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Geneva Convention: How will it help India bring back captured IAF Pilot?

During aerial combat with Pakistani fighter jets on February 27, India lost one of its MiG-21 aircraft. The fighter jet was shot down in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and its pilot, an Indian Air Force Wing Commander was taken into custody by Pakistan.

Feb 28, 2019 13:22 IST
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The Union Ministry of External Affairs has confirmed that during an aerial engagement with Pakistani fighter jets on February 27, 2019, India lost one of its MiG-21 aircraft. The fighter jet was shot down in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and its pilot, an Indian Air Force Wing Commander was taken into custody by Pakistan.

The incident occurred when the Indian Air Force swiftly responded to Pakistan's attempt to target its military installations along LoC and shot down one Pakistani fighter aircraft, F-16. According to sources, at least ten Pakistani fighter jets were seen heading for military targets along LoC but they were forced to retreat without causing any damage in India.

However, post the engagement, reports of video footage of the captured IAF pilot being circulated on social media came out. Following this, MEA released a statement conveying India’s strong objection to Pakistan’s vulgar display of injured personnel in violation of all norms of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Convention.

India also made clear to Pakistan that no harm should be caused to the IAF Wing Commander and summoned the acting high commissioner of Pakistan to demand his immediate and safe return.

Sources in the Indian Army have also stated that the captured IAF officer should be extended all courtesies accorded to prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, no matter whether it is declared war or not.

So let us understand what is the Geneva Convention and how it can be invoked to help India bring back the IAF pilot under the present circumstances.

Geneva Convention

What is the Geneva Convention?

The Geneva Conventions are a set of international treaties agreed to between 1864 and 1949 that establish the standards of international law for humanitarian treatment in case of war.

The conventions ensure that warring nations 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.

  Geneva Convention: Treatment and release of prisoners of war

How many treaties are there under the Convention?

Overall, the Geneva Conventions comprise four treaties and three additional protocols.

First Geneva Convention: First adopted in 1864 then finally in 1949, the convention deals with the treatment of wounded and sick armed forces in the field.

Second Geneva Convention: First adopted in 1949 and successor of the Hague Convention of 1907, the convention deals with the sick, wounded and shipwrecked members of armed forces at sea.

Third Geneva Convention: First adopted in 1929 and revised in 1949, the convention deals with the treatment of prisoners of war during times of conflict.

Fourth Geneva Convention: First adopted in 1949, based on parts of the Hague Convention, the convention deals with the treatment of civilians and their protection during wartime.

The three additional protocols are as follows:

Protocol I (1977): It relates to the protection of victims of international armed conflicts.

Protocol II (1977): It relates to the protection of victims of non-international armed conflicts.

Protocol III (2005): It relates to the adoption of an additional distinctive emblem.

The whole set of conventions, with two revised and adopted and the second and fourth added, are together referred to as the Geneva Conventions of 1949 or simply Geneva Conventions.

How many countries ratified the agreement?

The Geneva Conventions of 1949 were ratified, in whole or with reservations, by 196 countries across the world.

  Geneva Convention: How will it help India bring back captured IAF Pilot

When are the conventions applicable?

The Geneva Conventions apply at times of war and armed conflict to governments who have ratified its terms. The further details of the applicability of the conventions have been explained in the following two common articles:

Common Article 2: Relating to international armed conflicts

- The provisions of the article state that the Geneva Conventions apply to all cases of international conflict, where at least one of the warring nations have ratified the Conventions.

- The Conventions apply to all cases of declared war between signatory nations.

- The Conventions also apply to all cases of armed conflict between two or more signatory nations, even in the absence of a declaration of war.

- They also apply to a signatory nation even if the opposing nation is not a signatory, but only if the opposing nation accepts and applies the provisions of the Conventions.

Common Article 3: Relating to non-international armed conflict

- The provisions of the article state that the certain minimum rules of war apply to armed conflicts where at least one party is not a state.

- It applies to conflicts between the government and rebel forces, or between two rebel forces, or to other conflicts that have all the characteristics of war, whether carried out within the confines of one country or not.

- The provisions of this article state that persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those overcome by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely.

The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for. To ensure the same, the following acts are prohibited:

Violence to life and person, in particular, murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture.

Taking of hostages.

Outrages upon dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment.

The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court.

Rights of Prisoners of War

Under the Third Geneva Convention, prisoners of war (POW) must be:

Treated humanely with respect for their persons and their honor.

Able to inform their next of kin and the International Committee of the Red Cross of their capture.

Allowed to communicate regularly with relatives and receive packages.

Given adequate food, clothing, housing, and medical attention.

Paid for work done and not forced to do work that is dangerous, unhealthy or degrading.

Released quickly after conflicts end.

Not compelled to give any information except for the name, age, rank, and service number. Refusal to answer questions should not invite punishment.

In addition, if wounded or sick on the battlefield, the prisoner will receive help from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Further, the use of PoWs as hostages or human shields is strictly prohibited.

Is the captured Indian pilot a prisoner of war?

While neither India nor Pakistan has named the current situation as war or identified the pilot as a prisoner of war, the Geneva Conventions apply to all cases of armed conflict between two or more signatory nations, even in the absence of a declaration of war.

Going by the same, the Indian pilot can be identified as a prisoner of war, even though he hasn’t been officially named as such.  Hence, his treatment also should be in accordance with the provisions for PoWs under the Geneva Conventions.

What do the conventions say about the release of PoW?

According to Article 118 of the third Geneva Convention, prisoners of war shall be released and repatriated without delay when the hostilities between the two nations end and any unjustifiable delay in the repatriation of the prisoner of war will be a grave breach of the Protocol.

Who is responsible for ensuring whether the Geneva Conventions are being followed?

The Geneva Conventions have a system of “Protecting Powers” who ensure that the provisions of the conventions are being followed by the parties in a conflict. Each side must designate states that are not party to the conflict as their “Protecting Powers”. In practice, the International Committee of the Red Cross usually plays the role.

The conventions were, in fact, established as a result of Red Cross founder Henri Dunant pushing for negotiations to help the wounded in time of war in 1864.

Past Instance of Prisoner of War

A similar situation had occurred during the Kargil War in 1999 when Indian Flight Lieutenant Kambampati Nachiketa was captured after his MiG-27 suffered an engine flameout while destroying enemy positions in the Batalik subsector.

The Lieutenant was captured by Pakistan on May 27, 1999 and he remained in Pakistani custody for more than a week.

He was returned to India on June 3 after intense diplomatic efforts by the then government led by the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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