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PRISONERS OF WAR: ARE THEY BEEN HEARD?

 

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Prisoner of war (POW) means any person captured or interned by a belligerent power during war. In the strictest sense it is applied only to members of regularly organized armed forces, but by broader definition it has also included guerrillas, civilians who take up arms against an enemy openly, or non-combatants associated with a military force.

The Prisoners of War (POW) rights are protected and safeguarded by the International Humanitarian Law. Under the International humanitarian laws duty is casted upon the States to treat the war captives or the POW’s in accordance with the provisions of the laws. The Third Geneva Convention which was first adopted in 1929 but significantly revised in 1949 Conference 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.

Article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention defines the term clearly and sets out those who are categorically recognized as prisoners of war: “1. Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces. 2. Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfil the following conditions: (a) that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates; (b) that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance; (c) that of carrying arms openly; and (d) that of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.” Thus conclusion can be drawn that war is a state of restlessness between two or more nations or armed forces that forces the governments of the participating nations to use force against each other and hence allowing the victor state to impose such conditions as it deems suitable. And importantly prisoners of war are a direct outcome of the war that constitutes between different nations or groups.

Under the Convention the prime responsibility of the treatment of the POW’s falls upon the detaining authorities and not upon the individuals. The Detaining Power is under a general obligation to treat prisoners humanely and protect them from danger. They must be supplied with food, clothing and medical attention. They are also entitled to elaborate due process guarantees, including trial by the courts that respect the same standards of justice as those respected by the courts that would try the military of the Detaining State. Medical and scientific experiments are prohibited and they are to be treated alike regardless of race, nationality, religious beliefs or political opinions. The conditions at the detention camp must meet standards provided in the Convention. The work that the prisoner is required to perform must not be inherently dangerous, humiliating or directly connected with the operations of war. The prisoner must be permitted contact with his family and correspondence privileges. Penal and disciplinary sanctions, including procedures for determining guilt, are also prescribed by the Convention. When hostilities have ceased, POWs must be repatriated. There are about 196 States party to this Convention.

The POW suffer at the hands of the belligerents. Belligerents hold prisoners of war in custody for a range of legitimate and illegitimate reasons, such as isolating them from enemy combatants still in the field (releasing and repatriating them in an orderly manner after hostilities), demonstrating military victory, punishing them, prosecuting them for war crimes, exploiting them for their labour, recruiting or even conscripting them as their own combatants, collecting military and political intelligence from them, or indoctrinating them in new political or religious beliefs. There are reports of third degree torture on the POW, their hands are tied, they are kicked and punched, they are interrogated at odd hours and for days, they are sent to solitary confinement and made to stay naked, they are tortured mentally and physically. Thus one cannot deny gross violation of their human rights.

Today’s world has witnessed barbaric and inhumane treatment to the POWs whether by the US army in Guantanamo Bay, IS forces in Iraq and Syria or by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Every now and then, we read and hear about the spine chilling acts of the militants groups like IS and Boko Haram groups which include genocides, mass killings, massacre of men, women and prisoners of war. We are also aware about the reports of POW still languishing in the prison of Pakistan since the aftermath of the Indo-Pak War of 1971.

Question arises why aren’t these POW repatriated to their home country? Why does it takes ages for the countries to address to this issue and protect their own men held captive in other country? Shouldn’t their voices and grievances be heard and addressed just like it is heard of those accused and imprisoned for cheating or murder in home country? It is unfortunate that there have been hardly any public talks or publication of reports about the status of the POW in countries except during the sessions and conferences at the UN where countries are ‘obligated’ to give a record of the status and treatment of POWs in their country, (if any).

Looking so far the efforts of each country question arises- why does each country do not make the records of POW in their country as well as those in other countries public? Why do they avoid from making records public and also from answering questions relating to this issue? Is it that they consider this as an issue that has to be dealt only in a ‘diplomatic way’? It shouldn’t be forgotten that transparency and accountability is important and is valued by the people in every country.

I believe for very person it is important to know where and how his countrymen captured as POW is treated, what are the rights given to them, nationally and internationally, how does the government of each country plan to get them back to their home country, and are they willing to negotiate with the belligerent and be persistent.

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