About those Geneva Conventions (II)

An exchange from last week’s meeting of Parliament’s special committee on the mission in Afghanistan. The full and official transcript of the meeting is not yet online.

Mr. Laurie Hawn (Edmonton Centre – Conservative – Parliamentary Sec. to Minister of Defence): You mentioned that the Afghan prisoners are not POWs but we’re treating them like POWs. That suggests to me that we are perhaps going above and beyond what would be our legal international obligations. Is that a fair statement or not?

BGen Kenneth W. Watkin: One of the challenges with respect to, particularly contemporary armed conflict is so few are between states. The vast majority of the treaty law is with respect to one state fighting another state. With respect for instance to the four Geneva Conventions and in particular Geneva Convention 3 that deals with POWs and Geneva Convention 4 that deals with civilians, there’s a set treaty regime. There’s Common Article 3 to the four conventions which will provide for non-international armed conflicts.

There is a treaty and additional protocols to the Geneva Conventions which specifically deals with non-international armed conflict. In terms of customary international law which relies that assessment on the treaties themselves, that sets a well established and a high standard of treatment. Certainly the approach of the Canadian Forces is a matter of doctrine is to apply that high standard in terms of anyone who they detain and in that is standards of humanity and care in treating.

Looking for more?

Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.