
PARAGRAPH 2. -- CANTEEN PROFITS
During the Second World War, canteens frequently made large profits unbeknown to the prisoners, and these profits were used in an arbitrary way by the Detaining Power, particularly for the repair of damage done or alleged to have been done in the camp by prisoners of [p.204] war. Such practices were contrary to Article 12, paragraph 3
, of the 1929 Convention, which expressly provided that canteen profits were to be utilized for the benefit of the prisoners. The present Article is therefore more explicit and provides for the creation of a special fund composed solely of canteen profits. Like the canteen, the special fund is under the direction of the Detaining Power, and the camp commander has authority over the utilization of profits. But the prisoners' representative has the right to collaborate in the management of the canteen and of the fund. As regards administration, he will therefore be consulted as to the times at which the canteen is to be open, the commodities and articles to be offered for sale, the arrangement and
installation of the premises and the control of prices.
It must be emphasized that, in accordance with the present paragraph, the fund must be used for the benefit of the prisoners. The wishes expressed by the prisoners must therefore be taken into consideration, to the extent that they do not run contrary to the regulations ensuring good administration and discipline in the camp. The Detaining Power may not utilize canteen profits to make up any shortcomings for which it is responsible. On the other hand, it is also recommended that canteen profits should not be hoarded, but should be utilized whenever needed in order to improve the lot of the prisoners. As we shall see in connection with the following paragraph, these profits have in the past too often been lost to those who helped to build them up. In this respect the prisoners' representative can play a key rôle by instigating -- in agreement with his fellow prisoners, on the one hand, and with the camp administration, on the other -- all reasonable measures for the regular utilization of canteen profits.
PARAGRAPH 3. -- DISPOSAL OF THE FUND IF THE CAMP IS CLOSED DOWN
Here the Convention refers only to the closing of a camp either following an administrative measure or in the event of general repatriation of prisoners after the end of hostilities. The authors of the provision decided against recommending the sharing out of profits among the prisoners, since this had sometimes been done during the Second World War and had given rise to complaints. It is in practice very difficult to determine what contribution each prisoner has made to the profits in hand (3). If the prisoners interned in one camp are [p.205] transferred ' en bloc ' to another camp, the canteen profits must also be transferred, in the same way as prisoners' community property and the luggage they are unable to take with them, pursuant to Article 48, paragraph 3
, and also Article 65, paragraph 3
, which concerns the transfer of personal accounts. In this case the provisions of the present paragraph are therefore not applicable.
There is no very precise definition of the "international welfare organization" which is to receive the credit balance of the special fund if a camp is closed down in the course of the hostilities. One may assume, however, that this refers to one or more of the relief societies recognized by the Detaining Power in accordance with Article 125
This organization will be designated by the Detaining Power which is responsible for the management and utilization of the fund. The representative of the prisoners who have contributed to the fund may be consulted regarding the organization to be chosen. But the organization is in any case obliged to consult the prisoners' representative before deciding how to make use of the fund, since its position is similar to that of the Detaining Power, and the latter's attitude is governed by paragraph 2.
The fund must be employed for the benefit of prisoners of war of the same nationality as those who have contributed to it; if the camp comprised prisoners of different nationalities, several societies may be designated. In that case, the credit balance would be shared out among those societies proportionately to the number of prisoners of each nationality in the camp where the canteen profits accumulated.
If the welfare organization which takes over the fund looks after prisoners of war of all nationalities, without distinction, it will itself be able to make a fair distribution.
In case of a general repatriation, after the end of the hostilities, the matter must be settled between the Governments concerned; they may, if they wish, conclude a special agreement (Article 6
), usually depending on the amount of the funds in question. Otherwise, the profits will be kept by the Detaining Power.
Last but not least, one should refer to Article 62, paragraph 3
, which states that the working pay of the prisoners' representative, of his advisers, if any, and of his assistants shall be paid out of the fund maintained by canteen profits, on a scale to be fixed by the prisoners' representative and approved by the camp commander.
* (1) [(1) p.203] See BRETONNI RE, op. cit., p. 111;
(2) [(2) p.203] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949 ', Vol. II-A, p. 258;
(3) [(1) p.204] See ' Report on the Work of the Conference of
Government Experts ', p. 143;