What Geneva Conventions?

David Rivkin & Lee Casey:


The Geneva Convention, which binds Iran, requires that the captives be treated honorably and humanely. POWs "must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity." This includes parading them before television cameras and using them as propaganda tools, as has already been done. They are entitled to contact with the International Committee of the Red Cross, and they may not be used as hostages.

Moreover, once the armed conflict that brought the Geneva Convention into play — Iran's capture of the British force operating in Iraqi waters — has ended, they must be released at once. Unless Iran now considers itself to be engaged in active hostilities against Britain — and potentially, with Britain's allies such as the United States — the sailors must be repatriated. POWs cannot be held beyond the close of active hostilities. That is the law.

It is doubtful whether Iran will comply. It has reneged on its promise to free the one female British POW because of Britain's threatened freeze on bilateral diplomatic relations. This makes clear its intentions to use innocent men and women as bargaining chips to obtain other advantages. We can expect efforts by Tehran to exchange the Brits for the five Iranian infiltrators recently captured in Iraq by U.S. forces, or for the former Iranian deputy defense minister, Ali Reza Asghari, who is believed to have defected to the West in February.

The international community's failure to show immediate outrage at Iran's action is deafening. Ancient legal principles governing how states make war are on the line. Compliance with the laws of war is most important at the time of actual conflict. These principles are already, unfortunately, under assault by terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda. Permitting a United Nations member state that is also a regional power like Iran to violate these norms repeatedly and with impunity would have grave humanitarian consequences for the future.

The UN's show if "grave concern" as opposed to "deploring" the Iranian actions is because the Russian are relying on the Iranian's bad faith claims about where the kidnapping took place. The case once again shows how the Geneva Conventions are just a unilateral contract binding only on the west and that the enforcers have a ridiculous double standard that does not even embarrass them. It is multilateralism at its worst.


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