- They are the rules protecting prisoners of war (POWs).
- They were first detailed in the 1929 Geneva Convention and later amended in the third 1949 Geneva Convention following the lessons of World War II.
- There are four Geneva Conventions.
- The third Geneva Convention defines and details who can be considered a POW and how he/she must be treated.
Third Geneva Convention
- The third Geneva Convention provides a wide range of protection for prisoners of war. It defines their rights and sets down detailed rules for their treatment and eventual release. The status of POW only applies in international armed conflict.
- POWs are usually members of the armed forces of one of the parties to a conflict who fall into the hands of the adverse party. The third 1949 Geneva Convention also classifies other categories of persons who have the right to POW status or may be treated as POWs.
- POWs cannot be prosecuted for taking a direct part in hostilities. Their detention is not a form of punishment, but only aims to prevent further participation in the conflict. They must be released and repatriated without delay after the end of hostilities. The detaining power may prosecute them for possible war crimes, but not for acts of violence that are lawful under international humanitarian law.
- “POWs must be treated humanely in all circumstances. They are protected against any act of violence, as well as against intimidation, insults, and public curiosity,”
In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:
(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.
To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
- Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
- Taking of hostages;
- Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;
- The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.
(2) The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.
- An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.
- The Parties to the conflict should further endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention.
- The application of preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict.
The Geneva Conventions have a system of “Protecting Powers” who ensure that the provisions of the conventions are being followed by the parties in a conflict. In theory, each side must designate states that are not party to the conflict as their “Protecting Powers”. In practice, the International Committee of the Red Cross usually plays this role.
- The First Geneva Convention “for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field” (first adopted in 1864, revised in 1906, 1929 and finally 1949);
- The Second Geneva Convention “for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea” (first adopted in 1949, successor of the Hague Convention (X) 1907);
- The Third Geneva Convention “relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War” (first adopted in 1929, last revision in 1949);
- The Fourth Geneva Convention “relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War” (first adopted in 1949, based on parts of the Hague Convention (II) of 1899 and Hague Convention (IV) 1907).
The 1949 conventions have been modified with three amendment protocols:
- Protocol I (1977) relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts
- Protocol II (1977) relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts
- Protocol III (2005) relating to the Adoption of an Additional Distinctive Emblem
Note – India is party to the four conventions but not the additional protocols