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Indo-Pak Conflict | How Geneva Conventions can be invoked to bring our IAF pilot back

The Geneva Conventions are a series of treaties concluded in Geneva between 1864 and 1949 for the purpose of ameliorating effects of war on soldiers and civilians

February 28, 2019 / 09:00 AM IST

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has confirmed that during the engagement on February 27 with Pakistani aircraft, India lost one MiG 21 and an Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot is held captive by the neighbouring country.

Earlier, video footage of the pilot being “rescued” by the Pakistani army were doing the rounds on social media. In the latter half of the day, a video of him “being treated well” was also circulated.

To this, the MEA, in a statement, said, “India also strongly objected to Pakistan’s vulgar display of an injured personnel of the Indian Air Force in violation of all norms of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Convention. It was made clear that Pakistan would be well advised to ensure that no harm comes to the Indian defence personnel in its custody. India also expects his immediate and safe return.”

Which brings us to the question of the procedure to bring back an armed forces personnel who has been captured in enemy territory. These guidelines have been furnished in the Geneva Conventions. Let’s take a look:

What are the Geneva Conventions?


The Geneva Conventions are a series of treaties concluded in Geneva between 1864 and 1949 for the purpose of ameliorating the effects of war on soldiers and civilians. The conventions were established as a result of Red Cross founder Henri Dunant pushing for negotiations to help the wounded in time of war in 1864.

What is the objective of these conventions?

The convention has the following aims:

1. Immunity from capture and destruction of all establishments for the treatment of wounded and sick soldiers and their personnel

2. Impartial reception and treatment of all combatants,

3. Protection of civilians providing aid to the wounded, and

4. Recognition of the Red Cross symbol as a means of identifying persons and equipment covered by the agreement.

What is its relevance in the current scenario?

The 1864 convention was ratified by all major European powers and other states within three years.

In 1906, the 1864 convention was amended and extended by the second Geneva Convention, which applied all the provisions to maritime warfare.

The third Geneva Convention required that belligerents treat prisoners of war (PoWs) humanely, furnish information about them, and permit official visits to prison camps by representatives of neutral states. This came to be known as the Convention Relating to Treatment of Prisoners of War, 1929.

It asserted that PoWs be given humane treatment and adequate feeding, forbidding the belligerents to apply undue pressure on prisoners to supply more than a minimum of information.

Ultimately, four conventions were approved in Geneva on August 12, 1949.

In 1977, the protocol to cover both civilians and combatants in the conventions was approved with the help of negotiations from the Red Cross.

Is our IAF pilot a prisoner of war?

Neither the Indian MEA nor its Pakistani counterpart has identified the pilot as a PoW.

However, 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.”

What happens if he is indeed identified as a PoW?

If the missing pilot is officially declared as a PoW, then in accordance with Article 118, first paragraph, of the 1949 third Geneva Convention, “Prisoners of war shall be released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities” and “unjustifiable delay in the repatriation of prisoners of war or civilians” is a grave breach of the Protocol.

Once PoW status is awarded to a combatant, he may be interned without any particular procedure or reason. The purpose of this internment is not to punish them but only to hinder their direct participation in hostilities.

Article 13 of the third convention states:

Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. 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.

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.

Previous instance:

During the Kargil War, Flight Lieutenant Kambampati Nachiketa was captured after his MiG-27 suffered a flameout while destroying enemy positions in the Batalik subsector.

Flight Lt Nachiketa was captured by Pakistan on May 27, 1999 and remained in Pakistani custody for more than a week. He was repatriated to India on June 3 of that year.
Aakriti Handa

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