prisoner of war

noun phrase

Definition of prisoner of war

: a person captured in war especially : a member of the armed forces of a nation who is taken by the enemy during combat

First Known Use of prisoner of war

1608, in the meaning defined above

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The first known use of prisoner of war was in 1608

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Cite this Entry

“Prisoner of war.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Feb. 2020.

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prisoner of war


English Language Learners Definition of prisoner of war

: a soldier who has been captured during a war by the enemy

prisoner of war

Legal Definition of prisoner of war

: a person captured in war especially : a member of the armed forces of a nation who is taken by the enemy during combat

Note: Under the Third Geneva Convention, a person is a prisoner of war if he or she falls in one of the following categories: 1) a member of the armed forces of a party to the conflict or of a militia or volunteer corps that is part of the armed forces; 2) a member of another militia or volunteer corps who is a lawful combatant; 3) a member of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or authority not recognized by his or her captor; 4) a person who accompanies the armed forces but is not a member of it provided they have proper authority to accompany it; 5) members of the merchant marine and crews of civil aircraft who do not fall under more favorable designations under international law; and 6) inhabitants of territory facing approach of the enemy who spontaneously resist invasion and carry arms openly and respect the laws of war. Prisoners of war are entitled to certain rights (as to humane treatment) under the Convention. Two further categories of people entitled to treatment as prisoners of war are 1) persons belonging or having belonged to the armed forces of an occupied country who were liberated but have been confined especially when they have tried to rejoin the armed forces or have not complied with a summons attempting to confine them; and 2) persons falling under any of the categories of those entitled to treatment as prisoners of war who are received by neutral countries that are required to confine them by international law, with certain exceptions specified in the Convention.

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