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Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.
Art. 124. Part V : Information bureaux and relief societies for prisoners of war
. -- EXEMPTION FROM CHARGES
As early as 1899, the need was recognized to grant prisoners of war and national Information Bureaux free postage for incoming and outgoing correspondence. Article 16
of the Hague Regulations of 1899 and 1907 embodied that principle, which was stated again in Article 80
of the 1929 Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. The postal Conventions concluded later, particularly that of 1906, confirmed the principle and made it fully effective.
At the beginning of the Second World War, the International Committee of the Red Cross asked the belligerents to extend exemption from postal charges to the Central Prisoners of War Agency in Geneva, and the request was granted without difficulty. Treatment of the Agency in the same way as a national Bureau in regard to postal charges was considered most appropriate by all the conferences of experts held to discuss the revision of the Conventions, and the Diplomatic Conference of 1949 accepted it without hesitation, all the more willingly in that it had recognized in the preceding Article
that the Agency should receive from the Powers concerned all reasonable facilities with regard to the transmission of information and, if possible, some financial aid. Now the exemption from postal and other charges granted to the Agency and the Bureaux does more than merely emphasize the strictly humanitarian character of their activities; it reduces their expenses to a very considerable extent, a [p.591] particularly important factor for the
Agency, since its financing depends mainly on the goodwill of the Parties to the conflict.
The exemptions granted are of three kinds: exemption from postal charges, exemption from transport charges and customs dues, and exemption from telegraphic charges.
1. ' Exemption from postal charges '
The provision concerning exemption from postal charges merely lays down a principle; it is for the States to take steps through their postal authorities to confirm that principle and embody it in law under the aegis of the Universal Postal Union. Indeed, for the post offices, exemption arises not from the Geneva Conventions, but from the postal Conventions. It is in the latter, therefore, that the nature and scope of the exemption granted to Information Bureaux and the Central Agency must be sought.
The new Universal Postal Convention, which gave effect to the provisions of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, was drawn up in Brussels in 1952. Bearing the date July 11, 1952, it entered into force on July 1, 1953 (1).
In connection with this Article, it should be noted that the list in paragraph 3 of cases where free postage is granted is exhaustive. Free postage applies only to items of correspondence, i.e. cards, letters or similar objects, letters and boxes with a declared value, postal parcels of 5 kgs. -- 10 kgs. if the contents are indivisible -- and postal orders sent to or despatched by the national Bureaux of the Agency.
2. ' Exemption from transport and customs charges '
In order not to make the Article unduly long, the Diplomatic Conference, having laid down the principle of free postage, merely referred to Article 74
, which gives details of all the other exemptions to be granted for correspondence and packages sent or received and of which the national Bureaux and the Agency are also to have the benefit.
, in the commentary on which all the details will be found, provides in addition to exemption from postal dues, to a certain extent, and exemption from telegraphic charges, which will be dealt with below:
[p.592] (a) exemption from import, customs and other dues (paragraph 1);
(b exemption from transport costs (paragraphs 3 and 4).
The latter exemption refers to the cost of transporting consignments which by reason of their weight or any other cause cannot be sent by post. Such charges are to be borne by the Detaining Power in all the territories under its control and by other Powers party to the Convention in their respective territories. Costs connected with transport not covered by these paragraphs will be charged to the senders.
3. ' Exemption from telegraphic charges '
All the provisions concerning national Bureaux and the Agency insist, has we have seen, on the speed with which information must be collected and transmitted. Thus the use of telegrams, exceptional during the First World War, was common practice during the Second. By June 30, 1947, the Central Prisoners of War Agency had received 347,982 telegrams and had despatched 219,169, some of them -- especially those consisting of nominal lists of prisoners of war -- containing several thousand words.
While the sending of telegrams scarcely raises any financial problems for the national Bureaux, which generally depend directly on the State, they are, on the other hand, very expensive for the Central Agency, which has not been able to use this form of communication until assured of reimbursement by the State concerned. Therefore, all the Conferences held in preparation for the revision of the Conventions expressed the wish that both the national Bureaux and the Agency should have the benefit of free telegraphic services in both directions.
The Diplomatic Conference agreed but could not make the provision obligatory, since in many countries the organization and operation of the telegraph system are in the hands of private companies. It did, however, make a strong recommendation: so far as possible, exemption from telegraphic charges or at least considerable reductions in those charges should be granted.
It should be recalled in this connection that the International Telecommunication Conference (Buenos Aires, 1952) adopted a resolution (No. 3) which recommended:
"(1) to consider sympathetically whether, and to what extent, the telegraph franking privileges and the reductions in telegraph charges [p.593] envisaged in the Geneva Conventions mentioned above could be accorded;
(2) to make any necessary modifications to the International Telegraph Regulations." (2)
* (1) [(1) p.591] For the text see the commentary on Article 74
above, p. 363, note 1;
(2) [(1) p.593] See above, p. 367, note 1. See also Supplement
to the ' Revue Internationale de la Croix-Rouge, '
February 1959, pp. 22-33;