February 19, 1932 (17th Parliament, 3rd Session)


Richard Bedford Bennett (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Right Hon. R. B. BENNETT (Prime Minister) moved:

That it is expedient that parliament do approve of the international convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war, Geneva, July 27, 1929, signed on behalf of Canada by the plenipotentiary named therein, on January 29, 1930, and that this house do approve of the same.
He said: It may be said that the history of the convention relating to the treatment of prisoners of war has to some extent followed, and been parallel with, the history of the measures that have been taken for the alleviation of the condition of the sick and wounded in war; but there are perhaps some principles to which reference might be made dealing with the treatment of prisoners of war, which the experience of the great war made it essential should be adopted in the convention that was signed on July 27, 1929, and to which Canada became a party on the 29th day of January, 1930. I will not read the names of the signatories who signified their approval and acceptance of the provisions of the convention. It is sufficient for my purpose to indicate that the same nations that signed the Red Cross convention, so-called, also executed the convention which I am now asking the house to ratify. A few observations might be made, however, of a historic character, with respect to this convention.
The principles which now govern the treatment of prisoners of war were laid down in the second convention of the Hague conference in 1899 and were entitled, "Rules respecting the laws and customs of war on land." They were revised in 1907 at the second conference, being the fourth of such conventions. These conventions and the regulations annexed thereto cover the subject matter very extensively. They were adhered to by nearly all the nations and may be considered to some extent the basis of the international convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war now before the house. After the war, however, it became apparent, in the light of the experience of the combatants and the knowledge that was gained by neutral countries, particularly Switzerland, that some improvement should be made, and accordingly inquiries were instituted and matters were discussed very carefully at the tenth international conference of Red Cross societies held at Geneva in 1921. This undertook the preparation of an international code relating to prisoners of war. Regulations were prepared by an international committee under the chairmanship of Lord Justice Younger,
the present Lord Blanesburgh which sat at the Hague in 1921, and at the eleventh convention of the International Red Cross Society at Geneva in 1923 the Red Cross societies put forward an elaborate draft convention on this subject. In 1924 the International Red Cross committee proposed that the question of preparing an international code relating to prisoners of war should be laid before a diplomatic conference, and in the meantime the proper authorities of the British and Canadian governments were giving attention to the report of the Younger committee to which I have just referred. In August, 1925, the Swiss government inquired -whether the governments concerned would be willing to take part in a conference for the ratification of the Geneva convention of July 6, 1906, and
whether they would agree to entrust to a diplomatic conference for the ratification of the Geneva convention the task of preparing a code for prisoners of war. In 1929, the year in which this convention was executed, the proposals of the Swiss government were accepted. The diplomatic conference to which I have referred was held at Geneva for the purpose of revising the Red Cross convention of 1906 and preparing a code relating to prisoners of war. As I have indicated, this convention was signed by the Canadian representative in January, 1930.
The convention with which we are now dealing covers the efforts to be made to take care of those who may become prisoners by capture or otherwise during the progress of hostilities. I do not know that any good purpose will be served by taking up further the time of the house except to say that no legislation will be necessary at the present time. Practically all the countries have -ratified the convention.
I hope -the time may be long distant when we -Canadians will be again called upon to deal with the complex problems which arise out of our nationals becoming prisoners of war. The exchange of prisoners, the care of prisoners, the providing of food and comforts, the inspection as -far as it may be possible through the aid of neutrals of the facilities provided -for t-heir care, all -these are matters of which I think every h-on. member of this house has some knowledge. I do not think there is any hon. member who during the period from 1914 to 1918 had not to deal with some -phase of the question arising out of Canadians becoming prisoners of war, or who through the Red Cross societies did not give some support or succour to prisoners.
In this regard all countries owe a great debt to Switzerland. The Swiss republic has taken the lead in connection with matters of this
International Conventions-Mr. Woodsworth
kind and since the first convention at Geneva held in 1864, to which the experience of the British gained in tlhe Crimean war was very important, this republic has continued to make a great contribution to these subjects. The organized efforts which have been made by the head of the Red Cross organization, very frequently a Swiss citizen, and the work which has been done at the Hague in connection with prisoners of war, merit the thanks of every country in the world. I bear gladly this testimony to the zeal with which the Swiss statesmen and public men and women have devoted themselves to this matter.

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