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.
. -- DUTIES
The fact that they have been elected and have accepted the mandate offered to them vests prisoners' representatives with general power to represent their fellow-prisoners. This power must, however, be exercised diligently and with certain specific ends in view.
Reference has already been made to some of the tasks which may be incumbent on prisoners' representatives. Their purpose is to contribute towards improving the lot of prisoners of war or ensuring the proper implementation of the Convention.
The question of collective relief is dealt with by other provisions, the purpose of the present Article being to embody in the Convention a general definition of the duties of the prisoners' representatives.
It does not, however, refer to the consequences of any failure by the prisoners' representative to carry out his duties, either through negligence or because he endeavours to use his position for purposes other than those specified. In such a case, however, he would naturally be liable to dismissal, as mentioned in Article 81, paragraph 6.
The wording of the present Article is sufficiently broad in scope to give prisoners' representatives who have the necessary independent spirit every opportunity of acting in behalf of prisoners of war. Thus, the Convention gives legal recognition to the efforts made and the results achieved b prisoners' representatives during the Second World War in all kinds of matters.
PARAGRAPH 1. -- GENERAL DUTIES
The general duties specified in the present paragraph are related to the maintenance of prisoners of war in good physical and mental health.
The word "further" should be emphasized. It should not be forgotten that the Detaining Power is responsible for providing for the maintenance of prisoners of war and must also encourage intellectual and recreational activities. Furthermore, ministers of religion are responsible for giving religious and moral assistance to prisoners of war, while doctors must attend to their physical well-being. The prisoners' representative does not therefore assume responsibility [p.396] in these matters, but will merely lend his assistance to those who bear that responsibility in its entirety. His rôle will consist mainly of seeing that the provisions of the Convention are respected and, if necessary, intervening to ensure respect for them.
His competence is not limited to representing prisoners of war before the authorities and ensuring the proper application of the Convention. He must also take action in certain matters, such as the following: he can establish relations with the Protecting Powers, the International Committee of the Red Cross and relief societies; set up a legal advice service, transmit legal documents (Article 77
), indicate the appropriate procedure for making a will, and forward complaints, requests or periodic reports to the Protecting Power. He will see to it that prisoners under detention actually enjoy all the safeguards to which they are entitled (Articles 89
); if necessary, he will propose the repatriation or admission to hospital of fellow-prisoners (Articles 109
); he will participate in the enquiry instituted by the Detaining Power following the death or serious injury of a prisoner of war in special circumstances (Article 121
The Convention emphasizes the facilities and prerogatives which must be accorded to the prisoners' representative in the exercise of his duties. It should be noted that action by the prisoners' representative is also limited by certain principles for which the Convention requires respect by him as well as by the Detaining Power, such as non-discrimination and equal treatment, which is a fundamental principle of the Geneva Conventions and of the Red Cross and a basic condition of comradeship among prisoners of war (1).
The prisoners' representative must also bear in mind certain principles such as respect for the person, freedom of religion, respect for individual preferences, particularly in connection with any recreational or educational pursuits which he may organize; lastly, he must give due respect to rank and age and take them into account in organizing work for prisoners of war in their own interest.
PARAGRAPH 2. -- SPECIAL DUTIES
This paragraph refers to the special duties entrusted to the prisoners' representatives by other provisions of the Convention. The clause in the 1929 Convention concerning systems of mutual assistance [p.397] (Article 43, paragraph 3
) was retained because of the great importance of such activities during the Second World War. The 1929 Convention mentioned only two other special duties: the examination of postal parcels (Article 40
) and participation in nominating prisoners of war to be presented to the Mixed Medical Commissions (Article 70
In the light of the experience of the Second World War, the authors of the new Conventions inserted many more references to special duties, and these may be briefly referred to. The rôle of prisoners' representatives falls under three main headings: relief activities, relations with prisoners of war and the authorities, verification that the guarantees provided under the Convention are being respected.
' Relief activities '
Art. 48, para. 3
: Measures to ensure the transport of
prisoners' community property and their
luggage. Art. 23, para. 2
: The right to take possession of collective
relief shipments, proceed to their
distribution or dispose of them in the
interest of the prisoners. Art. 125, para. 4
: Forwarding of signed receipts to the relief
society or organization making the shipment. Annex III: Regulations concerning collective relief for
prisoners of war; distribution.
' Relations with prisoners of war and the authorities '
Art. 57, para. 2
: Right to remain in communication with
prisoners of war who work for private
employers. Art. 78, para. 2 and 4
: Transmission of complaints to the Protecting
Sending of periodic reports to the Protecting
Powers. Art. 126, para. 1
: Interview with delegates of the Protecting
' Verification and guarantees '
Art. 28, para. 2
: Collaboration in the management of the
canteen and the special fund. [p.398] Art. 41, para. 2
: Transmission of copies of regulations,
orders, notices and publications for
communication to prisoners of war. Art. 65, para. 1
: Verification of prisoners' accounts;
counter-signature of every entry made in a
prisoner s account. Art. 96, para. 4
: Announcement of the punishment awarded to a
prisoner of war. Art. 98, para. 5
: Taking over of parcels and remittances of
money addressed to prisoners of war
undergoing confinement. Art. 104, para. 3
: Notification of judicial proceedings
instituted against prisoners of war. Art. 107, para. 1
: Notification of judgments and sentences. Art. 113, para. 2 and 3
: Presentation of prisoners of war for
examination by Mixed Medical Commissions. Annex V: Model Regulations concerning payments sent by
prisoners to their own country (Article 63
Authentication of notification of payment.
Article 62, paragraph 3
, concerns the prisoners' representative himself.
This summary shows the importance of the rôle of prisoners' representatives under the Hew Convention. Account must also be taken of the right of initiative referred to above; because of this the present provision contains no enumeration of Articles, since it might have given a restrictive interpretation of the duties of the prisoners' representative (2).
PARAGRAPH 3. -- NON-RESPONSIBILITY OF PRISONERS'
REPRESENTATIVES FOR OFFENCES COMMITTED BY PRISONERS OF WAR
Because of the importance of their duties, prisoners' representatives will naturally have considerable authority over their fellowprisoners. The Detaining Power might be tempted to turn this [p.399] authority to its own advantage by considering prisoners' representatives to some extent as representatives of the military hierarchy and, as such, responsible for the actions and attitude of prisoners of war. The temptation to do so is increased by the fact that the prisoners, representatives organize the distribution of collective shipments, and therefore have at their disposal a means of considerable pressure. It would be an easy solution for the detaining authorities to hold prisoners' representatives responsible, merely by virtue of their duties, for offences committed by prisoners of war. In order to safeguard the freedom of action of the prisoners' representative and preserve the respect due to that office, the 1949 Conference therefore added this new paragraph (3).
* (1) [(1) p.396] Article 2 of the Regulations concerning
collective relief specifies that distribution by the
prisoners' representatives of relief supplies must always
be carried out equitably;
(2) [(1) p.398] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949 ', Vol. II-A, pp. 289 and
(3) [(1) p.399] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, pp. 289 and