Towards a global understanding of the humane treatment of captured enemy fighters
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Frontiers of law in China, Vol. 12, no. 2, June 2017, p. 217-277
The prevailing narrative instructs us that humane treatment of captured enemy fighters is down to white knights from the western parts of the European continent with their codes of chivalry, or alternatively, the Swiss businessman Henri Dunant. This contribution challenges that narrative for overlooking, or being ignorant of, the way that societies around the world have approached the matter of the captured enemy fighter. Traces of some of the critical principles about humane treatment that we see in our present law can actually be found in much older societies from outside of Europe. A more accurate and representative way of understanding humanitarianism in the treatment of captured enemy fighters can and must be crafted, with the prevailing Euro-centric account balanced with practices, cultures and faiths from elsewhere. The quest to achieve more humane treatment in armed conflict is first and foremost a battle of the intellect. Narratives and conceptualisations that are more inclusive, recognising and appreciating of the ways of the rest of the world are likely to be more effective in communicating humanitarian ideals. This work adopts a new method of approaching the richness and diversity of the treatment of captured enemy fighters over time and space. This new framework of analysis uses six cross-cutting themes to facilitate a broader international and comparative perspective, and develop a more sophisticated level of understanding. The first theme is how older and indigenous societies approached the matter of captured enemy fighters. The second focuses on religions of the world, and what they teach or require. The third section examines the matter of martial practices and codes of ethics for combatants in certain societies. The fourth category engages with colonisation and decolonisation, and regulation (or non-regulation) of the treatment of captives of war. Fifth is the issue of modernisation and the impact it has had on armed forces and fighters, including on the treatment of captives. The final issue is the shift towards formalised agreements, beginning with the first bilateral agreements and then the multilateral codification exercise that began in the mid-19th century and continues to this day. This framework for analysis leads into a final chapter, presenting a fresh and holistic view on the evolution of prisoner of war protections in the international order. It provides a different way of looking at International Humanitarian Law, starting with this effort at a global understanding of the treatment of captured enemy fighters.
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