Does the Filming of the Russian POWs Violate the Geneva Conventions?

I recently wrote a column on why I believe that the Russians are now committing flagrant war crimes. Ukraine is the victim of those crimes and the images from that country are truly sickening.  Vladimir Putin and his government now stands as not just a pariah among nations but criminal actors who have shattered the most basic principles of international law and the Law of War. In that context, it is difficult to raise questions about the response of Ukraine, which is facing annihilation at the hands of a tyrant. However, Ukraine is reportedly showing videotapes of Russian POWs. While it pales in comparison to what is being done by the Russians, the practice may violate Article 13 of the Geneva Conventions. Despite my strong and ongoing support for Ukraine in this struggle, it is important to flag such potential violations when they occur. It also has bearing on the media in using such images.

The Ukrainians are showing weeping Russian prisoners of war who denounce Russia and declare that they were used like ‘cannon fodder’ by Russian commanders. The video airing on the networks show “Security Service of Ukraine” across the top of the images.

As civil libertarians, we are often compelled to raise concerns despite our revulsion with the conduct or views of a party. These soldiers are combatants protected by the Geneva Conventions and other treaties. Ukrainian POWs are protected under the same status.

The issue of filming POWs has long been contrary to the Geneva Conventions.

Here is the relevant provision:

Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.

COMMENTARY OF 2020
ARTICLE 13 : HUMANE TREATMENT OF PRISONERS

Text of the provision*

(1) Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power 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 of the present Convention. In particular, no prisoner of war may be subjected to physical mutilation or to medical or scientific experiments of any kind which are not justified by the medical, dental or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest.

(2) Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.

(3) Measures of reprisal against prisoners of war are prohibited.

* Paragraph numbers have been added for ease of reference.

Likewise, the Fourth Geneva Convention, covering civilians, states:

Protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their persons, their honour, their family rights, their religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs. They shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof and against insults and public curiosity.

Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War art. 27, Aug. 12, 1949, 6 U.S.T. 3516.

Obviously, these provisions do not expressly ban filming of POWs but protects them from acts of “intimidation and … insults and public curiosity.”

The International Red Cross and other international humanitarian groups have long condemned the filming for POWs for propaganda or public messaging.

“Being exposed to ‘public curiosity’ as a prisoner of war, even when such exposure is not accompanied by insulting remarks or actions, is humiliating in itself and therefore specifically prohibited. For the purposes of the present article, ‘public’ should be interpreted as referring to anyone who is not directly involved in handling the prisoners of war, including other members of the Detaining Power. Exposure to public curiosity can take many forms. The prohibition undoubtedly covers parading prisoners in public. Moreover, prisoners must not be exposed to humiliation when they leave their camp for work, are transferred to another facility or are being repatriated. In modern conflicts, the prohibition also covers, subject to the considerations discussed below, the disclosure of photographic and video images, recordings of interrogations or private conversations or personal correspondence or any other private data, irrespective of which public communication channel is used, including the internet. Although this is seemingly different from being marched through a hostile crowd, such disclosure could still be humiliating and jeopardize the safety of the prisoners’ families and of the prisoners themselves once they are released.”

During the Iraq War and other conflicts, the United States has objected to the filming of American POWs as a violation of Article 13.

There have been debates over the use of photos where the identity of POWs are obscured but that is not the case in the Ukrainian footage.

In ACLU v. Dep’t of Def., 543 F.3d 59, 90 (2d Cir. 2008), vacated on other grounds, 130 S. Ct. 777 (2009). the court allowed the release of Abu Ghraib photos of detainee abuse as an exception to these rules but only because the identity of the individuals was obscured.

It is not clear who is in possession or took the videotapes of these POWs. Many citizens are joining the front lines in this fight. However, as difficult as it is in this fluid battlefield, Ukraine is under an obligation to seek adherence to the conventions.

One answer cannot be that the Russians deserve it. The Conventions are only viable if they are applied evenly. If we apply the rules selectively, the Russians will claim the same exceptional status in their treatment of Ukrainian POWs.

There may be a claim that these POWs volunteered to make such statements. For example, the media may claim that it was given access to these soldiers who agreed to be interviewed. The Red Cross has always been leery of such consent claims when a combatant is being held. Moreover, one article suggests that the government was behind the display, noting “Ukraine on Wednesday invited the worried mothers of Russian troops captured on the battlefield to come and collect their sons.”

We need to know more about these circumstances, but these videotapes raise a credible concern over adherence to Article 13.

 

180 thoughts on “Does the Filming of the Russian POWs Violate the Geneva Conventions?”

  1. Grammar Check. Do the Russian POWs …….deserve etc. Russia is not under the civilized nation groups thinking on this manner. So No. BUT using the example of the of the post WWII trials of Nazi Socialist leaders Putin and others can be tried by he ultimate winning side as were the German leaders then hung by the neck until dead. Nuremberg trials. I would not recommend the World Court in this case they are far too prone to support socialism and giving Putinists an award of some sort..

    1. “What about article people are dying for no reason”…..what does this even mean? Please interpret as it is a nonsensical statement. Wow!

