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IAF pilot in Pakistani custody: What are the Geneva Conventions and why are they significant for India?

With an Indian pilot, reportedly named Indian Air Force's Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, in Pakistani custody after his plane was shot down on Wednesday, the Geneva Conventions have now come into the limelight.

The Geneva Conventions are international treaties concerned with preventing or limiting the barbarity of armed conflicts, especially between two nations. They are also concerned with protecting the rights of civilians, medics, aid workers and prisoners of war.

PTI reported that the rules protecting prisoners of war (POWs) are specific. They were first detailed in the 1929 treaties and later amended in the third 1949 Geneva Convention following the lessons of the Second World War.

 IAF pilot in Pakistani custody: What are the Geneva Conventions and why are they significant for India?

Representational image. AFP

According to the rules, the status of POW only applies in international armed conflict.

"POWs are usually members of the armed forces of one of the parties to a conflict who fall into the hands of the adverse party," the Convention states. It says POWs cannot be prosecuted for taking a direct part in hostilities.

"Their detention is not a form of punishment, but only aims to prevent further participation in the conflict. They must be released and repatriated without delay after the end of hostilities. The detaining power may prosecute them for possible war crimes, but not for acts of violence that are lawful under international humantarian law," it says.

The rules specify that POWs must be treated humanely in all circumstances. "They are protected against any act of violence, as well as against intimidation, insults, and public curiosity," the Geneva Convention states.

The 1949 Geneva Conventions comprise four conventions, the first of which protects the wounded and sick soldiers during war, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The second convention deals with protecting the wounded, sick and shipwrecked military personnel at sea. The third and fourth conventions apply to prisoners of war and civilians respectively.

There is also a Common Article 3 which applies to all the four Geneva Conventions. It deals with situations of non-international armed conflicts, which include civil wars, internal armed conflicts that spill over to other countries or an internal conflict in which a group belonging to another state is involved.

In the years following the adoption of the four Geneva Conventions, three Additional Protocols were added to the Geneva Conventions, strengthening the protection of victims of international and non-international armed conflicts.

Notably, India has signed the four 1949 Geneva Conventions and Protocol III, but has not acceded to Protocols I and II. Because Protocol I is linked with war against colonial domination and Protocol II deals with internal conflict, India is concerned about the effects of the two Protocols on its sovereignty.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Feb 27, 2019 21:16:52 IST