In the past week, sections of Indian media and government has invoked Geneva Conventions while demanding the release of captured IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman from Pakistan. But can India invoke Geneva Conventions selectively and ignore its commitment to the Geneva Conventions while dealing with civilian protestors and armed combatants in Kashmir, argues Yasir Altaf Zargar.
On 26 February Indian Air Forces carried out an air strike on what they called as “Jaish-e-Muhammad training camps” in Pakistan claiming to have killed more than 250 JEM militants (several media organisations found these claims untrue and reported no significant damage), the same militant group responsible for carrying a suicide car bomb on a CRPF convoy which took more than 40 lives on February 14. However, after the air-strike, the DG-ISPR of Pakistan, Asif Gafoor officially tweeted about the airfield violation and promised to strike back, however, according to their plan, time and place of their choosing.
A day later on 27 February as earlier promised, Pakistan’s Air forces launched an airstrike on six locations, which led to a dog fight between IAF and PAF. After the PAK strike at several sites, the India fighter jets once again intruded into the Pakistani territory, as alleged by the Pakistani authorities and chased back the Pakistani fighter jets. Later on, the Pakistani military official said that it downed two Indian fighter jets and took captive an Indian Pilot.
A video circulated on social media networks in which the captured pilot, blindfolded, his face bloodied, sharing his name, rank and service. The captured Indian pilot was unlikely to share his address and other information to his captors, apparently following the service protocol.
However, the Indian forces, in a joint conference, apparently alleged Pakistani forces of violating the norms of Geneva Conventions. The Indian media personalities who earlier were calling the air strike and surgical strike as “muu tood jawab” (Jawbreaking response) and the OHCHR’s first ever human rights report on Kashmir as airy-fairy, had started invoking the norms of Geneva Conventions and registered a strong objection over the treatment meted out to the captured pilot. It was a surprise for every Kashmiri who has witnessed Indian forces engaging in the human rights violations in Kashmir and violating Geneva Conventions, lessoning their counterparts to follow the framework of Geneva Conventions and norms of Humanitarian Law.
The response from the Indian side has perplexed the people of Kashmir who have been rendered voiceless. It is noteworthy to mention that there has been not a single trail in last 28 years of armed forces personnel’s involved in abusing acts like AFSPA, PSA, and those involved in rapes, tortures, killings and enforced disappearances. Leave aside the Geneva conventions; what conceits India from calling the biggest democracy?
Last year, when the OHCHR issued a report on the gross violation of human rights and called for setting up a commission to investigate all allegations of human rights violations and abuses in Kashmir, the Indian authorities responded by calling the report as fallacious and termed it as “overtly prejudiced”. If India is not violating any human rights norm or the Geneva Conventions, why didn’t it allow UN OHCHR to set up a Commission of Inquiry?
The Curious Case of Geneva Conventions in Kashmir
India has engaged itself in every kind of war crimes and has a history of violating Geneva Conventions by engaging in widespread human rights violations in Kashmir. Take the example of dealing with Kashmiri protestors. Instead of establishing efficient crowd control measures, the Indian forces use short-range pellet guns – which has blinded thousands of civilians, among them young boys and girls who protest militant and civilian killings. The use of pellet guns has been condemned across the world, but India continues to use pellet guns in Kashmir.
Another example would be CASO (Cordon and Search Operations). Most of the CASO’s that result in encounters in which militants are killed - take place in residential and rural neighbourhoods and in densely populated villages and hamlets as well as urban residential spaces in some particular cases.
Moreover, after every such encounter, it has been seen that the Indian forces resort to violence, blowing up houses where militants may have taken shelter along with the adjacent civilian property, using short-range pellet guns and sometimes firing directly at people who come close to the encounter sites. They are also responsible for collateral damage in areas where militants usually stay late at night especially in areas of Kulgam (Khudwani), Shopian, and Pulwama where their concentration levels are higher. If India strictly follows the rules of Geneva Conventions, then why it fails to stop persecuting people of Kashmir?
What is often neglected is the use of heavy artillery by the Indian armed forces against the holed up militants. In the recent Indo-Pak escalation, the Indian forces were disturbed to see the use of AMRAAN missiles against their military positions. Someone should remind them of what they had been doing in Kashmir with militants who are less equipped. Further on, if the militant gives the Indian forces a tough resistance; they char their bodies beyond recognition. Ever since the highly popular leader Burhan Wani was located and killed, the Indian army has adopted a policy of finding and killing militants by leaving their bodies charred. A curious example would of some local militants whose body were charred beyond recognition. On December 2016, Majid Zargar and Rahil Dar were charred beyond recognition. In similar fashion, on 23 June 2017, three militants Shakir Ahmad and Majid Ahmad Mir, from Kakapora town in Pulwama and Irshad Ahmad Dar of Aghanjepora - Padgaampora in Awantipora area, were killed in a brief gunfight between forces and militants at Kakapora town in Pulwama District. They were also mangled according to the locals who buried them. Similarly, Junaid Mattoo, Altaf Dar, and Umar were also charred beyond recognition. More recently, Saaqib, a JEM militant was mutilated first. The families of these militants accuse the forces of inhumane treatment of bodies. Aren’t these acts against the Geneva Conventions?
Rule 113 of Geneva Conventions clearly states, “Each party to the conflict must take all possible measures to prevent the dead from being despoiled. Mutilation of dead bodies is prohibited.” However, over the last two years, after rebel leader Burhan Wani’s killing by the armed forces, the charring and burning of militant bodies have become more common and a more frequent sight at funerals. Photographs of post-encounter sites began emerging showing flesh turned to pulp and bone splinters being carried away in plastic (polyethene) bags to places of burial.
Ironically, despite the explicit terms of the Geneva Conventions, the Indian Army has systematically used tactics like these, as well as marking and defiling the dead bodies of militants beyond recognition, using civilians as human shields, killing those who interrupt them in their hounding of rebels. This helps them to reduce their level of frustration to spread fear among locals. They often endorse the fact that they burn houses and use IEDs to blast the houses because it prevents their soldiers from getting any harm.
In several cases, Indian armed forces were seen taking selfies with the dead bodies of militants. Meanwhile, the human rights violations by the Indian armed forces have always been overlooked. Rather than punishing the culprits who go against the Geneva Conventions, they are rewarded monetarily or promoted to a new rank. There is a long list of such incidents that have been documented by various human rights organisations. However, those who were responsible for human rights violations were also rewarded, a controversial example is that of Major Gogoi, who received an award for tying a man on the bonnet of a jeep and used him as a human shield.
Therefore, the Indian government cannot selectively talk about Geneva Conventions whenever it suits them. The present escalation and the focus it has brought on Kashmir should be used to put force on India to follow Geneva Conventions in Kashmir in letter and spirit. ♦
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Wande Magazine.