  2. The piece is very interesting but it misses one particular issue. The question of “public curiosity” is not merely one of whether or not a POW was subjected to video recording or whether or not the video was broadcast to the public. There is also a question of intent.

    In this instance, if the statement given by a POW is of probative value, it would constitute EVIDENCE against the Putin Regime and the Russian military. If the statement given by the POW crosses into the realm of evidence and is being broadcast to the world for that purpose, it is no longer a “public curiosity.” It is a matter of the public record and should properly be deemed that way rather than as a breach of the Geneva Convention.

    Insofar as the intent of the Ukrainian military was dissemination – and thus preservation – of evidence rather than humiliation of POWs, violation of the Convention cannot be properly deemed to have been proven.

  3. If Mikhailovich deserted the Russian army and was granted asylum, then he’s no longer a POW and therefore not subject to the GC, right?
    After giving that speech, he’s probably a dead man if he returns to Russia while Putin is still in power.

  4. Putin hasn’t exactly obsessed over making sure that international laws are followed.

    1. The Ukrainian government has distributed weapons and ammo, has given training in building and using ieds, and boasted that their civilians will resist. The Ukrainian government has turned their civilians into combatants.
      Russia has attempted to give any bonafide civilians a route away from the fighting.
      The Ukrainian government has NOT informed their people that by taking up arms, they become combatants under the laws of war and are legitimate targets when they do.

      With the government arming and training civilians and those civilians engaging Russian troops and not leaving the areas of contention, they no longer have the protection of “civilians”..

      You can all sit there and claim that Russia is “losing the war” because Russia didn’t roll up Ukraine in a few days or a week.. but if he had, there would have been tens of thousands of civilians dead.

      Russia is taking it slow to avoid mass civilian casualties.
      But at some point, Russia is going to have to take the Ukrainian’s word that their civilians in the combat arena are actually combatants..

      Most US folks that would take up arms realize that they would not be “victims” if they took up arms.
      The Ukrainians taking up arms are willingly putting targets on themselves.
      The Ukrainians ambush a Russian security patrol amongst a nuclear facility and start a fire in a training building, then scream “Danger , danger” about a non-existent threat to reactors… for what, little damage, they themselves caused.
      The Ukrainians are also FORCING ales age 18 to 60 to stay in the country and fight,… whether they want to or not..

      Forced conscription, turning their civilians into combatants, initiating combat at a nuclear plant, employing neo-Nazi “Azov brigade” as “enforcers” and thugs against Russians in Donbas, and now violating the Geneva convention.

      The Ukrainian government are not victims. Nor good guys.

      I don’t have much sympathy for them.. they could have avoided all of this by following through in the Minsk accords.
      They had 8 years to do so..
      Instead they spent 8 years killing Russians in Donbas while Obama gave away Crimea after his administration (especially nulamd) was up to their eyeballs in planning, supporting, financing and guiding the Maidan coup..
      and Joe, pelousy, Kerry and Romney and their families all got rich from corrupt Ukrainian bribes while not only ignoring, but actively destroying the “sacred borders and sovereignty” of the USA.
      The west and Ukraine could have committed to a neutral, non-nato Ukraine.. even for a set number of years and kicked that can down the road..

      Instead, they all thought it would be a hoot to see if they could get WW3 started.
      I have no desire to see the world burn over Ukraine.
      Nope, could not care less about Ukraine.

      1. Matt, you really need to dial the emotions down a couple of notches because you sound like raving lunatic or a paid russian bot.

  5. Putin has not been fair, so he should be treated unfairly in every way possible, in kind.

  6. The world is a China shop, and Putin is the bull. Attacking all of Europe with radiation: if this doesn’t warrant an invoking of Article 5, then I don’t know what does.

      1. M:

        Now you’ve done it. You disturbed their panic-mongering with facts.

        Meanwhile, back at home: Skyrocketing inflation that makes Americans poorer, rampant crime, a president who is a senile case and a VP who is a certifiable imbecile, and an administration bent on quelling all dissent.

  7. Does Ukraine sell electricity to NATO members? If so, this attack on the power plant could be considered an attack on NATO, as it affects them.

        1. There wasn’t a nuclear explosion at Chernobyl either, yet that disaster created significant nuclear contamination: a 1000 sq. mile exclusion zone, billions in damage, radiation-induced cancer deaths, and more.

          1. Anon,

            That is a fair assessment of the potential damage if a reactor catastrophically failed or was destroyed. There is a current misperception that a failed or destroyed reactor would create a nuclear explosion and i thought that this is what you were suggesting. My apologies for the misunderstanding.

    1. Well that is just dumb..
      So when nato members bar Russian gas and oil from nato countries, that could be considered an attack on nato?

    2. Go ahead and cast that stone. The enfeebled CRT forces of the West might be able to rain destruction down upon Russia, but they almost certainly cannot prevent the utter destruction of the West in retaliation.

      Mr. Putin made his point clear when he stated words to the effect of, “There is no point to a world without Russia.”

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