Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
Treaties and Documents
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.
. -- MEDICAL ATTENTION
[p.209] During the Second World War the belligerents as a rule made genuine attempts to provide the medical attention required by wounded and sick prisoners of war and to respect Article 14
of the 1929 Convention, on which the present provision is based.
Not only were infirmaries provided in most camps, but hospitals for prisoners of war were very often set up in the neighbourhood of the principal camps. Equipment and qualified personnel were, however, sometimes in short supply. Moreover, the scarcity of manual labour induced some camp commanders to limit the number of prisoners of war excused from work on account of sickness (1).
The 1929 provisions therefore needed to be strengthened and made more explicit, and they have been rearranged in a more logical sequence.
[p.210] PARAGRAPH 1. -- INFIRMARY
1. ' First sentence. -- General conditions '
An infirmary is necessary so that medical attention may be given. In order to be "adequate", it must be proportionate to the size of the camp. As a minimum, the Detaining power should apply the same standards as it applies to its own armed forces in respect of the general installation and administration of the infirmary. The Convention states that the treatment available there must include appropriate diet (2).
Apart from the question of diet, the present provision purposely makes a very general reference to the treatment which should be available to prisoners of war in the infirmary; "the attention they require" corresponds to the wording in Article 15
. In principle, the infirmary will be equipped only to deal with slight injuries or readily curable illnesses. If the patient's condition worsens, he must be transferred to a hospital or quarantine camp as the case may be, in accordance with paragraph 2 of this Article.
2. ' Second sentence. -- Isolation of cases
of contagious or mental disease '
This provision, requiring the isolation of cases of contagious disease, is based on the risk of infection which is increased by the crowded conditions in which prisoners of war live. The 1949 Diplomatic Conference inserted the reference to cases of mental disease (3). Like the preceding provision, however, this stipulation must be interpreted as applying to relatively slight cases only; serious illness must be treated in hospitals or other appropriate establishments.
[p.211] PARAGRAPH 2. -- SERIOUS DISEASES
1. ' First sentence. -- Admission to a military or civil medical unit '
Captivity must not hinder the treatment of serious illness or injury. The present provision requires the Detaining Power to ensure that prisoners of war whose condition necessitates special treatment, a surgical operation or hospital care, are admitted "to any military or civil medical unit where such treatment can be given", i.e. to military or civilian hospitals. This obligation remains valid for the Detaining power even if the repatriation of the prisoners concerned is contemplated "in the near future" (under Article 109
). During the Second World War, the International Committee of the Red Cross observed that prisoners due for repatriation were assembled in camps for weeks previous to their departure. Although their case sometimes required an immediate surgical operation, this was not performed, on the pretext that repatriation was expected daily (4).
2. ' Second sentence. -- The disabled and the blind '
During the Second World War, the Detaining Powers as a rule felt bound to supply disabled prisoners of war with temporary remedial apparatus, although this was not stipulated by Article 14
of the 1929 Convention. The present text is more explicit and provides that "special facilities" must be afforded to the disabled. After supplying the remedial apparatus required by disabled prisoners of war, the Detaining Power must also arrange for their rehabilitation. If necessary, a rehabilitation centre must be set up for the disabled, similar to those established for members of its own armed forces.
The situation of blind prisoners of war is particularly tragic, and one delegation at the 1949 Diplomatic Conference made a special appeal in their behalf. Experience has shown that it is possible to begin to re-educate the blind during captivity, with very little equipment (5). Such action will, of course, only be taken pending the repatriation of such disabled or blind prisoners, for as seriously wounded, they ' must ' be repatriated as soon as they are fit to travel.
[p.212] PARAGRAPH 3. -- NATIONALITY OF ATTENDING MEDICAL PERSONNEL
This provision was inserted by the Conference of Government Experts (6); it must be taken in conjunction with Article 33, paragraph 2
, which states that members of the medical personnel while retained by the Detaining Power shall continue to exercise their medical functions "for the benefit of prisoners of war, preferably those belonging to the armed forces upon which they depend". This provision, which was included in the 1929 Convention, does not in any way relieve the Detaining Power of its obligation to provide all necessary care and treatment and does not invalidate the basic Red Cross principle that the wounded and sick must be cared for without any distinction on grounds of nationality (7). But it is perfectly normal that wounded and sick prisoners of war should prefer to be treated by compatriots who speak their own language and use methods to which they are accustomed. Moreover, medical treatment given in these circumstances yields the best results (8).
