The IHL team hosted a Tweet-a-Thon for the Game of Thrones Season 5 premiere on Sunday, April 12th, to discuss violations of international humanitarian law portrayed in the popular HBO television series. Although the Geneva Conventions were not law during the time period of Game of Thrones, a discussion of how modern rules of war would apply to the show serves as a valuable educational tool to demonstrate laws of war. Over the past four seasons, viewers have seen countless violations of international humanitarian law codified in the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, which seek to protect persons during armed conflict.
The War of the Five Kings continued in the Season 5 premiere, and presented us with multiple IHL issues, including the use of child soldiers, indiscriminate weapons, and improper treatment of prisoners of war. In the Vale, we watched as thirteen-year-old Lord Robin Arryn trained to be a soldier. Lord Petyr Baelish, dismayed at Lord Arryn’s performance in sword fighting, despite his young age, proclaimed that “boys go to war at thirteen!” However, while this may be the case in Westeros, both of the Additional Protocols to the 1949 Geneva Conventions prohibit the recruitment and use of child soldiers under age fifteen.
In Slaver’s Bay, Daenerys made a wise decision to keep her dragons locked up, as they are indiscriminate weapons and violate the principles of distinction, proportionality, and humanity. The principle of distinction requires that parties to the conflict distinguish between civilians and combatants and civilian objects and military objectives, and direct attacks only against military objectives and combatants. Since Daenerys cannot control the dragons, she cannot ensure that they will not attack civilians or civilian objects, like livestock and crops. The principle of proportionality requires that the injury to civilians and civilian objects must not be excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage of the attack. When the dragons are used to attack combatants, their fire spreads throughout the area killing excessive numbers of civilians and destroying crops, livestock, and villages. Finally, the dragons violate the principle of humanity, which seeks to prevent unnecessary suffering and superfluous injury in armed conflict. Burning people alive with dragon fire arguably causes unnecessary suffering in excess of the military advantage of killing enemy combatants.
Finally, at the Wall, we watched as Stannis Baratheon killed his prisoner of war, Mance Rayder, after he refused to fight in Stannis’s army and pledge his people to do the same. Stannis’s actions violated the Third Geneva Convention, which provides that prisoners of war must be humanely treated at all times, not subjected to violence or killed. Furthermore it is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions for a detaining enemy power to compel a prisoner of war to serve in their own military forces. Stannis seriously violated international humanitarian law by burning Mance Rayder alive for not agreeing to join his army.
These are only a few of the many violations of international humanitarian law we have witnessed throughout the Game of Thrones series. We hope that as the season continues you will watch through an IHL lens and look for violations of the laws of war. Thanks for everyone who joined us on Sunday evening for the IHL Game of Thrones tweet-a-thon! You can keep the conversation going on Twitter using #GoTIHL.