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.
. -- EXEMPTION FROM POSTAL AND TRANSPORT
[p.363] The present Article sets forth a principle which was universally recognized and respected during the Second World War -- that of exemption from customs duties and carriage charges for correspondence and relief addressed to prisoners of war.
This principle had already been stated in Article 16
of the Regulations annexed to the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907, and again in almost identical terms in Article 38, paragraphs 1 and 2
, of the 1929 Convention.
PARAGRAPH 1. -- EXEMPTION FROM CUSTOMS AND OTHER DUES
This provision is clear and comprehensive: it covers all import, customs and other dues, and in particular the many charges which have been instituted for economic reasons since the First World War. Exemption is to be accorded to relief shipments of all kinds, whatever their origin or the nationality of the prisoners of war to whom they are addressed.
PARAGRAPH 2. -- EXEMPTION FROM POSTAL CHARGES
The text of the present paragraph is almost identical to Article 38, paragraph 1
, of the 1929 Convention. It should also be compared with Article 37 of the Universal Postal Convention, the text of which is given in a footnote below (1). That Article is to some extent an implementing [p.364] provision for the present paragraph. In fact, the revised Universal Postal Convention was so drafted as to take into account the corresponding provisions of the Geneva Conventions. This will be noted particularly in the case of Article 37, paragraphs 4and 5, of the Universal Postal Convention, which govern the forms to be filled in and the weight limit for parcels sent free of postage.
At the 1949 Diplomatic Conference, several delegations proposed the inclusion of a reference to the Universal Postal Convention. The proposal was finally rejected (2), however, because special arrangements exist which are correlated with that Convention and apply to parcels and remittances of money, but which have not been adhered to by all the States. In those circumstances, the majority of delegates considered that a reference to the Universal Postal Convention would do more harm than good.
In connection with "authorized remittances of money", reference should be made to Article 63, paragraph 2
, which provides that, subject to financial or monetary restrictions which the Detaining Power regards as essential, prisoners of war may have payments made abroad. Furthermore, the Detaining Power is required to give priority to payments addressed by prisoners of war to their dependants.
PARAGRAPH 3. -- RELIEF CONSIGNMENTS NOT SENT THROUGH THE POST OFFICE
From the beginning of the Second World War it became apparent to all the belligerent Governments that Article 38
of the 1929 Convention was inadequate, particularly with regard to private or semi-private [p.365] transport facilities. Special agreements were therefore concluded for this contingency, providing for reimbursement by the States concerned of the amounts due to the railway companies.
Since, moreover, Article 38
contained no provision concerning maritime transport, the International Committee of the Red Cross endeavoured to solve the problems involved through establishing its own fleet of vessels by means of special agreements. Because of the costs and great risks inherent in such a scheme, however, it was not possible to grant complete exemption from charges. It should also be noted that some belligerents granted free carriage by air, on several routes, for prisoner-of-war mail (3).
1. ' First sentence. -- Transport in the territory of the
Detaining Power '
Here the word "territory" should be taken in its widest sense as referring not only to the territory proper of that Power but also to the territories which it represents in international matters (colonies, protectorates, trust territories, etc.) and on behalf of which it gave an undertaking when it became a party to the Convention. Furthermore, the Detaining Power must bear the cost of transport "in all the territories under its control". This refers to all territories occupied by the Detaining Power and in which it may, as has often been the case, establish and maintain prisoner-of-war camps.
These rules are valid whatever the means of transport used. If goods are normally carried on a certain section of the route by coastal vessels, by road or even by air, then the same means of transport must also be used, free of charge, for consignments addressed to prisoners of war. No longer may any distinction be made between private companies and State-owned enterprises. If exemption from carriage charges is not granted in a country where it should be, the State and not any individual private company must be held responsible. In countries where transport facilities are not State-owned, arrangements must consequently be made between the State and the companies concerned.
2. ' Second sentence. -- Transport in the territories of the other
Powers party to the Convention '
The above comments concerning the first sentence of the present paragraph also apply mutatis mutandis to the present provision, which [p.366] concerns not only the belligerents but all the States party to the Convention. Exemption from carriage charges must therefore also be accorded to consignments in transit, as in the case of postal items (paragraph 2).
PARAGRAPH 4. -- CONSIGNMENTS NOT COVERED BY THE EXEMPTION
Although the exemption granted under the new Convention is much more extensive than that provided under the 1929 text, it does not apply to consignments sent otherwise than through the post office in the following cases:
(a) transport by sea;
(b) transport in the territory of a Power not party to the Convention;
(c) import, customs and other dues levied by States not party to the
Pursuant to the present paragraph, transport and other expenses may be dealt with in such cases by special arrangements between the Powers concerned; otherwise they will be charged to the sender. However obvious this may seem, disputes which have arisen in the past have shown the need for a specific provision to this effect.
