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Signing the Geneva Convention

This article below, written by Nandor Laklia from the newsletter from BeyondBandOfBrothers.com gives us information on the Geneva Convention, signed 85 years ago on July 27, 1929. To receive newsletters from them please write to info@procomtours.com.

Signing the Geneva Convention

The Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War was signed in Geneva, Switzerland on July 27, 1929. This convention covered the state’s conduct regarding prisoners of war under international law during the course of World War II. It is the precursor to the third Geneva Convention signed in 1949, which is in force today.

Germany justified keeping Soviet POWs in abominable conditions because Stalin had never signed the Geneva Convention.
Germany justified keeping Soviet POWs in abominable conditions because Stalin had never signed the Geneva Convention.

The first international conventions to put forward regulations about the treatment of prisoners of war under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were the Hague Regulations of 1899 and 1907. It became clear during World War I that these regulations had several deficiencies, and the ICRC campaigned fiercely during several international conferences for a special international convention on the treatment of POWs to be adopted.

The most important provisions set forth the general standards of conduct that state parties are to show towards POWs. The convention put forward, for instance, that prisoners of war must be shown respect at all times. POWs must be allowed to notify their next of kin and the International Red Cross of their capture, and they must be allowed further correspondence with relatives. They must be given adequate food and clothing. Their shelter must be aligned to their captor’s military standards. They must be given medical care if needed. They must be paid for any work they do. Prisoners of war must not be forced to give any information except their name, rank and serial number. They must not be held in close confinement (e.g., solitary confinement) unless they have broken laws. They must not be forced to do military or dangerous or unhealthy work.

A total of 53 countries signed and ratified the convention, among them Germany and the United States. Most notably, the Soviet Union did not sign the Convention. Japan did sign, but did not ratify it.

During World War II, there were several major violations of the Geneva Convention. Most notably the massacre of POWs in the Eastern Front by both Germans and Russians and the treatment of Chinese and American POWs in the Far East and the Pacific ran contrary to the Geneva Convention. The convention was better upheld in the European Theater of Operation, but explicit violations did occur, such as the Baugnez-Malmedy massacre during the Battle of the Bulge or Hitler’s infamous Commando Order that prescribed that captured special forces soldiers were to be shot.