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In 1785, the United States and Prussia signed the first treaty calling for fair treatment for Prisoners of war. The Hague conventions of 1899 and 1907 and the Geneva Conventions of 1929 and 1949 established international rules dealing with the treatment of prisoners of war. Nearly all nations have agreed to follow these rules. The Hague and Geneva conventions require that nations keep their prisoners of war in safe, sanitary camps. Representatives of nonfighting countries must be allowed to inspect the camps. These inspectors make certain the prisoners of war receive food, medical care, and payment for work. The conventions also rule that nations must permit their prisoners to send and receive mail. Another regulation requires that countries return captured military doctors and chaplains to their own forces. The conventions provide that a prisoner need not give the enemy any information except the prisoners name, rank, military serial number and age.

In spite of the Geneva and Hague regulations, much mistreatment of prisoners of war has occurred. During World War II, Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union treated their prisoners harshly. Millions of them died of cold, starvation , or mistreatment. During the Korean War, United Nations (UN) forces accused the Chinese and North Koreans of brainwashing their prisoners. But most nations have respected the prisoner of war regulations. As a result, millions of prisoners have survived capture. By the end of the Vietnam War, 651 American and thousands of North Vietnamese prisoners of war returned to their own countries.

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