Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Thursday, April 1, 1999 Published at 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK

World: Europe

PoWs: Advice and rights

Serbian TV showed pictures of three US soldiers

 Click here for live coverage on the crisis

The three US soldiers captured by Serbia looked battered and bruised when they were shown on state-controlled television.

Kosovo: Special Report
Serbia says they had put up resistance and that the prisoners will be treated in compliance with the Geneva Convention on political prisoners.

But Britain has accused Serbia of acting in direct contravention of the Geneva Convention in taking the three captive and parading them for propaganda purposes.

[ image: The US says the GIs vanished in Macedonia, near the Serbian border]
The US says the GIs vanished in Macedonia, near the Serbian border
The British Army says that even though the conflict is not a war "as such", the conflict would indeed still be covered by the terms of the Geneva Convention.

In event of capture

Spokesman Michael Devlin was reluctant to go into operational details but he told BBC News Online that British soldiers are thoroughly trained in what to do in the event of capture.

He indicated that four key areas are:

  • Do not disclose any useful information to the enemy
  • Be aware of your rights as a political prisoner
  • Make sure your captor is aware of your rights
  • Maintain your morale
He added that there was always a certain amount of shock involved in being taken captive, so training must be extremely thorough and "robust".

Knowledge of the Geneva Convention is an "essential part" of training, as are "conduct after capture" classes.

Vuk Draskovic, Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister: "Nothing wrong could happen to the captives"
The spokesman said common sense and a sense of humour is very important - and soldiers must also be aware that they may be used as a propaganda tool.

The training, he added, has been shaped by lessons learned from the Gulf War, but more specifically from the Korean War and the Vietnam War - and there are still lessons to be learned from World War II.

Still doing their job

Soldiers who become prisoners of war are still considered to be working, according to a spokeswoman at the US Mission in Brussels - their job is to be good prisoners.

US military personnel take an oath not to do anything while being held captive to "embarrass" their country or be "detrimental to it".

Former SAS soldier Andy McNab, who was captured during the Gulf War and wrote the book Bravo Two Zero about his experience, agreed that the three men are still working.

They would have been trained to cope with captivity, although that training would not overcome the "initial fear and disbelief" of being taken prisoner, he said.

But once they are being interrogated, they would follow the procedure of only revealing limited information like their number, rank, name and date of birth.

Mr McNab said: "They don't want to appear aggressive to their captors, they don't want to appear being belligerent.

"But that's not to say that their minds are not working overtime to make sure they only give the correct information and still do their job, because they've still got a job to do," he added.

"Their job now is to be a prisoner and there are certain responsibilities to that."

The men would be encouraged because they were captured together and so there would be "a lot of hope and a lot of strength" shared between them, he said.

Treatment of PoWs

Key points of the convention regarding treatment of prisoners of war are:

  • Every prisoner of war is bound to give only his surname, first names and rank, date of birth, and army, regimental, personal or serial number, or similar information.
  • Prisoners must at all times be humanely treated.
  • They must not be subject to physical or mental torture, mutilation or medical or scientific experiments.
  • They must be protected against insults and public curiosity.
  • They must be given free medical attention, and their upkeep must be free.
  • Soldiers' identiy cards - showing the owner's surname, first names, rank, army, regimental, personal or serial number or equivalent information, and date of birth - may not be taken away.
  • The questioning of prisoners of war shall be carried out in a language which they understand.
  • All personal effects shall remain in their possession.
  • Prisoners of war shall be evacuated, as soon as possible, our of the combat zone - and transported in a humane manner.
  • Premises must be of a reasonable standard, in terms of heating, lighting, ventilation
  • Food rations and drinking water must be sufficient.
  • Smoking must be allowed.
  • Suitable clothing, underwear and footwear and sanitary facilities must be provided.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia

Relevant Stories

31 Mar 99 | Europe
Kosovo Albanian leader 'alive and well'

31 Mar 99 | Europe
Fleeing Kosovo: Images of the refugee crisis

31 Mar 99 | Sci/Tech
Nato under 'cyber attack'

31 Mar 99 | UK
'No place to hide' for Milosevic

30 Mar 99 | Kosovo
Ground troops: Why Nato says no

30 Mar 99 | Kosovo
Analysis: Will the conflict spread?

31 Mar 99 | UK
Weather plagues Harrier raids

30 Mar 99 | Kosovo
Analysis: Will the conflict spread?

Internet Links

United Nations

Institute for War and Peace Reporting


Serbian Ministry of Information

Kosova Press


United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

International Crisis Group

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Violence greets Clinton visit

Russian forces pound Grozny

EU fraud: a billion dollar bill

Next steps for peace

Cardinal may face loan-shark charges

From Business
Vodafone takeover battle heats up

Trans-Turkish pipeline deal signed

French party seeks new leader

Jube tube debut

Athens riots for Clinton visit

UN envoy discusses Chechnya in Moscow

Solana new Western European Union chief

Moldova's PM-designate withdraws

Chechen government welcomes summit

In pictures: Clinton's violent welcome

Georgia protests over Russian 'attack'

UN chief: No Chechen 'catastrophe'

New arms control treaty for Europe

From Business
Mannesmann fights back

EU fraud -- a billion-dollar bill

New moves in Spain's terror scandal

EU allows labelling of British beef

UN seeks more security in Chechnya

Athens riots for Clinton visit

Russia's media war over Chechnya

Homeless suffer as quake toll rises

Analysis: East-West relations must shift