Rishi Raju, Jindal Global Law School
Popular Culture more than often reflects elucidations of law in reality. Popular culture depicts instances such as war, treatment towards prisoners and aspects criminal law, varying in its nature and content. Recently, Game of Thrones (or Song of Ice and Fire Series) has grasped its clutches on society and media. Characters from Game of Thrones either obey or diverge from International Humanitarian Law (IHL) principles in reality. Recently viewers all over the world were exposed to the idea of allowing Mance Ryder, the leader of the Free Folk, to be burnt alive at the Wall by Stannis Baratheon. Where the humane treatment of Mance Rayder in the television series is never highlighted, analysing Stannis Baratheon’s actions along with Article 13 of Geneva Convention, in order to understand IHL in the context of popular culture may help.
GAME OF THRONES AND INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW
Geneva Convention III expressly deals with the treatment of prisoners of war. Prisoner of war is defined in Article 4 of the Convention,[ii] where a person who has been caught and imprisoned by the enemy in war. Article 13 of the Geneva Convention requires the prisoner of war is, at all times, to be treated with basic human dignity.[iii] In context of Game of Thrones, Season 5, The Wars to Come, where Mance Rayder is held at the Wall by Stannis Baratheon as a prisoner of war, it is argued that the action of Stannis Baratheon against Mance was against Article 13 of the Convention.
THE VIOLATION TO COME
Mance Rayder, the leader of the Free Folks, threatens Jon Snow to allow the wildings to pass the Wall due to the threat of the White Walkers or the whole Castle Black would face massacre by the Wildlings. At the end of the threat, where Mance questions Jon Snow whether he would be able to massacre the same people who he has shared food with, Stannis Baratheon marches at Castle Black.
Stannis Baratheon states that his men have bled a lot in warfare and he would not carry on the attack as long as the Wildlings recognize Stannis as their God. Mance refused to acknowledge Stannis as the true king. Stannis spares his behaviour and captures him as a prisoner of war.[iv] However, he asks Jon to convince Mance to bend his knee and help him in his quest to take Winterfell, otherwise, he would be forced to burn Mance alive.
Mance was given a last chance to kneel, but he refused to accept the offer. Melissandre calling him the King of Lies proceeds ahead and lights fire to the pyre where Mance is tied. At this instant, its implication on IHL may have been overlooked by its audience, however, it is argued that under the current popular culture reflects it has defied the rights provided to prisoners of war which is granted under the Geneva Convention III.
EXTENT OF ARTICLE 13 IN RESPECT OF THE VIOLATION
The fundamental requirement under Ar. 13 of the said convention is to treat a prisoner of war humanely, the term “treated” must be understood in the most generic sense as to be provided with basic human respect.[v] The article creates a positive obligation towards the part which is holding the prisoner of war, to treat at all times the prisoner with basic human dignity. The provision receives its full importance when human value of the prisoner of war is at peril.
Mance Rayder is a prisoner of war under Article 4 of the Convention
Article 4 (1) of the said Convention states that a prisoner of war is a person who is “members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces”.[vi] In the present scenario in the episode of Game of Thrones it is seen that Mance Rayder is a party to the conflict, who wages war towards the army controlled by Stannis. At the outset of the conflict, where the Free Folks are not equipped enough to beat Stannis, it is seen that Stannis himself captures Mance and takes him as a prisoner. As a part of the conflict and head of the Free Folks (the party to the conflict), Mance would be considered as a prisoner of war.
Stannis has acted inconsistent with the mandate under Article 13 of the Convention
The primary obligation that stems from the said provision is to protect the life and health of the prisoner. Further, to protect someone means to give him assistance and support and defend or guard him from all danger.[vii] Additionally, it casts an obligation towards the detaining part not to injure or cause death of the detained party.
In the present scenario it is seen that Stannis Baratheon had taken Mance to be a prisoner war after the conflict with the Free Folks. Pursuant to that, the present Convention casts an obligation on Stannis, to treat him in a dignified manner, or at the least humanely. Additionally, under the said provision, a duty is cast on the detaining power to not harm and defend the prisoner in the time of danger. Not only has Stannis Baratheon acted inconsistent with the obligation, it has violated the purpose of the said provision. Stannis had offered him allegiance but it was rather a sordid coercion as opposed to a humanely response to a prisoner. Acting inconsistent with the coercive orders of Stannis, Mance was put to death due to his reluctance in joining the army of Stannis. For this, he was set ablaze, and Stannis fell short of the obligation that was beset upon him while taking Mance as a prisoner of war.
Films and television serials act as a venue where reality is interpreted and subsequently represented. A very few of the masses would be able to reiterate the complexities of war and the obligations of humanitarian law. In other instances, most of the wars or battles that are experienced by people are before a screen. With the advent of Game of Thrones series, aspects of war, internal conflict, or obligations towards prisoners are not always consistent with laws of war or humanitarian law. But then, these are mere fictional adaptations while the humanitarian crisis in Middle east is not. Who will answer for Libya, Syria and Iraq?
[i] The Wars to Come, Game of Thrones Wiki, (Available at: http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/The_Wars_to_Come), accessed on May 16, 2015
[ii] Article 4 of the Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.
[iii] Geneva Conventions For the Protection of War Victims, Message from the President of the United States of America, 1951, (Available at: http://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/Military_Law/pdf/GC_message-1951.pdf), accessed on May 16, 2015
[v] Commentary – Art. 13. Part II : General protection of prisoners of war (Available at: https://www.icrc.org/applic/ihl/ihl.nsf/Comment.xsp?viewComments=LookUpCOMART&articleUNID=CD863DC518A5E1D7C12563CD0051AB7A) accessed on May 16, 2015
[vi] Commentary – Art. 4. Part I : General provisions, (Available at: https://www.icrc.org/applic/ihl/ihl.nsf/Comment.xsp?viewComments=LookUpCOMART&articleUNID=2F681B08868538C2C12563CD0051AA8D) accessed on May 16, 2015
[vii] Commentary – Art. 13. Part II : General protection of prisoners of war (Available at: https://www.icrc.org/applic/ihl/ihl.nsf/Comment.xsp?viewComments=LookUpCOMART&articleUNID=CD863DC518A5E1D7C12563CD0051AB7A) accessed on May 16, 2015