The Major Humanitarian Dilemma of Neutrality: The International Committee of the Red Cross and Prisoners of War in Korea, 1950–1953

Abstract: This article examines how the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) addressed the complex issue of the 150,000 North Korean and Chinese prisoners of war (POW) detained by the US-led United Nations Command (UNC) during the Korean War (1950–1953). Based on the 1949 Geneva Convention, the treatment of POWs raised serious concerns regarding one of ongoing challenge for the ICRC: neutrality. As suggested in this article, delegates faced a major dilemma in providing humanitarian aid and protection to prisoners while preserving their neutrality. Examining the daily work of the ICRC reveals the scope of its humanitarian action in the conjuncture of the Korean War as well as their complex efforts to ensure that the captivity of POWs met the standards of the 1949 Geneva Convention.

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