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.
. -- QUARTERS
The text of Article 10
of the 1929 Convention, concerning the housing of prisoners of war, proved generally satisfactory during the Second World War. This text was completely redrafted by the Conference of Government Experts, however, because of varying criteria in regard to climate, customs or habits of prisoners of war as compared with those of the forces of the Detaining power.
This Conference gave special attention to the question of fixing a time-limit within which the conditions laid down by the Convention should be fulfilled. Very often on arrival at camps prisoners of war did not find conditions corresponding to the minimum requirements and it was only by degrees, following the intervention of the supervisory bodies, that the essential improvements were made to these establishments (1). The International Committee of the Red Cross therefore proposed that a time-limit should be fixed and that after its expiry the prisoners' representative and the supervisory bodies would be justified in demanding that the prisoners should be transferred to camps with better installations.
Although this notion was not stated in the text of the Convention because of the difficulties inherent in war-time, it is clear from the discussions at the Diplomatic Conference that the Detaining power must do its utmost to provide satisfactory quarters for prisoners of of war as soon as possible. It is moreover in its own interest to do so. Any Government which maintains armed forces in peace-time has to concern itself with questions relating to the housing and maintenance of troops. At the same time, it should also make provision for the maintenance of any prisoners who might be taken. Once prisoners of war are quartered in permanent camps and not in temporary depôts, it will be far easier to supervise them and furnish the necessary supplies.
PARAGRAPH 1. -- GENERAL CONDITIONS
The basic criterion in regard to quarters is the standard afforded to forces of the Detaining Power billeted in the same area. This requirement constitutes a minimum standard (2).
[p.193] The Conference nevertheless recognized that the principle of assimilation was not fully adequate because of the diverse living conditions to which armed forces are accustomed. The second sentence of the paragraph therefore states that allowance must be made for the habits and customs of the prisoners, it being understood that this would result in their receiving treatment more favourable than that resulting from the principle of assimilation. It would be inadmissible to cite the fact that prisoners of war are accustomed to a lower standard of living in their own country as justification for deviating from the principle of assimilation stated in the first sentence. Ultimately, the state of health of prisoners of war will show whether or not their living conditions are satisfactory. This is a subjective factor which varies according to circumstances and the individual concerned, and it can be assessed only by qualified persons -- i.e. by doctors. One may therefore conclude that even if the quarters assigned to prisoners of war
correspond in all respects to the conditions accorded to the armed forces of the Detaining Power and in addition correspond to the habits and customs of the prisoners, they must nevertheless be visited periodically by the doctors responsible for checking the health of prisoners; those doctors must state clearly whether the quarters might be prejudicial to the health of those who are housed in them (3). In this connection, reference may be made to the medical inspections required by Article 31
; it cannot be too strongly emphasized that the commissions responsible for inspecting prisoner-of-war camps should always include qualified doctors.
Quarters are frequently constructed by the prisoners of war themselves, on sites designated by the Detaining power and with materials provided by it. There is no difference between this and other work which prisoners may be compelled to do, pursuant to Article 50
. The prisoners concerned will naturally have a special interest, but the work is nevertheless done on behalf of the Detaining power, and must therefore be paid for by that Power in the same way as other work specified in Article 50
. This need not necessarily apply in the case of improvements carried out by prisoners of war to their quarters if the latter already meet the minimum standards set by the Convention.
[p.194] PARAGRAPH 2. -- DORMITORIES
In arranging dormitories for prisoners of war, their habits and customs must be taken into account as well as the standards applicable to the armed forces of the Detaining Power. It will be recalled that during the Second World War the question of the number of blankets provided gave rise to great difficulties. The International Committee of the Red Cross therefore proposed that a provision should be inserted stipulating a certain number of blankets -- six in cold climates, four in moderate climates, and two in hot climates. This proposal, however, was rejected by the Conference of Government Experts. The requirements of war might not permit a belligerent Power to consider the needs of its own armed forces to the full extent desired and there could be no question of its according more privileged treatment to prisoners of war. As in the case of quarters, the wording adopted should enable the matter to be settled equitably.
PARAGRAPH 3. -- SPECIAL CONDITIONS
Adequate heating and lighting and freedom from dampness are essential conditions for the quarters of prisoners and because of their importance specific mention has been made of them. The principle of assimilation to the standards afforded to the armed forces of the Detaining Power remains applicable to the extent that these standards are respected. Thus, it is forbidden to intern prisoners of war in an underground fortress which does not meet the required conditions, even though the forces of the Detaining Power may be billeted there for long periods. Consideration for the health of prisoners of war, to which reference is made in the first paragraph, must be the overriding factor. These conditions were apparently not always respected during the Second World War (4).
As regards lighting, the Conference of Government Experts recommended the addition of the phrase "especially between nightfall and lights out" to the 1929 text, in order that prisoners might make the most of the only leisure time available to them. This therefore refers primarily to the quarters in which prisoners are housed, or the premises which may be made available to them for their leisure activities (libraries, reading-rooms, recreation rooms, etc.). During sleeping hours prisoners must have the conditions of darkness which would be [p.195] most beneficial for their rest; lighting must be available in the sanitary conveniences.
The problem of lighting also arises, however, in connection with preventing attempts to escape. This mainly involves lighting of walls and fences, for instance, by means of searchlights installed in watchtowers. The Detaining power is naturally at liberty to take all relevant precautions and to illuminate not only walls and fences, but also the outside of buildings, the parade ground, etc. Such lighting should not, however, enter the sleeping-quarters of prisoners in order not to disturb their rest.
The usual precautions must be taken against fire: there must be fire-extinguishers or water-tanks within reach and a fire-alarm system if there is a fire station in the vicinity. Here again, the rules were not spelled out in detail in order to avoid giving them an arbitrary character.
PARAGRAPH 4. -- QUARTERS FOR WOMEN PRISONERS OF WAR
This is a new provision introduced after the Second World War, when a certain number of women served in the armed forces of the belligerents. It should be read in conjunction with Article 14, paragraph 2
, which states that women must be treated with all the regard due to their sex. The dormitories must therefore be separated, and male prisoners must not have access to the dormitories of women prisoners, either with or without their consent. The Detaining Power is responsible for executing this provision.
Strictly speaking, this paragraph refers only to dormitories and the quarters as a whole need not necessarily be separated; the Detaining power is, however, at liberty to provide separate quarters if it deems fit and in order more easily to fulfil the other requirements of the Convention with regard to women prisoners.
* * *
Lastly, pursuant to Article 97, paragraph 2
, the premises in which prisoners undergo disciplinary punishments must conform to the sanitary requirements set forth in the present Article.
* (1) [(1) p.192] See ' Report of the International Committee of
the Red Cross on its activities during the Second World
War ', Vol. I, p. 248;
(2) [(2) p.192] This principle of assimilation is to be found
in a number of Articles of the Convention, for instance in
the case of transfer (Article 46, para. 2), working
conditions (Article 51, paras. 1, 2 and 3), duration of
labour (Article 53, para. 1), penal and disciplinary
sanctions (Article 82);
(3) [(1) p.193] See also, in connection with medical checks,
the commentary on Article 26 (food).
As regards tents, some Detaining Powers made general
use of them during the Second World War and they were
found to be satisfactory, considering the climate and with
certain essential improvements (concrete flooring, brick
walls, and paving of surrounding area and paths). See
' Report on the Work of the Conference of Government
Experts ', pp. 134-135;
(4) [(1) p.194] See BRETONNI RE, op. cit., pp. 96-99;