The four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Protocol I of 1977 constitute the legislation covering the protection of war victims.
The four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their
Indian prisoners are marched away from their homeland by U.S. troops under the command of General George Custer. The U.S. warfare against and removal of Native Americans throughout the nation constituted one of the most shameful legacies of American history.
The recognition of individuals having rights as prisoners of war has evolved along with the changing nature of warfare and more broadly with the recognition and development of universal individual human rights.
Economies of the classical world had
Until the modern era, the devices available for mutual enforcement of the traditional laws of warfare included
Article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention relative to the treatment of prisoners was ratified in Geneva, Switzerland, on August 12, 1949, and entered into force generally on October 21, 1950. It defines “prisoners of war” as persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into “the power of the enemy”:
(1) Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces.
(2) Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfill the following conditions: (a) That of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates; (b) That of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance; (c) That of carrying arms openly; (d) That of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.
(3) Members of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or an authority not recognized by the Detaining Power.
(4) Persons who accompany the armed forces without actually being members thereof, such as civilian members of military aircraft crews, war correspondents, supply contractors, members of labour units or of services responsible for the welfare of the armed forces, provided that they have received authorization from the armed forces which they accompany, who shall provide them for that purpose with an identity card similar to the annexed model [sic].
(5) Members of crews, including masters, pilots and apprentices, of the merchant marine and the crews of civil aircraft of the Parties to the conflict, who do not benefit by more favorable treatment under any other provisions of international law.
(6) Inhabitants of a nonoccupied territory, who on the approach of the enemy spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces, without having had time to form themselves into regular armed units, provided they carry arms openly and respect the laws and customs of war.
According to legal scholar Antonio Cassese, in its decision in the case of
Other forms of “grave breaches” of the laws of warfare in the Geneva Conventions include refusing quarter to peoples wanting to surrender, the use of weapons that international law prohibits, and the torture of captured enemies in order to obtain information. Typically only international tribunals or the national jurisdiction of the adversary prosecutes systematic, grave breaches, also called “system criminality.”
The Conventions institute the requirement that the countries that have signed on to the Conventions, known as
A U.S. POW is interrogated by a North Vietnamese officer in 1973, during the Vietnam War.
The development of traditional international law historically shows that the interest of the
This compromise granted the status of lawful combatant not only to regular armies but also to militias and volunteer corps. For combatants from a
Until World War II, mainly regular armies fought wars. In 1949, the Third Geneva Convention added in Article 4.A.2 a new category of irregular, lawful combatant holding the right to prisoner-of-war status:
An Iraqi POW at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad was forced to stand on a box, arms outstretched, in one of several cases of abusive treatment later litigated under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The legal debate over irregular, guerrilla fighters became particularly important after 1949, with the rise of
The adoption of Article 47 at the Geneva Conference (leading to the 1977 Protocol) constituted official recognition in paragraph 1 that
For the purpose of safeguarding their interests and impelling adversaries to abide by international law, including treatment of their prisoners of war, the 1949 Geneva Conventions codified and improved on international practice with regard to the designation of
Burrows, Edwin G. Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War. New York: Basic Books, 2008. Tells the story of the approximately twenty-five thousand members of the Continental Army who were held as prisoners of war in New York City. Estimates are that some 70 percent of those prisoners died, totaling more than the number of soldiers who died in battle. Gillispie, James M. Andersonvilles of the North: The Myths and Realities of Northern Treatment of Civil War Confederate Prisoners. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2008. Both Southern and Northern captors held large numbers of prisoners of war during the Civil War and were vilified by those they held. This study does for Northern captors what other studies have done for places like the Southern prison at Andersonville: It shows that they were far less cruel and oppressive than their image. Krammer, Arnold. Prisoners of War: A Reference Handbook. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2008. A good, general history of prisoners of war from ancient times to the modern era. LaGrandeur, Philip. We Flew, We Fell, We Lived: The Remarkable Reminiscences of Second World War Evaders and Prisoners of War. London: Grub Street, 2007. Presents the stories of forty soldiers’ experiences in Nazi prisoner-of-war camps. Lloyd, Clive L. A History of Napoleonic and American Prisoners of War, 1756-1816: Hulk, Depot, and Parole. Woodbridge, Suffolk, England: Antique Collectors’ Club, 2007. One of the only sources on the experiences of prisoners of war during the European and American conflicts of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. MacDougall, Ian. All Men Are Brethren. Edinburgh: Tuckwell Press, 2009. Discusses various parts of the experiences of French prisoners of war held in Scotland during the Napoleonic Wars. Spiller, Harry. American POWs in World War II: Twelve Personal Accounts of Captivity by Germany and Japan. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2009. Twelve prisoners of war during World War II describe their experiences, recounting harrowing tales of forced labor, disease, and brutality.
Collaboration in War
Peace Movements and Conscientious Objection to War
War Crimes and Military Justice