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. 131. Part VI : Execution of the convention #Section I : General provisions
. -- PENAL SANCTIONS: III. RESPONSIBILITIES
OF THE CONTRACTING PARTIES
This provision naturally does not relate to the obligation to prosecute and punish those committing breaches of the Convention, [p.630] which Article 129
makes absolute. If, however, any doubt existed on that point, this Article would clear it up completely.
According to the comments on this provision by the Italian Delegation, which proposed it, the State remains responsible for breaches of the Convention and may not absolve itself from responsibility on the grounds that those who committed the breaches have been punished. For example, it remains liable to pay compensation.
For a better understanding of the sense of this provision, it should be compared with Article 3
of the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907, which states the same principle.
In our opinion, Article 131 is intended to prevent the vanquished from being compelled in an armistice agreement or a peace treaty to renounce all compensation due for breaches committed by persons in the service of the victor. As regards material compensation for breaches of the Convention, it is inconceivable, at least as the law stands today, that claimants should be able to bring a direct action for damages against the State in whose service the person committing the breaches was working. Only a State can make such claims on another State, and they form part, in general, of what is called "war reparations". It would seem unjust for individuals to be punished while the State in whose name or on whose instructions they acted was released from all liability.