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My days as a prisoner of war in Pakistan
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The detention of prisoners of war on this basis is an exception to the general principle of human rights law that a person cannot be deprived of their liberty if they have not been found guilty of a crime. As soon as a combatant falls into the hands of the enemy in an IAC, the rules governing the conduct of hostilities cease to apply and the protective POW framework described in this article begins to apply.
They may therefore no longer be made the subject of attack and must be treated in accordance with the humanitarian provisions of the Third Convention. The general principle upon which the protective regime under the Third Geneva Convention operates is that prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Acts causing death or serious injury to prisoners of war are prohibited, as is making them the subject of medical or scientific experiments, a gruesome practise to which thousands were subjected during World War II.
Prisoners of war must be protected at all times, particularly against acts of violence and against public curiosity, and are entitled in all circumstances to respect for their persons and honor. Reprisals against POWs are prohibited.
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When questioned on the subject, POWs are famously bound to disclose their names, date of birth, and military rank and serial number, and may be subject to a restriction of their privileges if they do not. They are not bound to provide any other information, though there is no prohibition on questioning prisoners of war, nor on offering incentives for their cooperation.
However, no physical or mental coercion of any kind is permitted to secure information, and the wilful killing, torture, inhuman treatment, or wilful causing of serious injury are grave breaches of the Third Convention and war crimes. Prisoners of war, not being nationals of the detaining power, are not bound to it by any duty of allegiance and naturally cannot be obliged to provide it with any assistance nor any information other than that required to identify them and register their capture. Prisoners of war cannot be punished for the mere fact that they participated in hostilities— combatant privilege provides an immunity from being prosecuted for using force against persons or objects in a manner which is consistent with international humanitarian law.
To take two prominent examples, both Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein were detained by the United States as prisoners of war and subsequently criminally prosecuted. Prisoners of war are kept in internment for the duration of hostilities. Crucially, they are not incarcerated , in recognition of the fact that the prisoner of war regime is not designed as punishment. Except where necessary to safeguard their health or in accordance with disciplinary measures, prisoners of war cannot be held in close confinement , and collectively they are not to be held in penitentiaries. They may therefore not be kept in locked cells but are rather simply to be kept within the limits of the POW camp in which they are held.
POWs must be evacuated from the combat zone as soon as possible after their capture. Prisoners of war must be interned only on land, away from the battlefield, sheltered from aerial bombardment and other hazards of war to the same extent as the local civilian population. Men and women are to be dormed separately. Prisoners of war must receive medical inspection at least once per month and at all times can present themselves to medical authorities for examination. Camps must have adequate infirmaries and, if necessary, isolation wards, and prisoners of war with a serious disease or requiring special treatment must be admitted to a military or civilian medical unit for treatment.
Clothing , underwear, and footwear must be provided by the detaining power, taking into account the local climate. Camps must be furnished with baths and showers, and prisoners of war must be given soap and water for their personal toilet and washing their laundry. Prisoners of war must be given food of a quantity, quality, and variety to keep them in good health and to prevent weight loss. Sufficient drinking water must be supplied. Prisoners of war must be granted freedom of exercise of religious duties and provided with adequate premises where religious services may be held.
This is a crucial requirement considering that many armed conflicts are fought between parties holding different beliefs, and, of course, often because of their differences in belief. Prisoners of war are subject to the laws, regulations, and orders in force in the armed forces of the detaining power.
Judicial and disciplinary action can be taken against a prisoner for a breach of those applicable laws though not, as discussed above, for their mere fact of participation in hostilities. If a POW is alleged to have committed an offense, they may only be tried by a military court unless existing laws expressly permit trial by a civilian court, and they must always benefit from essential guarantees of independence and impartiality—including rules against double jeopardy , against retroactive laws , the specification of charges and relevant legal provisions , rights and means of defense including the calling of witnesses and assistance of qualified counsel and an interpreter, the right to written reasons for judgement, and the right to an appeal.
In sentencing, courts must take into account that the prisoner is not bound to the detaining power by any duty of allegiance. Women prisoners of war may not be sentenced to a more severe punishment, or subjected during punishment to more severe treatment, than men or women members of the detaining power dealt with for a similar offense. Prisoners of war who are physically fit may be put to work by the detaining power during their time in internment.
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In accordance with the principle that POWs maintain their allegiance to their nation, they may only be put to prescribed classes of work —agriculture, commercial business, public utility services, to name a few—which may not have a military character or purpose. That is, prisoners of war cannot be made to join the war effort against their own force by being compelled to for example work in the manufacturing of weapons or handling of weapons stores on behalf of the detaining party. The labor undertaken by prisoners of war cannot be unhealthy or dangerous , workers must receive the necessary training , and conditions must be suitable and humane, especially as regards accommodation, food, clothing, and equipment.
National legislation concerning the protection of labor, and in particular safety regulations, must be applied. Officers may ask for suitable work but may not be compelled to do so, while non-commissioned officers can only be required to do supervisory work.