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.
. -- ADVANCES OF PAY
[p.304] Under Article 23
of the 1929 Convention, officer prisoners of war received from the Detaining Power the same pay as officers of corresponding rank in the armed forces of that Power, provided that such pay did not exceed that to which they were entitled in the armed forces in which they were serving prior to capture.
It was to be paid monthly, and was to be reimbursed at the end of hostilities by the Power in whose service the prisoners were, at a rate of exchange determined by special agreement between the belligerents.
On the whole, advances of pay were made regularly during the Second World War. Difficulties sometimes arose, however, in connection with the rate of exchange, and this was an essential factor since it established the equivalence between the sums paid in the currency of the Detaining Power and the amount which officers subsequently received in the currency of the Power on which they depended (1). [p.305] The provisions of Article 23
applied only to officers; non-commissioned officers who did not volunteer for work, and other ranks who were unfit for work, were left without any pecuniary resources. During the Second World War, there was some improvement in this situation as a result of the efforts of the International Committee of the Red Cross (2).
At the outset of their discussions on the financial resources of prisoners of war, the participants at the 1947 Conference of Government Experts agreed on the principle that the allowances to be paid to prisoners of war should be fixed according to rank, but not on the basis of assimilation, particularly because of monetary depreciation and the difficulty of establishing rank equivalents (3). A scale of pay was drawn up, on the basis of the gold franc, and was included with very few changes in the text as it now stands. In making their recommendations, the Government Experts also took account of the suggestions made by the International Committee of the Red Cross, in particular that an allowance should be paid to all prisoners of war, and not merely to officers (4).
PARAGRAPH 1. -- AMOUNT OF THE MONTHLY ADVANCE OF PAY
Unlike the 1929 text, the present Convention speaks not of "pay" but of "advances of pay". This term was introduced by the 1949 Diplomatic Conference (5) and it seems well justified, for it indicates more clearly the nature of the payment to be made by the Detaining Power. Payment is made by one person to another in respect of labour or services, and pay cannot therefore be due by the Detaining Power to prisoners of war. At the same time it is and remains due to them by the Power on which they depend. Of this amount due, an "advance" (6) is paid by the Detaining Power in order to enable prisoners to improve their lot during captivity, but subject to reimbursement by the Power on which they depend. Reimbursement is to be made at the close of hostilities, in accordance with the provisions of Article 67
[p.306] The advance is granted to all prisoners of war, who are divided into five categories ranging from other ranks to general officers. This is therefore a very important change as compared with the 1929 text, which provided for pay only in the case of officers.
The advance of pay must be paid in the currency of the Detaining Power, as is essential so that the beneficiaries may make use of it. For each category listed, the amount of the monthly advance of pay is computed by converting into the currency of the Detaining Power a sum expressed in Swiss francs. It is understood that the money must be made available to prisoners of war at once, and it may not be used to meet any charge which the Detaining Power might conceive it proper to make against them (7).
The reference is to Swiss paper francs, not Swiss gold francs (8). This is because many countries have abandoned the gold standard and it is likely that gold will become increasingly unusable as a basis for assessing the comparative value in purchasing power of other currencies. In these circumstances, experts in the United Kingdom considered that the Swiss paper franc was more likely to retain its stability than any other currency. But what should the rate of exchange be? One may reply that it should be the "normal" rate, based on the theory according to which, for paper money, a normal rate is established corresponding to the metal par value in the case of currency based on the gold standard. In view of the fact, however, that currency is intended for the purchase of goods, the theory of equivalent purchasing power requires in principle that the normal rate of exchange of the currency of two given countries should be determined according to the level of prices in each of those countries. In war-time the rate of exchange for gold rises very rapidly and the pay
of prisoners might fluctuate widely if it were based on gold rather than on paper currency. Account must also be taken of general exchange [p.307] control measures which may be taken by the Parties to the conflict.
In these circumstances, a prisoner of war who is granted as a monthly advance of pay the equivalent of eight Swiss paper francs in the currency of the Detaining Power, should thereby acquire a purchasing power corresponding to that of eight francs in Swiss territory. This system undoubtedly implies great confidence in the stability of the Swiss franc and its purchasing power at international level in years to come.
