Part 1 - "Missing in Action - Believed POW"
Chapter 3 - The Geneva Convention and the Rules of War
The so-called "Geneva Conventions and Protocols" establish the International Red Cross as a neutral and impartial organisation wherever there is armed conflict. They lay down the international rules of war, protecting the wounded, the prisoners of war, the displaced persons and suffering non-combatants. The following abridged extracts are taken from the I.R.C. publication:
"Understanding Humanitarian Law - Basic Rules of the Geneva Conventions and Their Additional Protocols", International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva, September, 1983 (M38).
Rules relating to the conduct of combatants and the protection of Prisoners of War. Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.
(Convention 111 of 12th August, 1949.)
Additional Protocol 1 Part 111
The status of prisoner of war is governed jointly by article 4 of the Third Convention and by articles 43 and 44 of the Protocol. The general principle is the following: any member of the armed forces of a Party to a conflict is a combatant and any combatant captured by the adverse Party is a prisoner of war.
P.I, 46 47 - Spies and mercenaries are not entitled to the status of prisoner of war.
P.I, 77 - Children under the age of fifteen shall not be recruited into the armed forces.
RULES RELATING TO THE CONDUCT OF COMBATANTS
The fundamental principle forming the basis of these rules is that the right of the Parties to the conflict to chose methods or means of warfare is not unlimited.
P.I, 37 - It is prohibited to kill, injure or capture an adversary by resort to perfidy. The enemy who is hors de combat, or who has surrendered, or who shows his intention to surrender, or who has parachuted from an aircraft in distress, shall not be made the object of attack. If the capturing party is unable to evacuate its prisoners from the fighting zone, it must release them and take all feasible precautions to ensure their safety
PROTECTION OF PRISONERS OF WAR
1. Rights and Obligations
111 12 14. Regarding the rights of prisoners of war, the principle specifying that prisoners of war are in the hands of the enemy Power, but not of the individuals or military units who have captured them, should be borne in mind. Prisoners of war are entitled in all circumstances to respect for their persons and their honour. Women must be treated with all regard due to their sex and shall in all cases benefit from treatment at least as favourable as that granted to men. Finally, it should be noted that prisoners of war retain the full civil capacity they had at their time of capture. Within the limits imposed by captivity, they therefore continue to enjoy their civil rights according to the law of their country of origin. In particular they can marry by proxy.
As for the duties of prisoners, they are generally derived from the laws of war and the rules of military discipline.
111, 17 - Some of these duties are formally stated in the Convention; thus article 17 relating to the questioning of the prisoner specifies that he is bound to give his name, first names and rank, date of birth and army, regimental, personal or serial number, or failing this, equivalent information (these particulars will be reproduced on the identity card which the parties to the conflict are required to issue to the prisoner of war 111,17,18).
However, the same article adds that no physical or mental torture, nor any form of coercion may be inflicted on prisoners of war to obtain from them information of any kind whatsoever.
2. Protection and Treatment
111 13 16 Prisoners of war must at all times be treated humanely.
3. Physical Conditions of Internment
The Detaining Power assumes general responsibility for the life and welfare of prisoners of war, who must be kept in good health.
4. Moral and Psychological Conditions of Internment
The Convention is not only concerned with the physical conditions of internment. A great number of articles are devoted to moral and psychological conditions. They deal not only with religion, intellectual and sports activities, but also with the kind of work considered suitable to maintain prisoner's self respect and mental well-being and protect them from boredom and idleness. In application of these principles, the Convention includes a number of provisions on Religion, Intellectual and Sport Activities, Work, Property and Working Pay, and Correspondence.
The Convention affirms the right of prisoners to receive relief. Relief supplies may be individual or collective but the Convention indicates a preference to relief parcels of a standard model, intended for all prisoners in a camp and shared out among them by prisoners representatives. All relief shipments are exempt from import, customs and other dues and the experience by the ICRC and National Red Cross Societies in the course of two World Wars is implicitly recognized.
To ensure discipline in accordance with military honour, every prisoner of war camp is placed under the immediate authority of a responsible commissioned officer belonging to the regular armed forces of the Detaining Power. This officer must be fully acquainted with the text of the convention. These texts must also be posted in each camp, in the prisoners own language, in places where all may read them. The wearing of badges of rank and nationality, as well as decorations, shall be permitted in due respect for the dignity of the persons concerned.
The Convention has several provisions relating to escapes or attempts to escape. These are accepted as being consistent with military honour and patriotic courage. Punishments incurred in cases of escape are consequently limited. Weapons may be used against prisoners who escape or attempt to escape, but such use should only be made as a last resort and must always be preceded by warnings appropriate to the circumstances.
The institution of prisoners representatives is very important. He not only supervises the distribution of relief supplies but also does all he can to mitigate the severities of discipline to help prisoners in their difficulties with the detaining authority.
The Convention specifies the sanctions that prisoners of war shall be subject to the laws, regulations, and orders in force in the armed forces of the Detaining Power.
Even during hostilities, the Convention prescribes the direct return to their own countries of the wounded and sick. No sick or injured prisoner of war may be repatriated against his will during hostilities. No repatriated person may be employed on active military service.
Prisoners of war are entitled to make wills.
9. Information Bureaux and Central Tracing Agency
10. Assistance by Relief Societies and the ICRC
11. The Rights of Protecting Powers and the ICRC to Visit
Representatives of the Protecting Powers shall have permission to go to all places where prisoners of war may be, particularly to places of internment, imprisonment and labour. They shall have access to all premises used by prisoners. ICRC delegates shall have the same prerogatives.