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BACKGROUND REPORT – March 25, 2003: Geneva Conventions - 2003-03-26

This is a Special English background report about the Geneva Conventions.

Iraqi television has shown a videotape of American soldiers captured in southern Iraq. The soldiers were being questioned by Iraqis. Iraqi television also showed the bodies of several American soldiers who had been killed. The video was also broadcast outside Iraq by the Arabic television network al-Jazeera.

In Washington, American Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld accused Iraq of trying to use the capture for propaganda purposes. He said showing the video on Iraqi television violates international laws about the treatment of prisoners of war. These laws are called the Geneva Conventions. The Geneva Conventions have governed the treatment of prisoners of war for more than fifty years.

In nineteen-forty-nine, hundreds of diplomats met in Geneva, Switzerland. They established a set of humanitarian rules for the treatment and protection of people caught up in war. These included the treatment of wounded soldiers and prisoners of war as well as the protection of civilians. The diplomats agreed on four conventions. Today, about one-hundred-ninety countries honor the Geneva Conventions.

American officials say broadcasting the Iraqi video violates Article thirteen of the Geneva Conventions. Article thirteen says prisoners of war must be treated humanely at all times. It bans any unlawful act causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war. And prisoners of war must be protected against acts of violence, insults and public curiosity.

Iraq’s defense minister reportedly said his country will obey the Geneva Conventions in its treatment of American and British prisoners.

The international human rights group Amnesty International called on the news media to honor the rights of captured soldiers on both sides of the conflict. American television news broadcasts have shown pictures of surrendered and captured Iraqi troops.Experts say technology has changed since nineteen-forty-nine. When the Geneva Conventions were established, television did not broadcast live from areas of war. However, the experts say the protections guaranteed by the Geneva Conventions still must be obeyed today.