Prisoner of war


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A prisoner of war (POW, PoW, or PW) is a soldier, sailor, airman, or marine who is imprisoned by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict.

The laws apply from the moment a prisoner is captured until he is released or repatriated. One of the main provisions of the convention makes it illegal to torture prisoners, and states that a prisoner can only be required to give his name, date of birth, rank and service number (if applicable).

Article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention protects captured military personnel, some guerrilla fighters and certain civilians. The status of POW does not include unarmed non-combatants who are captured in time of war; they are protected by the Fourth Geneva Convention rather than the Third Geneva Convention.


Qualification as POW

In principle, to be entitled to prisoner of war status, the captured servicemember must have conducted operations according to the laws and customs of war, e.g. be part of a chain of command, wear a uniform and bear arms openly. Thus, franc-tireurs, terrorists and spies may be excluded. In practise these criteria are not always interpreted strictly. Guerrillas, for example, may not wear a uniform or carry arms openly, yet are typically granted POW status if captured. However, guerrillas or any other combatant may not be granted the status if they try to use both the civilian and the military status. Thus, the importance of uniforms -or as in the guerrilla case, a badge- to keep this important rule of warfare.

Treatment of POWs

The treatment of prisoners of war can depend on the resources, social attitudes and policies of the governments and militaries in question. For instance, in World War II, Soviet prisoners of Nazi Germany and German prisoners of the Soviet Union were often treated with neglect and brutality. The Nazi Regime regarded Soviet POWs as being of a lower racial order, and many Soviet POWs were consequently subject to enforced labour or were murdered in keeping with The Third Reich's policy of racial purification. Prisoners from Britain and the US were generally treated much better by the Germans. On the Soviet side, German POWs were regarded as having forfeited their right to fair treatment, because of the widespread crimes committed against Soviet civilians during their invasion campaign. This combined with the fact that much of the Soviet workforce was now in the hands of Nazi Germany, also led to employment of many German POW's as forced labour (this forced labour was in keeping with that imposed on Soviet civilians for a range of criminal and political crimes). Prisoners held by Japanese armed forces were subject to brutal treatment, including forced labour, starvation rations, beatings for escape attempts, and were denied medical treatment.

In the Pacific Theater, some of the harshed treatment of POWs were dealt by the Japanese. Whereas Allied POWs had a death rate of about 2% to 4% in German POW camps, the death rate in Japanese camps was generally in the range of 20% to 35%. This was due in part to physical maltreatment by the Japanese, but was exacerbated by malnutrition and lack of medicines, particularly antimalarial drugs. Similarly, during the Vietnam War, American servicemembers captured by North Vietnam were routinely beaten and tortured in violation of their status as prisoners of war. Similar treatment occurred by Iraqi and American forces during the Gulf War and the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, the United States armed forces were placed in a very unfavorable light as evidence was uncovered of U.S. abuse of prisoners of war. The United States uses the term enemy prisoner of war (EPW) for hostile forces, reserving the term prisoner of war for its own or Allied forces.

Alternative definitions

Some groups define Prisoner of War in accordance with their internal politics and world view. Since the special rights of a prisoner of war, granted by governments, is the result of multilateral treaties, these definitions have no legal effect and those claiming rights under these definitions would legally be considered common criminals under an arresting jurisdiction's laws. However, it must be noted that in most cases these groups do not demand such rights.

Anarchist Black Cross Federation definition

Anarchist Black Cross Federation has defined the term in its constitution ( as "those persons incarcerated as a result of political beliefs or actions consciously undertaken and intended to resist exploitation and oppression, and/or hasten the implementation of an egalitarian, sustainable, ethical, classless society, predicated on self determination and maximization of all people's freedom."

November Coalition definition

November Coalition uses the term Prisoner of War to also refer to Prisoner of Drug War or Prisoner of War on Drugs. Every person charged with the crime under the statues of the Drug War fits that definition, whether or not that individual's arrest and conviction was legal.

PoWs since Geneva Convention (1929)

List of nations with the highest number of PoWs in any war since the 1st Geneva Convention came into effect in 1929. All except one took place during World War II. Listed in descending order.

Country Prisoners of War Name of War
U.S.S.R 5,700,000 World War II
U.S.A ~130,000 World War II
Germany N/A* World War II</sup>
Great Britain N/A* World War II
Pakistan 93,000 Indo-Pakistani War of 1971

* Currently no reliable and neutral figures are available.

Further reading

  • Richard D. Wiggers "The United States and the Denial of Prisoner of War (POW) Status at the End of the Second World War," Militargeschichtliche Mitteilungen 52 (1993) pp. 91-94.

See also


External links

fi:Sotavanki he:שבוי ja:捕虜 pt:Prisioneiro de guerra zh:战俘


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