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Prisoners Of War

"if the man were whole I could turn him over to the police without difficulty. I care nothing for him. He is my enemy. All Americans are my enemy. And he is only a common fellow. You see how foolish his face is. But since he is wounded " These lines by Sadao, a Japanese doctor in the story The Enemy by Pearl S. Buck, describes how citizens of warring nations tend to forget their duties as humans towards prisoners of war and prioritize the mean goals of their nation.

Any person captured by the enemy during a war is known as a prisoner of war (PoW). The soldiers of the defeated enemy were imprisoned and subjected to torture and cruelty and were then killed. In earlier times there was no recognition of prisoners of war and everyone who was captured was treated in the same way. The captive, either he or she was involved in the war or was just a citizen of the enemy country, was treated similarly; he or she was tortured and later put to death.

As warfare changed, so did the treatment meted out to the soldiers and other citizens of the defeated enemy who were taken as captives. Not only were the prisoners of war considered as a burden on the State but the treatment which was meted out to them was also questioned. A prisoner of war was taken into captivity not as a piece of property but to prevent him from doing any further harm. Writers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote on the same theme and with time the treatment meted out to the prisoners improved to some extent.

In the late 19th century, wars broke in many parts of the world which added to the number of prisoners of war and during the World War I, the number of the prisoners of war rose upto millions. Many countries and organisations held conferences and formed conventions to look into the treatment which was being given to the prisoners of war. However, many countries refused to ratify those conventions.

During the World War II, millions of people were taken captive as prisoners of war. Many countries dealt with them as per the conventions ratified earlier however, the dealing of some countries was absolutely barbaric. 5,700,000 Red Army soldiers were captured by the Germans, however, only about 2,000,000 of them survived the war. More than 2,000,000 of the 3,800,000 Soviet troops were captured during the German invasion in 1941 and they were starved to death.

The Soviets allocated hundreds of thousands of German prisoners of war to labour camps where most of them died. The Japanese treated their British, American, and Australian prisoners of war brutally and oppressively and only about 60 percent of them survived the war. After the war, the oppressors were tried for the war crimes committed by them and were punished accordingly.

The Geneva Conventions, formulated in 1849 and then revised in 1949, were adopted in order to provide minimum protections, ensure standards of humane treatment, and ensure fundamental guarantees of respect to individuals who had become victims of armed conflicts. The Geneva Conventions are a series of treaties on the treatment of civilians, prisoners of war and soldiers who are incapable of fighting.

The conventions require the humane treatment of prisoners of war and prohibit torture, mutilation, humiliation and degrading behaviour. The provisions of these conventions are applicable on all the member states.

The rights of prisoners of war has always been a debated issue. Some countries do treat their prisoners of war with respect and mete out humane treatment however, some are harsh and brutal. It needs to be ensured that prisoners of war all around the world need to be treated with respect and dignity because just like other people they too are humans and deserve humane treatment.

Written By: Akshita Tandon, 4th Year Law Student, University Institute of Legal Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh

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