Better off as a prisoners of war : the differential standard of protection for military internees in Switzerland during World War II
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Journal of the history of international law, Vol. 15, issue 2, 2013, p. 173-199
Dwight S. Mears
During World War II, thousands of belligerent servicemen were interned in neutral countries. Those interned by permanent neutrals such as Switzerland experienced more stringent application of internment that denied the legal protections afforded to PoWs of enemy states, including harsh imprinsonment for attempting to escape. The Swiss decision to deny PoW protection to internees triggered an international debate over customary protections of internees, and eventually led to explicit protections which were incorporated into the 1949 Geneva Convention (III) Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. The ICRC’s humanitarian mandate made it an authority on the law of armed conflict, including the law which protected internees of neutral countries. During World War II, concern over potential abuses of the law prompted the organization to clarify the customary international law of internment. This article retraces the diplomatic stalemate induced by the Swiss decision.