Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
Treaties and Documents
Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Additional Protocols, and their Commentaries
Historical Treaties and Documents
Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.
. -- CASES OF INTERNMENT AND APPLICABLE
deal with the case of aliens who are in the territory of a Party to the conflict when hostilities break out. They lay down the general rule that internment or placing in assigned residence are the most severe measures of control which can be applied to protected persons; they specify, moreover, that any protected person who has been interned or placed in assigned residence is entitled to have his case reconsidered "as soon as possible" by an appropriate court or administrative board designated for the purpose by the Detaining Power.
deal with the position in occupied territory. The first of these Articles lays down that internment may be ordered for offences intended to harm the Occupying Power but not constituting a grave collective danger; the second provides the same safeguards as those laid down in Articles 41
for aliens in the territory of a Party to the conflict, with the one difference that the six-monthly review of decisions concerning internment, which is compulsory in the case of internees in the actual territory of a belligerent, is optional in occupied territory.
[p.372] An account should be given here of the experience in this field during the Second World War. On the outbreak of war the International Committee of the Red Cross approached the governments and proposed that they should apply the Tokyo Draft: the only result obtained was that persons of "enemy nationality" interned on the outbreak of war, in the territory of one of the belligerents, could "by analogy" receive the benefit of the Prisoners of War Convention. Thanks to the action thus taken some hundred and sixty thousand civilians received correspondence and relief supplies and their camps were visited by delegates of the International Committee. Since many countries were occupied, however, such internees only represented a very small minority of the civilians subjected during the war to restrictive measures of varying degrees of severity. Whenever the question arose of interning civilians in occupied territory, the only safeguards available to them were the brief provisions contained in Section III of the Hague Regulations of 1907. The
new Geneva Convention represents a great advance in that these civilians will in future enjoy a status similar to that of prisoners of war and regulated by a Convention. It may seem paradoxical to consider that placing civilians on the same footing as members of the forces in time of war represents progress. The truth of the matter is that modern war makes demands on the whole nation. The whole economic system of a State is placed at the service of national defence. The engineer or workman is as necessary as the officer or soldier, and every individual may have his part to play in the war; that fact justifies the security measures which each of the Parties to the conflict may take in regard to individuals of enemy nationality in their territory, or which the Occupying Power may take in regard to the inhabitants of occupied territory. Such measures should at least conform to the laws of humanity, and that is the assurance given to protected persons by Article 79. Their internment both in the territory of the Parties to the conflict and in occupied territory
is subject to rules which would have provided millions of human beings with protection if they could have been applied during the Second World War.
Satisfactory as they may be, the results achieved are not yet complete; for the Convention, we must remember, does not apply to the relations of a State with its own "nationals" (1). It conforms to the traditional conception of international law. A person is only a legal subject within a State and the provisions concerning the protection [p.373] of civilians in time of war take no account of disputes which may exist between the State and its own citizens. That is a serious matter, in view of the arbitrary action of certain governments during the last world war. Charitable organizations which may wish to plead the cause of the nationals of such countries have no legal arguments on which to rest their case. Nevertheless, their essential humanitarian character does not allow them to remain indifferent. It is well known what the International Committee of the Red Cross, in collaboration with various National Red Cross Societies, was able to do during the last war for thousands of unfortunate people, under particularly difficult circumstances, and no
one can prevent the Red Cross, even in the absence of treaties, from demanding humane treatment for persons who are not "protected". To support their demands it would obviously be best to refer to the regulations concerning internment contained in the Convention.
It is possible that a doctrine which is today only beginning to take shape may acquire authority in international law tomorrow and one day provide the basis for establishing the rights of the individual in relation to the State of which he is a "citizen". The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is doubtless as yet only a "common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations", but just as the protection afforded by the humanitarian Conventions applied first to the wounded and sick on the battlefield, and was then extended to prisoners of war and finally to civilians (with the exception of nationals), it may well end by covering the "citizens" of a country themselves, and so embody in law the original guiding idea of the Red Cross, that suffering should be relieved wherever it exists, without political considerations of any kind, in the name of the respect due to the human person.
Two important Expert Conferences convened by the International Committee of the Red Cross and composed of persons eminent in international law or in the Red Cross movement have already stated that that is their view (2). It is to be hoped that governments will concur in the conclusions of the experts and consider that it is in the interests of humanity and in accordance with the requirements of civilization that humanitarian safeguards -- in particular those defined in the present Convention -- should apply to people with whom their own government is in dispute for political or social reasons.
Notes: (1) [(1) p.372] Except for the fourteen Articles in Part II
which refer to the establishment of safety zones, the
protection of hospitals, the transmission of family news
and the reuniting of dispersed families, and are, as we
have said, absolutely general in scope;
(2) [(1) p.373] The first of these Conferences was convened to
consider the question of political prisoners. It met at
Geneva from June 9 to 11, 1953, its report being published
in the ' Revue internationale de la Croix-Rouge ', July
1953. The second was concerned with the question of the
application of humanitarian principles in the event of
internal disturbances. It met at Geneva from October 3 to
8, 1955. Its report was published in the ' Revue
internationale de la Croix-Rouge ', October 1955;