PARAGRAPH 4. -- MEDICAL EXAMINATION
1. ' First sentence. -- Right of prisoners of war to present
themselves for medical examination '
During the Second World War, prisoners of war were too often prevented from presenting themselves for medical inspection; moreover, instead of being held daily, these examinations were sometimes held at several days' interval. Labour detachments often had no infirmary, and sick prisoners of war frequently had long trips to make to the infirmary at the main camp. Many prisoners could therefore not be given treatment in time, with serious consequences (9).
The text of the present provision, which is in the negative form, is sufficiently clear; it is contrary to the Convention to prevent attendance at these examinations, whether by order of the Detaining Power or because of practical difficulties.
[p.213] In particular, prisoners of war undergoing confinement as a disciplinary or judicial punishment must be removed to the infirmary or to hospital if their state of health so requires (Article 98, paragraph 4
, and Article 108, paragraph 3
Daily medical inspections are not formally stated by the Convention as a general obligation, except in the case of prisoners confined as a disciplinary punishment (Article 98, paragraph 4
). Prisoners serving sentence in penitentiary establishments will be subject to the normal rules of those establishments applicable to members of the armed forces of the Detaining Power, provided that such rules conform to the "requirements of health and humanity" (Article 108, paragraph 1
); Article 108, paragraph 3
, like Article 15
, states that they are entitled to have "the medical care required by their state of health".
2. ' Second and third sentences. -- Medical certificate '
This provision is confirmed, in the special case of occupational accidents, by Article 54, paragraph 2
, and also by Article 68, paragraph 1
. These certificates will enable prisoners of war who are the victims of accidents to justify their entitlement after repatriation.
On many occasions during the Second World War, certificates issued to prisoners were confiscated under various pretexts at the time of repatriation. In order to prevent this, the Conference of Government Experts decided that a duplicate of the certificate issued should be forwarded by the Detaining power to the Central Prisoners of War Agency (10). One should also note that, pursuant to Article 114
, prisoners of war who meet with accidents have the benefit of the provisions of the Convention as regards repatriation or accommodation in a neutral country, in the same way as other wounded and sick.
PARAGRAPH 5. -- TREATMENT FREE OF CHARGE
The costs of treatment of wounded and sick prisoners of war must be borne by the Detaining Power. This provision merely reaffirms the principle already set forth in Article 15
There is, however, an additional clarification: the cost of "any apparatus necessary for the maintenance of prisoners of war in good [p.214] health" must also be borne by the Detaining Power. Among such apparatus, dentures and spectacles are expressly mentioned, because of their importance, but the obligation also covers all other artificial appliances.
The present provision does not require the Detaining Power to supply prisoners of war with permanent prostheses; it may supply only temporary appliances, provided they are adequate to maintain the prisoner of war in good health. Even if the repatriation of these prisoners is delayed, it is preferable that they should be fitted with permanent prostheses in their own country (11).
* (1) [(1) p.209] See ' Report of the International Committee of
the Red Cross on its activities during the Second World
War ', vol. I, pp. 265 ff; see also ' Revue internationale
de la Croix-Rouge ', 1941, p. 571;
(2) [(1) p.210] It should also be noted that in accordance
with Article 98, paragraph 5, if the Detaining Power
decides to withhold relief parcels addressed to prisoners
of war undergoing confinement as a disciplinary
punishment, such parcels must be entrusted to the
prisoners' representative, who must hand over to the
infirmary any perishable goods contained in them;
(3) [(2) p.210] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949 ', Vol. II-A, p. 259;
(4) [(1) p.211] See ' Report on the Work of the Conference of
Government Experts, ' p. 148;
(5) [(2) p.211] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949 ', Vol. II-A, pp. 259 and
(6) [(1) p.212] See ' Report on the Work of the Conference of
Government Experts, ' pp. 147-148;
(7) [(2) p.212] See ' Commentary I ', p. 247;
(8) [(3) p.212] The question of the retention of personnel to
exercise medical functions is covered by Articles 32 and
(9) [(4) p.212] See ' Report of the International Committee of
the Red Cross on its activities during the Second World
War ', vol. I, p. 265. See also the commentary on Article
54, paragraph 2;
(10) [(1) p.213] See ' Report on the Work of the Conference of
Government Experts ', p. 147;
(11) [(1) p.214] See ' Report on the Work of the Conference of
Government Experts ', p. 146;