Prisoners of War


Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Legal, Acronyms.

Prisoners of War

 

in international law, members of the armed forces of a fighting side (including voluntary detachments of partisan armies, members of rebellious movements, and other combatants) who find themselves captured by the enemy. Sometimes, however, prisoners of war are noncombatants—for example, war correspondents, merchant marine sailors, and members of civil aviation.

Until the second half of the 19th century, international law did not include any multilateral agreements establishing regulations for prisoner-of-war camps. The first convention on the laws and rules of land warfare, which established regulations for prisoner-of-war camps, was adopted in 1899 at the First Hague Peace Conference. The Second Hague Peace Conference in 1907 worked out a new convention that out-lined more detailed rules for holding prisoners of war. World War I (1914-18) demonstrated the necessity for further development of prisoner-of-war camp standards, and in 1929 the Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War was accepted. (The USSR did not participate in it.)

During World War II, fascist Germany, which had violated international convention, subjected prisoners of war to torture and mass murder. In an attempt to prevent the arbitrary decisions of belligerents, a Geneva convention on the treatment of prisoners of war that leaned toward more humanitarian regulations of war was worked out and signed in 1949 under the sponsorship of socialist governments and democratic world powers. Because of the efforts of the USSR and other socialist countries, this convention included some new principles—for example, it forbade discrimination against prisoners of war because of race, color, religion, sex, nationality, or property status; and it established criminal responsibility for breaking the statutes of the convention. An extremely important innovation was the application of convention statutes to civil wars and national wars of liberation. Therefore, the basic conventions containing regulations for prisoner-of-war camps are the Laws and Customs of War on Land (appendix to the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907) and the 1949 Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War.

In agreement with generally accepted norms of current international law, prisoners of war are held by the enemy state, not by individuals or the military divisions responsible for their capture. The treatment of prisoners of war must be humanitarian and without discrimination in all situations. The convention ensures due respect to female prisoners. Taking the lives of prisoners of war, doing them bodily harm (killing, mutilation, cruel treatment, torment, or torture), or demeaning their dignity by insult and belittling is forbidden. A prisoner of war may not be subjected to physical crippling or scientific or medical experimentation unless such action is warranted as medical treatment.

The government holding prisoners of war is responsible for supporting them free of charge and giving them necessary medical attention; the prisoners of war are entitled to food, living quarters, and clothing similar to those of their captors’ army. All personal belongings of the prisoners of war except for weapons, military property, and military documents may remain in their possession. Prisoners of war have complete freedom of religious choice; they are allowed to send and receive mail, individual or collective parcels, and money orders. Prisoners of war (excluding officers) may be employed in activities unrelated to war; they may not be ordered to do work that is dangerous or threatening to their health without their consent. All work performed by prisoners of war must be compensated; part of the salary is used for the support of the prisoner, and the rest is released to him upon his freedom.

Prisoners of war must obey the laws, statutes, and orders affecting the military bodies of the government which is holding them captive; if these laws are not obeyed, legal and disciplinary measures may be taken. (Group punishment for an individual’s crime is forbidden.) They may not be tried or convicted for actions which are not considered criminal by the government holding them captive, nor may any form of punishment be applied to them that is not ordinarily applied to any military personnel of the government for similar deeds. Attempts to escape are punishable only by disciplinary action. All illegal acts, as well as inactivity on the part of the government holding the prisoners, resulting in death or a threat to the health of prisoners, are forbidden and considered to be in direct violation of the convention. Persons guilty of such crimes are regarded as military offenders and are subject to legal prosecution.

In 1958 a law was passed in the USSR on the legal responsibility for war crimes, establishing severe punishment for those who break the laws regarding prisoners of war.

Imperialistic governments have often violated and still violate the accepted norms of international law regarding prisoners of war (for example, mass murders of prisoners of war by fascist Germany during World War II and the premeditated annihilation of prisoners of war of the armed forces of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam by American forces in the criminal war against the Vietnamese people.

REFERENCES

“Konventsiia o zakonakh i obychaiakh sukhoputnoi voiny ot 5 (18) okt. 1907 g.” In Mezhdunarodnoe pravo v izbrannykh dokumentakh, vol. 3. Moscow, 1957. Pages 41-46.
“Zhenevskaia konventsiia ob obrashchenii s voennoplennymi ot 12 avg. 1949 g.” InZhenevskie konventsii o zashchite zhertv voiny. Moscow, 1954. Pages 69-129.
Mezhdunarodnoe pravo. Moscow, 1966, Page 617.

M. N. ANDRIUKHIN

References in periodicals archive ?
The Russian Foreign Ministry stressed that to improve the conditions of stay of prisoners of war on the territory of the parties, during the recent ministerial meeting in Moscow the Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers confirmed their readiness on a reciprocal basis to take measures to allow relatives to visit them.
Though the law provides that holders of a Red Cross certificate from the 1974 fighting are considered prisoners of war, one said he was denied his allowance even though he presented his Red Cross certificate.
lists 1,350 Americans as having been prisoners of war, including Arizona Sen.
Focusing on the experiences of World War I Ottoman prisoners of war and the discourses constructed around them, the author demonstrates the crucial but hitherto relatively ignored role these discourses played in the construction of the citizen of the Turkish nation-state.
Though a critic of the Israeli show, Moran Sharir of the newspaper Haaretz admitted that the program had a powerful impact: using the Yiddish word for guts, he wrote that Prisoners of War "talks to the audience's kishkes." The same could be said for Homeland.
Paying tribute to the respectful relation of Finland towards the remembrance of the perished Kazakhstan soldiers, Kazakh Ambassador stressed the importance of studying the fate of Soviet prisoners of war, including natives of our country, in the context of the general history of Kazakhstan and Finland.
He contacted the ECHO after seeing an appeal from charity Children and Families of Far East Prisoners of War (COFEPOW) asking for mementoes brought back by prisoners of war in Japan after the Second World War.
And, after we ran the story on Thursday, she is already a step closer as it caught the eye of The Java Far East Prisoners of War Club 1942.
Our own government followed the Australian and New Zealand governments as they compensated their Far East prisoners of war and paid them or their widows PS10,000.
service members still unaccounted for as prisoners of war or missing in action.
Prisoners of war at Dartmoor; American and French soldiers and sailors in an English prison during the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812.
The ICRC has been visiting prisoners of war and civilians interned in connection with the Nagorny Karabakh conflict since 1992.