The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Third Geneva Convention

The Third Geneva Convention (GCIII) regarded the treatment of prisoners of war (POW). It was adopted in 1929 as an extension to the rights guaranteed by the Hague Convention of 1907. It was revised in 1949, with the modified form adopted on August 12, 1949 by the Diplomatic Conference for the Establishment of International Conventions for the Protection of Victims of War, held in Geneva from April 21 to August 12, 1949, and entered into force on October 21 1950.

This article is a commentary, see for full text.


Part I. General Provisions

This part sets out the overall parameters for GCIII:

  • Articles 1 and 2 cover the which parties are bound by GCIII
  • Art 2. specifies
    • That for "High Contracting Parties" any armed conflict is covered by GCIII;
    • That it applies to occupations of enemy territory;
    • That the relationship between the "High Contracting Parties" and a non-signatory, the party will remain bound until such time as 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."
  • Art 3 covers internal armed conflict (not of an international character) and it provides similar protections for combatants as those described in the rest of this document for a prisoner of war. That Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including POWs; shall in all circumstances be treated humanely. It also lays out some basic rules for the treatment of all people combatants and non-combatants alike. Art 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.
  • Art 4 covers all conflicts not covered by Art 3 which are all conflicts of an international character. It defines who is a prisoner of war and therefor a protected person under GCIII. Those entitled to prisoner of war status include:
    • 4.1.1 Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflic and members of militias of such armed forces
    • 4.1.2 Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps , including those of organized resistance movements, provided that they fulfil the following conditions:
      • that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
      • that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance (although this is not required under 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 recognized by the Detaining Power .
    • 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.
  • Art 5 apply all combatants, should any doubt arise as to whether persons is a lawful combatant they will be treated as such until their status has been determined by a competent tribunal. Art. 5 is currently one of the most controversial articles of GCIII, because it forms, (along with parts of 4 Art. of the GCIV and Art 5. of the GCIV ,) the Administration of the USA's interpretation of unlawful combatants. The exact definition of "lawful combatant" has been subject to a number of discussions in view of a number of public military conflicts in the 2000s, including the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Because many of the people fighting are not members of the armed forces of a Party and do not have uniforms it is claimed that they do not display a "fixed distinctive sign recognisable at a distance" they are thus not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Convention as "unlawful combatants".
  • A number of articles specify how Protecting Powers, ICRC and other humanitarian organizations may aid protected persons who are POWs, medical personnel and chaplains.


All the articles listed below cover international conflicts. Internal conflicts are covered by article 3.

  • (Art 4) "Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present Convention, are persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy"
    • "Members of the armed forces"
    • "militias...including those of organized resistance movements...having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance...conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war"
    • "Persons who accompany the armed forces"
    • "Members of crews...of the merchant marine and the crews of civil aircraft"
    • "Inhabitants of a non-occupied territory, who on the approach of the enemy spontaneously take up arms"
  • (Art 5):"Should any doubt arise as to whether persons, having committed a belligerent act..." is a prisoner of war "...such persons shall enjoy the protection of the present Convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal."
  • (Art 13): "Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated."
  • (Art 13): "...Prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity."
  • (Art 17): "No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind."
  • (Art 25): "Prisoners of war shall be quartered under conditions as favourable as those for the forces of the Detaining Power who are billeted in the same area."
  • (Art 27): "Clothing, underwear and footwear shall be supplied to prisoners of war"
  • (Art 33): "Members of the medical personnel and chaplains while retained by the Detaining Power with a view to assisting prisoners of war, shall not be considered as prisoners of war. They shall, however, receive as a minimum the benefits and protection of the present Convention, and shall also be granted all facilities necessary to provide for the medical care of, and religious ministration to prisoners of war."
  • (Art 39): "Prisoners of war, with the exception of officers, must salute and show to all officers of the Detaining Power the external marks of respect provided for by the regulations applying in their own forces."
  • (Art 42): "The use of weapons against prisoners of war, especially against those who are escaping or attempting to escape, shall constitute an extreme measure, which shall always be preceded by warnings appropriate to the circumstances."
  • (Art 69): "Immediately upon prisoners of war falling into its power, the Detaining Power shall inform them and the Powers on which they depend, through the Protecting Power , of the measures taken to carry out the provisions of the present Section. They shall likewise inform the parties concerned of any subsequent modifications of such measures."
  • (Art 88): "Officers, non-commissioned officers and men who are prisoners of war undergoing a disciplinary or judicial punishment, shall not be subjected to more severe treatment than that applied in respect of the same punishment to members of the armed forces of the Detaining Power of equivalent rank."
  • (Art 89): Provides for fines, discontinuance of privileges above those required by the Convention, fatigue duties up to two hours per day and confinement. "In no case shall disciplinary punishments be inhuman, brutal or dangerous to the health of prisoners of war."

See also

External links

Last updated: 05-12-2005 23:52:17
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04