Third Geneva Convention

Red Cross workers preparing food packages for prisoners of war

The Third Geneva Convention, relative to the treatment of prisoners of war, is one of the four treaties of the Geneva Conventions. The Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War was first adopted in 1929, but significantly revised at the 1949 conference. It defines humanitarian protections for prisoners of war. There are 196 state parties to the Convention.

Part I: General provisions

  Parties to GC I–IV and P I–III
  Parties to GC I–IV and P I–II
  Parties to GC I–IV and P I and III
  Parties to GC I–IV and P I
  Parties to GC I–IV and P III
  Parties to GC I–IV and no P

This part sets out the overall parameters for GCIII:

  • Articles 1 and 2 cover which parties are bound by GCIII
  • Article 2 specifies when the parties are bound by GCIII
    • That any armed conflict between two or more "High Contracting Parties" is covered by GCIII;
    • That it applies to occupations of a "High Contracting Party";
    • That the relationship between the "High Contracting Parties" and a non-signatory, the party will remain bound until the non-signatory no longer acts under the strictures of the convention. "...Although one of the Powers in conflict may not be a party to the present Convention, the Powers who are parties thereto shall remain bound by it in their mutual relations. They shall furthermore be bound by the Convention in relation to the said Power, if the latter accepts and applies the provisions thereof."
  • Article 3 has been called a "Convention in miniature." It is the only article of the Geneva Conventions that applies in non-international conflicts.[1] It describes minimal protections which must be adhered to by all individuals within a signatory's territory during an armed conflict not of an international character (regardless of citizenship or lack thereof): Non-combatants, members of armed forces who have laid down their arms, and combatants who are hors de combat (out of the fight) due to wounds, detention, or any other cause shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, including prohibition of outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment. The passing of sentences must also be pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognised as indispensable by civilised peoples. Article 3's protections exist even if one is not classified as a prisoner of war. Article 3 also states that parties to the internal conflict should endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of GCIII.
  • Article 4 defines prisoners of war to include:
    • 4.1.1 Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict and members of militias of such armed forces
    • 4.1.2 Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organised resistance movements, provided that they fulfill all of the following conditions:
      • that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
      • that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognisable at a distance (there are limited exceptions to this among countries who observe the 1977 Protocol I);
      • that of carrying arms openly;
      • that of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.
    • 4.1.3 Members of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or an authority not recognised by the Detaining Power.
    • 4.1.4 Civilians who have non-combat support roles with the military and who carry a valid identity card issued by the military they support.
    • 4.1.5 Merchant marine and the crews of civil aircraft of the Parties to the conflict, who do not benefit by more favourable treatment under any other provisions of international law.
    • 4.1.6 Inhabitants of a non-occupied territory, who on the approach of the enemy spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces, without having had time to form themselves into regular armed units, provided they carry arms openly and respect the laws and customs of war.
    • 4.3 makes explicit that Article 33 takes precedence for the treatment of medical personnel of the enemy and chaplains of the enemy.
  • Article 5 specifies that prisoners of war (as defined in article 4) are protected from the time of their capture until their final repatriation. It also specifies that when there is any doubt whether a combatant belongs to the categories in article 4, they should be treated as such until their status has been determined by a competent tribunal.