Care of prisoners/detainees
The Third Geneva Convention of 1949 makes specific provision for the care of prisoners of war. This places responsibilities on those detaining prisoners of war to treat them with dignity, humanity and to ensure that they have access to appropriate medical care. Articles 29-32 of this Geneva Convention cover medical attention, medical inspections, and prisoners on medical duties. Article 33 covers the rights and responsibilities of deemed personal including medical personnel retained to care for prisoners of war. In addition, there is the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment that came into force in 1987
Unfortunately, in times of war and armed conflict, prisoners may not be treated according to these provisions. This may include unethical behaviour by medical and healthcare personnel. Perhaps the worst examples of such practice were the experiments conducted on prisoners under the auspices of the Nazi regime in Germany and by Unit 731 of the Japanese Army during the Second World War. There is evidence of mistreatment of prisoners during the counter insurgency operations during the so-called wars of liberation such as in Malaya, Kenya, Aden, Algeria, Vietnam, the Belgian Congo. More recently there has been evidence of mistreatment of prisoners in Northern Ireland, the Balkans wars, Iraq and Afghanistan. This includes the involvement of medical personnel and psychologists in the assessment of ‘fitness for interrogation’ and advice on physical and psychological techniques to break prisoners’ morale. Specific examples include the abuse of prisoners by US forces in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the Baha Mousa case concerning UK Armed Forces, transfer of Afghan detainees by Canadian forces to the Afghan security forces, and killing of Afghan detainees by Australian Special Forces.
Since these events, many countries have issued specific guidance for the handling of prisoners or war and detainees to ensure compliance with International Humanitarian Law. Military and military medical personnel need to understand their legal and ethical duties towards the care of prisoners of war. They also need to understand the distinction between a prisoner of war (subject to protection under the Geneva Conventions) and a detainee or other term to describe a person deprived of their liberty under national criminal law.