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. 19. Part III : Captivity #Section I : Beginning of captivity
. -- EVACUATION OF PRISONERS
This provision corresponds almost exactly to the first three paragraphs of Article 7
of the 1929 Convention, with additional detailed provisions in Article 20
of the present Convention (1).
PARAGRAPH 1. -- THE PRINCIPLE
The principle is that prisoners of war should be evacuated immediately from the zone in which they were captured. Once he has laid down arms a prisoner is no longer a combatant and he has the right to live, according to the general rule stated in the first paragraph of Article 13
It is implicitly recognized that there may be a delay before evacuation takes place, but any such delay must be short. The fighting units which have taken prisoners do not usually have the means to evacuate prisoners to the rear and some time will inevitably elapse between the time of capture and final evacuation. As we shall see in examining the third paragraph, however, the captors are not relieved of the obligation [p.172] to take all measures within their power for the protection of prisoners. Prisoners of war must be evacuated to camps situated in an area far enough from the combat zone for them to be "out of danger". As in the wording of the provision concerning delay, here too the authors of the Convention provided some flexibility. The distance between the combat zone and an area out of danger necessarily depends on circumstances, on the stability of the front line or, on the contrary, on military developments. The most that one can say is that such camps must, in all circumstances, be out of range of the land or naval weapons of the
PARAGRAPH 2. -- EVACUATION OF THE WOUNDED AND SICK
While prisoners in good health must be evacuated as soon as possible after their capture, wounded or sick prisoners may be kept on the spot if any move would endanger their lives. This provision reflects the Convention's constant pre-occupation with finding solutions in the best interest of prisoners of war. The Detaining power is, of course, not relieved of any obligation towards this category of prisoners and, in this connection, one should refer to Article 15
of the Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field (2).
PARAGRAPH 3. -- MEASURES OF PROTECTION
Whether the prisoners of war concerned are wounded or sick or are in good health, the Detaining power must avoid exposing them unnecessarily to danger until such time as they are evacuated. The practical steps to be taken during this waiting period will depend on the combatant units which captured the prisoners; but prisoners of war would be "unnecessarily exposed" if they came under enemy fire when it was possible to provide them with shelter.
The English text -- "unnecessarily" -- is stronger than the French -- "inutilement".
The "advisability" (or the "necessity") of keeping back prisoners of war in a danger zone must be assessed in the light of the prisoners' interests and not according to the interests of the Detaining Power. In this connection one must have in mind Article 23, paragraph 1
, of [p.173] the present Convention and Article 28
of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbid combatant units to use prisoners of war or civilians as a shield in order to protect themselves from enemy fire.
* (1) [(2) p.171] See ' Revue internationale de la
Croix-Rouge, ' 1941, p. 255 ff.;
(2) [(1) p.172] See Jean S. PICTET, ' Commentary on the First
Geneva Convention of 1949, ' Geneva 1952, pp. 150-158, and
more especially p. 152, para. C;