The Government of India has strongly protested against the capture of the Indian Air Force pilot and seeks his safe return under the Geneva Conventions. He was detained by Pakistan after an F16 fighter jet of Pakistan, which crossed LoC, was shot down by India by air forces of the two countries.
It has also been made clear to Pakistan that no harm should be caused to the Indian defence personnel citing the treaties under the Geneva Conventions.
Responding to the video and photographs released by Pakistan, India lashed out for “vulgar display of an injured personnel of the Indian Air Force in violation of all norms of international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions”.
The Geneva Conventions, that was signed in 1949 is a set of International treaties that ensure that rival parties conduct themselves in a humane way with non-combatants such as civilians and medical personnel, as well as with combatants no longer actively engaged in fighting, such as prisoners of war, and wounded or sick soldiers. All countries are signatories to the Geneva Conventions. There are four conventions which summon together as Geneva Convention. However, three protocols have been added on since 1949.
The provisions of the conventions apply in peacetime situations, in declared wars, and in conflicts that are not recognised as war by one or more of the parties.
What are the provisions for PoWs?
The treatment of prisoners of war is dealt with by the Third Convention. Its 143 articles spread over five sections and annexures are exhaustive, and deal with every kind of situation that may arise for a captive and captor, including the place of internment, religious needs, recreation, financial resources, the kinds of work that captors can make PoWs do, the treatment of captured officers, and the repatriation of prisoners.
The Third Convention is unambiguous about how prisoners must be treated that is “humanely”. And it is the responsibility of the detaining power, not just the individuals who captured the PoW.
Article 13 of the Convention says “Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention. In particular, no prisoner of war may be subjected to physical mutilation or to medical or scientific experiments of any kind which are not justified by the medical, dental or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest. Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity. Measures of reprisal against prisoners of war are prohibited”.
Article 14 of the Convention lays down that PoWs are “entitled to in all circumstances to respect for their persons and their honour”. In captivity, a PoW must not be forced to provide information of any kind under “physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion”. Refusal to answer questions should not invite punishment.
A PoW must be protected from exposure to fighting. Use of PoWs as hostages or human shields is prohibited, and a PoW has to be given the same access to safety and evacuation facilities as those affiliated to the detaining power.
Access to health facilities, prayer, recreation and exercise are also written into the Convention. The detaining power has to facilitate correspondence between the PoW and his family and must ensure that this is done without delays. A PoW is also entitled to receive books or care packages from the outside world.
However, neither the Indian MEA nor its Pakistani counterpart has identified the pilot as a PoW. But as per the third Geneva Convention, “The convention applies to all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the signatories, even if the state of war is not recognized by one of them.”
During the Kargil War, Pakistan returned Flight Lt Nachiketa, who was captured on May 27, 1999, after ejecting from his burning Mi27, after keeping him for eight days. The Vajpayee government make a diplomatic feat in bringing back the defence personnel. Another PoW, Squadron Ldr Ajay Ahuja, was killed in captivity.
Even if Pakistan obeys the Geneva Conventions, the Government of India has to make intense diplomatic efforts to ensure that the captivated pilot remains unharmed.
Retd. Air Marshal Ashok Goel says “India should keep all the diplomatic channels open. The situation would not have gone this bad had there been a dialogue. These politicians think they can eradicate terrorism. Even the United States has been trying to do the same since the 9/11 attacks, but it has not been able to do so”.
“We need to tread very carefully and judiciously now. We don’t know what kind of harm Pakistan may cause to the captured officer. There should not be an escalation from our side at least. The priority should be to get our man back,” he said.