Torture: What The Law Says About It


The Geneva Convention, relative to the Treatment of Prisoners-of-War, (as amended 1949) was ratified by every member of the UN, including Afghanistan, Iraq, and the U.S. Those who have prisoners must, as a matter of international law, obey it. Since the treaty cannot be described any better than through its own terms, the following is a series of quotes from the Geneva Convention:

HUMANE TREATMENT: “Prisoners-of-war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission…causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner-of-war, in its custody, is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach.…Prisoners-of-war must at all times be protected particularly against acts of violence” (Art. 13).

NO TORTURE: “No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted upon prisoners-of-war to secure from them information of any kind” (Art. 17).

INTERROGATION LIMITS: “Every prisoner-of-war, when questioned… is bound to give only his surname, first names and rank, date of birth, and army, regimental, personal or serial number (Art. 17). “Prisoners-of-war, who refuse to answer, may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment, of any kind” (Art. 17).

NO DARK CELLS: “Corporal punishments, imprisonment in premises without daylight and in general, any form of torture or cruelty are forbidden.” (Art. 87).

NO CLOSE CONFINES: Prisoners-of-war may not be held in close confinement except…during…circumstances which make such confinement necessary” (Art. 21).

NO ISOLATION: Prisoners shall not be separated from prisoners-of-war belonging to the armed forces with which they were serving at the time of their capture” (Art. 22).

FOOD: Canteens shall be installed in all camps, where prisoners-of-war may procure foodstuffs, soap and tobacco and ordinary articles in daily use” (Art 28).

SHELTER: Prisoners-of-war shall be quartered under conditions as favorable as those for the forces of the detaining power, who are billeted in the same area….The foregoing provisions shall apply in particular to the dormitories of prisoners-of-war, as regards both total surface and minimum cubic space, and the general installations, bedding, and blankets” (Art 25).

MEDICINE: Medical inspections of prisoners-of-war shall be held at least once a month (Art. 31).

RECREATION: The detaining power shall encourage the practice of intellectual educational and recreational pursuits, sports and games amongst prisoners, and shall take measures necessary to ensure the exercise thereof by providing them with adequate premises and necessary equipment” (Art 38).

MAIL: “In the event a prisoner is transferred, prisoners shall be advised of their new postal address, and allowed to inform their next of kin…Mail and parcels addressed to their former camp shall be forwarded to them without delay” (Art. 48). “Every prisoner-of-war shall be enabled to write direct to his family…informing his relatives of his capture, address and state of health (Art. 70). “Prisoners-of-war shall be allowed to send and receive letters and cards…not less than two letters and four cards monthly” (Art. 71). “Prisoners-of-war shall be allowed to receive…parcels or…shipments containing in particular, foodstuffs, clothing, medical supplies and articles of a religious, educational or recreational character” (Art. 72). “The censoring of correspondence addressed to prisoners-of-war, or dispatched by them, shall be done as quickly as possible” (Art. 76).

RED CROSS: There shall be “no obstacle to the humanitarian activities which the…Red Cross…undertake for the protection of prisoners-of-war, and for their relief” (Art. 9).

ACCESS TO PRISONERS: “Representatives or delegates of the protecting powers, shall have permission to go to all places where prisoners-of-war may be, particularly to places of internment, imprisonment and labor, and shall have access to all premises occupied by prisoners-of-war….They hall be able to interview the prisoners and in particular the prisoners representatives, without witnesses, either personally, or through an interpreter” (Art. 126).

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