PARAGRAPH 5. -- CHARGES FOR TELEGRAMS
Reference has already been made in the commentary on Article 71
to the cases in which prisoners of war may send telegrams.
One of the principal obstacles to the use of telegrams by prisoners of war is undoubtedly the relatively high rates charged for this service. The Convention therefore recommends in the present provision, and again in Article 124
, that the rates charged for telegrams sent by prisoners of war, or addressed to them, should be reduced. This is not a mandatory obligation for the Contracting Parties, but merely a recommendation. As has already been pointed out (4), one indirect method of reducing telegraph charges is to use simplified standard messages. The present clause refers, however, to a direct [p.367] reduction of the rates charged for telegrams, whatever the system used (5).
Pursuant to Article 124
of the Convention, the exemptions provided for in the present Article extend also to the national Information Bureaux and the Central Information Agency (Articles 122
* (1) [(1) p.363] ' Universal Postal Convention, Article 37 '
(Record of the Universal Postal Union, Brussels 1952),
' Free postage for items relating to prisoners of war and
civilian internees. '
"1. Correspondence, insured letters and boxes, postal
parcels and postal money orders addressed to or sent by
prisoners of war, either directly or through the
Information Bureaux and the Central Prisoners of War
Information Agency prescribed in Articles 122 and 123
respectively of the Geneva Convention of 12th August,
1949, relative to the treatment of prisoners of war, are
exempted from all postal charges. Belligerents apprehended
and interned in a neutral country are classed as prisoners
of war properly so called so far as the application of the
foregoing provisions is concerned.
3. The National Information Bureaux and the Central
Information Agencies mentioned above also enjoy exemption
from postage in respect of correspondence, insured letters
and boxes, postal parcels and postal money orders
concerning the persons referred to in 1 to 2, which
they send or receive, either directly or as
intermediaries, under the conditions laid down in those
4. Items benefiting by the freedom from postal charges
provided under 1 to 3 and the forms relating to them
shall bear the indication "Service des prisonniers de
guerre" (Prisoners of War Service) or "Service des
internés" (Civilian Internees Service). These indications
may be followed by a translation in another language.
5. Parcels are admitted free of postage up to a weight of
5 kgs. The weight limit is increased to 10 kgs. in the
case of parcels whose contents cannot be split up and of
parcels addressed to a camp or the prisoners'
representatives there ("hommes de confiance") for
distribution to the prisoners (a)."
(a) It was agreed at Brussels that the exemption accorded
to items for prisoners of war and internees should also
apply to items sent C.O.D. (Documents of the Brussels
Congress, Vol. II, Fourth Commission, 30th meeting);
(2) [(1) p.364] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, pp. 285-286 and
(3) [(1) p.365] For further details concerning arrangements
for free carriage by rail during the Second World War, see
' Report of the International Committee of the Red Cross
on its activities during the Second World War ', Vol. III,
pp. 175-177; with regard to maritime transport, see ibid.,
(4) [(1) p.366] See above, p. 349, note 1;
(5) [(1) p.367] This question was the subject of a resolution
(Resolution No. 23) adopted at the XVIIIth International
Conference of the Red Cross, held at Toronto in 1952.
Following that resolution and a recommendation by the
International Telecommunication Conference held at Buenos
Aires in 1952, the Telegraph and Telephone Conference,
meeting at Geneva, agreed in November 1958 that special
rates amounting to a reduction of 75 per cent of the
ordinary rates should be granted to:
(a) telegrams addressed to prisoners of war, civilian
internees or their representatives (prisoners'
representatives, internee committees) by recognized relief
societies assisting war victims;
(b) telegrams which prisoners of war and civilian
internees are permitted to send or those sent by their
representatives (prisoners' representatives, internee
committees) in the course of their duties under the
(c) telegrams sent in the course of their duties under the
Conventions by the national Information Bureaux or the
Central Information Agency for which provision is made in
the Geneva Conventions, or by delegations of such Bureaux
or Agency, concerning prisoners of war, civilians who are
interned or whose liberty is restricted, or the death of
military personnel or civilians in the course of
In order to be granted these special rates, telegrams
must bear the relevant official stamp or signature (camp,
camp commander, Bureau, Agency, National Society,