A prisoner of war (POW) is a combatant who has fallen into the hands of the adversary. The third Geneva Convention specifically refers to the treatment of prisoners of war.
Prisoner of war status
The status of prisoner of war is granted to combatants, who are members of armed groups belonging to a party to the conflict (which can only be a state) and meet the following criteria:
Article 44(3) of the First Additional Protocol (IAP) gives an exception to this rule when the nature of the hostilities prevents the combatant from distinguishing himself or herself. There is an ongoing legal debate about the scope of a distinctive sign which combatants of non-regular armed forces need to wear. Article 44(3) is not considered international customary law.
Members of groups that do not fulfil the conditions above are civilians. If they take direct part in the hostilities (violent resistance), they are not regarded as combatants and do not enjoy the status of prisoners of war. Even if IHL does not prohibit non-combatants from taking direct part in hostilities, it may be forbidden according to domestic law. Additionally, non-combatants can be prosecuted for their acts, such as murder, committed during their participation in hostilities. Such acts would be exempt from prosecutions if committed by a combatant.
In case of doubt whether a person falls under one of the above mentioned categories, s/he should be presumed to be a prisoner of war, until a competent court has decided otherwise.
The right to humane treatment
All POW:s should be treated humanely and never subjected to torture, inhuman and degrading treatment. The Third Geneva Convention specifies the conditions of the prisoners of war camp, the procedure of their captivity and treatment according to international humanitarian law (IHL).
To be a prisoner of war is a right of a combatant. A combatant can and should not be punished for merely taking part in the hostilities. Only if s/he has allegedly committed a violation of IHL s/he should be tried in a court of law in a fair trial, as stipulated by international law.
Examples of POWs rights under the Third Geneva Conventions:
The right to registration
All POWs should be registered. The registration is often a life insurance because the prisoner is placed on record. The family has the right to know where the prisoner of war is kept and has the right to keep in contact through personal messages. Every country is obliged to put up a national information bureau to collect information on persons being detained. The bureau will send the information to the Central Tracing Agency in
The right to repatriation
POWs should be offered to return to their country of origin when the hostilities have ceased