Wagner boss Prigozhin declares “Take no prisoners” violating 1907 Hague Convention

Here is the news story, Wagner Group boss tells his mercenaries ‘not to take POWs’, as reported by the Kyiv Independent in Ukraine.

“We will kill everyone on the battlefield. Take no more prisoners of the war!”, Prigozhin said on April 23 in an audio recording in response to a question posted on the Telegram account of his press service.

Prigozhin tried to justify this decision by saying that they would only be required to protect enemy combatants once they are taken in as prisoners of war (POWs). He claimed that killing enemy troops on the battlefield is always justifiable. However, this is not how international law regards such a situation. In particular the 1907 Hague Convention, to which Russia is a signatory (in 1909), forbids declaring “no quarter”, which is exactly what Prigozhin is doing. Declaring no quarter means declaring that you will not take prisoners.

To make this even more clear, the Hague Convention specifies that it is against the Convention to kill defenseless or surrendering enemy combatants on the battlefield as well as to declare that you will not take prisoners of war:

“Art. 23.
In addition to the prohibitions provided by special Conventions, it is especially forbidden —
To kill or wound an enemy who, having laid down his arms, or having no longer means of defence, has surrendered at discretion;

To declare that no quarter will be given;”
the Hague Convention of 1907

To comply with the Convention, Russian troops, as well as Wagner troops, must accept prisoners of war, including those who have laid down their arms, or who no longer have a means of defense, for example, if they run out of ammunition, or if a particular troop is badly wounded. And it is particularly forbidden to make a declaration that one will not take prisoners, which is what declaring “no quarter” means. So Prigozhin’s declaration must be withdrawn, and Prigozhin must instruct his troops to take prisoners.

Does it matter that the Wagner Group is not a regular part of the Russian military? No. The Hague Convention also applies to “belligerents”, as defined in Art. 1: “The laws, rights, and duties of war apply not only to armies, but also to militia and volunteer corps….” Wagner meets the conditions for “belligerents”, if they perhaps do not meet the conditions to be considered regular military troops. So, regardless of whether they are considered regular military or not, Wagner is still under the Hague Convention, to which the Russia is a signatory since 1909. This was before the U.S.S.R. began (in 1922), so Russia was a signatory as the Russian Empire.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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