Prisoner of war
A prisoner of war (short form: POW) is a non-combatant who has been captured or surrendered by the forces of the enemy, during an armed conflict. In past centuries, prisoners had no rights. They were usually killed or forced to be slaves. Nowadays prisoners of war have rights that are stated in the Geneva Conventions and other laws of war.
- They must be treated decently, with respect
- They must be allowed to tell their families and the International Committee of the Red Cross that they are a POW
- They have the right to communicate with their families, and get packages
- They have the right to keep their clothing, eating utensils, and personal things
- They must be given adequate food, clothing, housing, and medical attention
- If their captors make them work, POWs must be paid for the work they do
- If they are going to be charged with a crime, they must be given a trial
Not every prisoner gets these rightsEdit
Not all people who are caught while fighting wars are "prisoners of war." The Third Geneva Convention has a strict definition of what a prisoner of war is. For example, it says that to be "prisoners of war," soldiers must:
- Wear uniforms or marks on their clothes to make it clear they are soldiers
- Have some sign (like a flag) that shows they are soldiers from a distance
- Carry their weapons out in the open, where they can be seen
- Follow the laws of war
According to the Geneva Conventions, if soldiers do not meet these requirements, they are not "prisoners of war." They are "unlawful combatants" (which means "people who fight in ways that are against the law). This means they do NOT have the rights that are listed in the Geneva Conventions.
This caused controversy in the early 21st century. For example, in June 2002, the United States was fighting the War in Afghanistan. The Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, announced that the people the U.S. had captured were "unlawful combatants [who] do not have any rights under the Geneva Convention[s]." The U.S. said these people were unlawful combatants, not prisoners of war, because:
- They did not wear clothing that made them look any different than regular civilians
- They did not organize themselves into groups with a chain of command
- They did not follow the laws of war (because they gave support to Al-Qaeda, a terrorist organization)
The U.S. brought some of these people to a prison in Guantánamo Bay. Because they were enemy combatants, the inmates at Guantánamo did not get the rights that the Geneva Conventions give to prisoners of war.
War crimes against prisoners of warEdit
The Geneva Convention lists the rights that prisoners of war have. However, there is nothing in the Geneva Convention that says how people should be punished when they do not give prisoners of war these rights.
In the past, when a country broke the Geneva Convention by not giving prisoners of war their rights, many different things might happen. For example, after World War II ended, the countries that won the war set up military tribunals called the Nuremberg Trials and the Tokyo Trials. At these trials, military leaders from Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan were tried for crimes against prisoners of war (and many other things). Many of them were convicted and sentenced to death or to life in prison.
However, at other times, crimes against prisoners of war might be tried in the same country where the crimes happened. This might happen before or after the war ended. Sometimes crimes against prisoners of war were not punished at all.
The International Criminal CourtEdit
- Rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse
- Hurting or killing POWs
- Causing severe pain or suffering (this can be mental or physical suffering)
- Forcing POWs to do military work that will hurt their own country
- Using POWs as hostages
- Treating POWs in cruel ways, not respecting their dignity, or humiliating them
If a country, or a group of people, commit a war crime against prisoners of war, the ICC can put them on trial and punish them if they are found guilty.
Before the 20th centuryEdit
- The telegram says: "Based on information received through the Provost Marshal General records of the War Department have been amended to show your son Private First Class Alton L Hoover a prisoner of war of the German government Any further information received will be furnished by the Provost Marshal General ULIO The Adjutant General 806A." (Telegrams were written without any punctuation.)
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