One may, of course, object that in practice this provision may result in a disparity in the situation of prisoners of war who depend on the same Power but are interned on the territory of different Powers. The purchasing power given to prisoners by converting a given sum in Swiss francs into the currency of the Detaining Power will vary according to the respective price levels. This is, however, an inevitable consequence which seems to have been deliberately accepted by the authors of this provision, since the disparity already existed in 1949 when the rule was adopted (9).
For payment of the monthly advance, prisoners of war are divided into five categories. The application of this provision implies that at the beginning of hostilities the belligerent Powers must communicate to each other the titles and ranks in use in their respective armed forces. This is in fact required by Article 43
, which also stipulates that titles and ranks which are subsequently created must form the subject of similar communications to be taken into account by the Detaining Power. This would be the case if, following promotion, the prisoner concerned moved into a higher category.
PARAGRAPH 2. -- SPECIAL AGREEMENTS -- RESERVATION
Paragraph 2 permits the Parties to the conflict to modify the amount of advances of pay by special agreement. It must, however, be understood that in concluding such agreements the Parties must respect the spirit of the rule contained in paragraph 1.
Although the general cost-of-living index usually fluctuates only slightly in peace-time (10), things are very different in war-time. In [p.308] Switzerland, for instance, the basic index rose from 100 in 1939 to 105 in January 1940, and 152 in January 1945 (11). In the course of the war, a prisoner of war interned in Switzerland and entitled to a monthly advance of eight Swiss francs would therefore have suffered a reduction of one-third in the purchasing power of that sum. He would have needed twelve francs at the end of hostilities in order to meet his requirements to the same extent as at the beginning.
If during the Second World War such wide fluctuations were recorded in Switzerland, which was not a Party to the conflict, one can well imagine that the swing would be still greater in the countries at war. It may therefore be necessary for the belligerent States to revise the figures given in paragraph 1 of the present Article.
PARAGRAPH 3. -- OTHER RESERVATIONS
In two expressly defined cases, there is a reservation concerning payment of the amounts indicated in the first paragraph: in the first place, if the amounts indicated in the first paragraph are unduly high compared with the pay of the Detaining Power's armed forces, and secondly if they would seriously embarrass the Detaining Power.
1. ' Disproportion between the advance of pay and the amount paid by the Detaining Power '. -- This reservation is justified; the advance of pay granted to prisoners of war must not be considerably higher than the pay of the Detaining Power's armed forces, for the latter might react unfavourably if prisoners of war received such privileged treatment (12). It must also be recalled that the advance is merely intended to enable prisoners of war to make minor purchases (13).
2. ' Financial difficulties of the Detaining Power '. -- The second reservation is expressed in a very general form; the Convention refers to the possibility of the Detaining Power being "seriously embarrassed" by payment of the specified amounts. Such serious embarrassment might result in particular from "fluctuations in the rate of [p.309] exchange affecting the pay of prisoners of war" (14). This would be the case if the currency of the country in whose armed forces prisoners of war had served remained firm while that of the Detaining Power was considerably devalued.
3. ' Procedure applicable in the two cases mentioned under 1 and 2 '. -- If either of the two cases mentioned under 1 and 2 above exists, the Detaining Power may not vary the amount of the advance due to prisoners of war, but may modify the amount of the actual payment, the balance being credited to each prisoner's account, as provided in Articles 64
. In this case, the payment would be limited to "sums which are reasonable", that is to say to an amount sufficient to cover the current needs of prisoners. In practice, therefore, the amount will depend on what is available in the canteens. This was appropriately recalled at the 1949 Diplomatic Conference by one delegation, which requested that the present Article should be linked to Article 28
(canteens) (15). In this connection, one should refer in particular to the first sentence of Article 58, paragraph 1
, which authorizes the Detaining Power to determine the maximum amount of money in cash or in any similar form that prisoners may have in their possession. The
Convention does, however, limit any unilateral decision by the Detaining Power, and this limitation applies to Article 58
as well as to the present provision: for prisoners of war in Category I, that is to say prisoners ranking below sergeants, the amount may never be inferior to that which the Detaining Power gives to the members of its own armed forces.
To sum up, the rule is therefore as follows:
1. In principle, advances of pay are granted according to the scale
contained in paragraph 1.
