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.
. -- SIGNATURE
The procedure resorted to in order to make the Geneva Conventions a part of positive international law is the one normally adopted and is in two stages: namely, the conclusion of the treaty and its entry into force (1). The first stage is complete when representatives of the Parties have drawn up a final text (2) and when that text has been signed (3) in the name of at least two States. It is the act of signature which is the subject of the present Article. The procedure for bringing the Convention into force is dealt with in the subsequent Articles.
Article 136 begins by laying down that the Convention is to bear the date of the day of signature, viz. August 12, 1949. It should be noted that the other three Geneva Conventions drawn up by the Diplomatic Conference of 1949 bear the same date.
The Article then gives States represented at the Conference an opportunity of having the Convention signed in their name up to February 12, 1950, i.e. within a period of six months (4). The States which were not represented at the Geneva Conference may not therefore sign the Convention, but they may accede to it.
[p.641] As will be seen in the discussion of the next Article
, States are not bound by the Convention until they have ratified it, but the act of signature marks the agreement of their Plenipotentiaries to a text which cannot thereafter be altered. The importance of that act cannot therefore be disregarded. Moreover, the Swiss Federal Council assumes its responsibilities as depositary of the Geneva Conventions as from the date of signature.
It should also be mentioned that some delegations made reservations at the time of signature (5).
* (1) [(3) p.640] Certain writers consider, however, that a
treaty is not actually "concluded" until it enters into
(2) [(4) p.640] Attention should be drawn here to the words
introducing the Convention: "The undersigned... have
agreed as follows:";
(3) [(5) p.640] When signatures are given ad referendum they
are subject to confirmation;
(4) [(6) p.640] Eighteen States signed the Convention on
August 12, 1949. Twenty-seven did so on December 8 of the
same year at a ceremony organized for the purpose by the
Swiss Federal Council, and sixteen did so later, within
the time limit laid down;
(5) [(1) p.641] For the text of those reservations, see
' Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of
1949, ' Vol. I, pp. 342-357. Such reservations will not
remain in force, however, unless they are confirmed when
the instrument of ratification is deposited;