April 21, 1943 (19th Parliament, 4th Session)


William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister; Secretary of State for External Affairs; President of the Privy Council)


Right Hon. W. L. MACKENZIE KING (Prime Minister):

Mr. Speaker, I have a statement concerning the shackling of prisoners of war in German camps. The ' statement appeared in the press this morning.
It should, I think, also be of record in Hansard.
The following information concerning the shackling of prisoners of war in German camps has been made public by agreement between the governments of Canada and the United Kingdom.
Prisoners of the United Kingdom and Canadian forces are still shackled at stalag VIIIB and at other camps.
On February 11 a communication was made to the Swiss government with the request that the views of the governments of the United Kingdom and of Canada on the question of shackling set out therein should be conveyed to the German government. The reply of the German government has recently been communicated through the same channel

Prisoners of War
and it is now possible to make a public statement showing the present position of this distressing matter.
The Geneva convention lays down generally that prisoners of war must be humanely treated and the point at issue between the United Kingdom and Canadian governments and the German government is what constitutes such treatment. The Geneva convention does not attempt to define humane . treatment and lays down no rule about the shackling or binding of prisoners during operations. *
The German government assert that they will renounce measures taken against our prisoners only on the receipt of an assurance that instructions have been issued to our forces forbidding binding of German prisoners in any circumstances whatsoever. We informed the Swiss government in our communication of February 11, and they in turn informed the German government, that instructions had been issued to our armed forces to ensure that all ranks should be acquainted with and observe the terms of the Geneva convention, and that in those instructions it had been made clear that a general order to bind prisoners is illegal and that the issue of any such order is strictly forbidden. The instructions, however, went on to say that circumstances may arise in which binding of prisoners may be necessary and may indeed be in the best interest of the prisoner himself. It is the duty of a prisoner during operations to try to escape and to impede his captors, who must, of course, prevent such action. In such circumstances binding, which must be carried out in a humane manner, is permissible, always provided it is discontinued as soon as immediate operational necessity allows. These views were duly communicated by the Swiss Minister for Foreign Affairs to the German government which has now replied stating that the principle of shackling is made illusory by the above reservation of circumstances, and they, therefore, insist on compliance with their earlier demands.
The Canadian government have scrupulously observed, and will continue scrupulously to observe, not only the terms but also the spirit of the Geneva convention, article 2 of which lays down that prisoners of war shall "at all times be humanely treated and protected". It may be added that the article of the convention, of which Germany was a signatory, also provides that "measures of reprisal against them are forbidden".
It will be recalled that on December 7th last the Swiss government suggested both to the German government and to the governments of the United Kingdom and Canada that "without prejudice to ' the matter in dispute" and in order to "terminate a state of things manifestly contrary to the principles of humanity" all prisoners in their hands should be freed from .their shackles at an agreed hour on December 15. As evidence of their desire to respond fully and promptly to the spirit of the Swiss proposal, the governments of Canada and the United Kingdom gave orders that the German prisoners in their hands who had been shackled should be freed from their bonds on December 12. The German government continued, however, to shackle our men.
The Canadian government in consultation with the government of the United Kingdom is considering what reply should be returned, for the information of the German government, to the Swiss Minister for Foreign Affairs whose skilful and patient handling of this matter is highly appreciated.
The Canadian and United Kingdom governments will, of course, continue to press for the abandonment by the German government of the shackling now in effect.

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