Exceptions: (a) by special agreement;
(b) by unilateral decision of the Detaining Power.
2. Such a unilateral decision is permitted pending the conclusion of a
(a) when the amounts indicated in paragraph 1 are unduly high
compared with the pay of the Detaining Power's armed forces;
(b) when payment of these amounts would seriously embarrass the
3. By such a unilateral decision, the Detaining Power may:
(a) limit payments to Categories II to V to "reasonable" sums.
(b) limit payments to Category I to the amount given to members of
its own armed forces.
4. Such a unilateral decision does not relieve the Detaining Power of
(a) to credit the accounts of the prisoners concerned with the
amounts indicated in paragraph 1;
(b) to endeavour to conclude a special agreement with the Power on
which the prisoners depend.
It should also be emphasized that this advance of pay must be granted without prejudice to any working pay which prisoners of war may receive for work done by them, in accordance with the provisions of Article 62
PARAGRAPH 4. -- NOTIFICATION OF THE PROTECTING POWER
The Protecting Power must be notified without delay of the reasons which have led the Detaining Power, pursuant to paragraph 3, to limit the amounts of the advance of pay given to prisoners of war. This paragraph is self-explanatory and requires no comment.
* (1) [(1) p.304] See ' Report of the International Committee of
the Red Cross on its activities during the Second World
War, ' Vol. I, pp. 283-285;
(2) [(1) p.305] See ' Report of the International Committee of
the Red Cross on its activities during the Second World
War, ' p. 285. See also ' Revue internationale de la
Croix-Rouge, ' 1944, p. 353;
(3) [(2) p.305] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, p. 278;
(4) [(3) p.305] See ' Report on the Work of the Conference of
Government Experts, ' pp. 158-159;
(5) [(4) p.305] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, p. 533;
(6) [(5) p.305] Some delegations even proposed the use of the
word "relief". See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, p. 533;
(7) [(1) p.306] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, p. 279;
(8) [(2) p.306] Originally the Swiss franc referred to was the
franc containing 203 milligrammes of fine gold (see
' Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of
1949, ' Vol. II-A, p. 384). With regard to the rate of
exchange to be used, some delegations proposed that
current in Switzerland (ibid., Vol. II-A, p. 532); others
proposed the insertion of an additional paragraph
specifying that if fluctuations in the rate of exchange
affected the pay of prisoners of war, the Protecting Power
must notify the Power concerned with a view to concluding
a special agreement (ibid., Vol. II-A, p. 532). The gold
standard, however, which had been accepted by the United
Kingdom Delegation during the preparatory work, was
strongly opposed by that same Delegation at the 1949
Diplomatic Conference (see especially ibid., Vol. II-A,
pp. 384, 532-535, Vol. II-B, pp. 301-302) and ultimately
the plenary assembly supported the United Kingdom view
(ibid., Vol. II-B, p. 302);
(9) [(1) p.307] It also existed in 1929, pursuant to the
principle of assimilation;
(10) [(2) p.307] In Switzerland the index rose from 159 in
August 1950 to 172 in August 1954 for the retail price of
the principal consumer goods.
See ' La vie économique, Rapports économiques et de
statistiques sociales, ' XVIIth year, 9th fascicule,
Berne, September 1954, p. 349; see also, for trends in the
indices of OEEC member countries during the same period,
' OEEC Statistical Bulletins, General Statistics, ' 1954;
(11) [(1) p.308] See ' Annuaire statistique de la Suisse,
1952, ' published by the Federal Statistical Office,
Basle, 1952, p. 335;
(12) [(2) p.308] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, p. 532;
(13) [(3) p.308] Ibid., pp. 279-280; certain States
nevertheless declared during the 1949 Diplomatic
Conference that they could not accept the principle of
assimilation to the pay of troops of the Detaining Power,
since in many cases it would be far too low. (Ibid., p.
(14) [(1) p.309] A draft amendment to this effect was presented
at the 1949 Diplomatic Conference in order to reserve the
position of countries whose financial situation is weak.
See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva
of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, p. 532;
(15) [(2) p.309] Ibid., p. 535;
(16) [(1) p.310] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, p. 538;