Treatment of Prisoners of War


Prisoners of War:

Prisoner of war is a status which is given to a person captured by belligerent state during the war or in an armed conflict. All the persons captured by the belligerent do not acquire this status. Geneva Convention


relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War lays down under Article 4 that certain categories of persons who have fallen into the power of the enemy shall be known as prisoners of war. They are

  • Firstly, members of the Armed Forces of belligerents as well as members of the militias or voluntary corps forming part of such Armed Forces. They acquired the state as prisoners of war when captured while performing their normal military duties during the course of hostilities.
  • Secondly, members of other military and other voluntary corps including those of organised resistance movements (i) if they have a commander: (ii) if they wear a distinct uniform (iii) if they carry arms openly, and (iv) if they observe laws and customs of war.
  • Thirdly, non combatant persons that are civilian personnel such as correspondents, supply contractors, labourers, cooks, barbers, engineers: provided they accompany the arms unit under the authority.
  • Fourthly, members of the crew including masters, pilots and apprentices who do not benefit by a more favourable treatment under any other provisions of international law and
  • Fifthly, other inhabitants of the town who takes up arms to resist the invading forces without having had time to form themselves into regular army units: provided they carry arms openly and respect the laws and customs of the war.

The above implies that person such as traitors, deserters, mercenaries and those members of the Armed Forces who at the commencement of hostilities are founded within the territory of the enemy do not acquire the status of prisoners of war.

Treatment of Prisoners of War:

International law protects the prisoners from punishment for their hostile acts committed prior to capture. They have been guaranteed various privileges during captivity. Once the claim of a prisoner of being a prisoner of war is recognised, the State is not free to enforce its own municipal law or policies except as permitted by international law. The Geneva Convention on Prisoner of War, 1949, contains the following important provisions relating to the treatment of prisoners of war:

  1. Prisoners of war must at all times be humanly treated.
  2. Any unlawful act or omission by the detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of the prisoner of war is prohibited and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention.
  3. No prisoner of war may be subjected to physical mutilation or to medical or scientific experiments of any kind which are not justified by the medical, dental hospital or treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest.
  4. Prisoners of war must at all times be protected particularly against acts of violation or intimidation against insults and public curiosity.
  5. Measures of reprisal against prisoners of war are prohibited.
  6. Prisoners of war are entitled in all circumstances to respect of their persons and their honour.
  7. Prisoners of war shall be evacuated as soon as possible after their capture to camp situated in an area far enough from connected zone for them to be out of danger.
  8. All effects and articles of personal use, except arms, horses, military equipment and military documents shall remain in their possession.
  9. At no time should prisoners of war be without identity documents. The detaining Power shall supply documents to prisoners of war who possess none. Badges of rank and nationality decorations and articles having above all personal or sentimental value may not be taken from the prisoners of war.
  10. The detaining Power shall be bound to provide free of charge maintenance of the prisoners and for the medical attention required by their health condition. The expression maintenance includes food, clothing and other facilities which are necessary to sustain life.
  11. The detaining Power should treat all the prisoners equally without any distinction based on race, nationality, religious belief or political opinions or any other distinction founded on similar criterion.
  12. prisoners shall be provided similar quarter facilities similar as to those of detaining Power. The premises should be protected from dampness.. They should be adequately heated and lighted all precautions must be taken against the danger of life.
  13. Canteens should be installed in all camps. The tariff shall never be in excess of local market price.
  14. prisoners may be interned only in premises located on land. Prisoners interned in unhealthy areas or where the climate is injurious for them shall be removed as soon as possible to a more favourable climate. The detaining Power shall be bound to take all sanitary measures necessary to ensure the cleanliness of camps and to prevent epidemic.

Rights of the Captor State:

The Geneva Convention provided a number of rights to the captor State. The important amongst them are as follow:

  • Seeking of Information:

The captor state may interrogate the prisoners of war and may seek any information from them. Various means may be adopted to induce or coerce the prisoners in order to obtain the information. Although the Geneva Convention does not impose absolute prohibition on the seeking of information, it provided that no information shall be sought by subjecting them to threats, insults or by exposing them to unpleasantness. The captor state is also prohibited from resorting to physical and mental torture.

  • Transfer:

The captor state has the power to transfer a prisoner from one place to another. However, the detaining power when deciding upon the transfer of a prisoner, shall take into account the interest of the prisoner.

  • Disciplinary measures:

Prisoners are required to maintain discipline in the camp. They remain subject to the laws, regulations or orders in force of the Armed Forces of the detaining Power. The detaining Power shall be justified in taking disciplinary measures in respect of any offence committed by prisoners of war against such laws, regulations or orders.

  • Judicial proceedings:

The detaining Power has a right to initiate judicial proceedings against the prisoners for their offences. Prisoners shall be tried only by military courts unless the existing laws of the detaining Power is expressly permit the civil courts for similar offences.

  • Use of weapons:

As an extreme measure, the detaining power may use weapons against prisoners of war especially against those who are making an attempt to escape. However, the use of weapons shall always be preceded by a warning and the use should not be un-proportionate.

  • Punishment:

Prisoners may be given punishment for the offences by way of confinement and fatigue duty. Extra privileges provided to them may be discontinued. The death penalty may also be given to the prisoners, but it is desirable if it is avoided.


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