India returns apprehended PLA soldier to China: Here's what Geneva Conventions state on treatment of detainees

India on Wednesday returned the apprehended PLA soldier to the Chinese military at the Chushul-Moldo border point after completion of formalities

FP Staff October 21, 2020 19:49:37 IST
India returns apprehended PLA soldier to China: Here's what Geneva Conventions state on treatment of detainees

Representational image. AFP

The Indian Army's act of returning an apprehended Chinese soldier to his country marks a positive change in relations between the two countries, which have been strained in the past few months.

The act was welcomed even by Chinese propaganda outlets such as Global Times, which has largely adopted a belligerent tone towards India throughout the standoff.

The Indian Army said in a statement that the soldier, a Corporal in the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA), has been identified as Wang Ya Long. On Wednesday, he was returned to the Chinese military at the Chushul-Moldo border point after completion of formalities.

Such instances have happened frequently along the Line of Actual Control, which is poorly demarcated and has seen increased confrontation between the two armies in recent months. In the past, these instances have also led to allegations and counter-allegations being levelled between New Delhi and Beijing.

In June, China returned 10 Indian soldiers who had been held after a clash at the Galwan Valley in Ladakh. In September, China had also returned five youths from Arunachal Pradesh who had strayed across the McMahon Line. While India had alleged that China's People's Liberation Army had abducted the youths, China had denied the allegation.

It is important to note that as per Beijing's statement, the soldier who was returned by India to China had strayed across the LAC "while helping local herdsmen retrieve a yak". The claim has not been contested by India, which would mean that he was not a prisoner of war.

The returning of the Chinese soldier was governed by the Geneva Conventions of 1949, to which both India and China are signatories. Here is a look at the relevant provisions:

Requirements of the Geneva Conventions

In order to understand the Geneva Conventions, it is important to understand the context in which they were formulated. The conventions were formed in the aftermath of the Second World War, which had witnessed extreme violence between combatants, as also atrocities committed against civilians.

As noted in an article on the Economic Times, the Geneva Conventions cover four categories — the wounded and sick on land; wounded, sick and shipwrecked at sea; prisoners of war; and protection of civilians.

In the context of the return of the Chinese soldier on Wednesday, Article 132 of the Geneva Convention IV is particularly relevant. The provision states, "Each interned person shall be released by the Detaining Power as soon as the reasons which necessitated his internment no longer exist."

As is amply clear from the text of the provision, it applies not just to active combatants but also to civilians and soldiers who are taken into custody when not in active combat.

Further, Article 134 of the Geneva Convention IV states, "The High Contracting Parties shall endeavour, upon the close of hostilities or occupation, to ensure the return of all internees to their last place of residence, or to facilitate their repatriation."

This provision, too, deals not just with combatants but also with civilians.

With respect to prisoners of war, Article 118 of Geneva Convention III states, "Prisoners of war shall be released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities."

Thus, in ensuring the prompt return of Corporal Wang to China, India acted in consonance with the spirit of international law and the Geneva Conventions, in particular.

Global examples

In recent history, there are several examples both of the Geneva Conventions having been followed and of them having been flagrantly violated. As noted in an article in The Indian Express, Pakistan returned Flt Lt Nachiketa to India, albeit after keeping him in custody for eight days. However, another prisoner of war, Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja was killed in captivity.

At the end of the 1971 war, India released over 80,000 Pakistani prisoners after the liberation of Dhaka, in what was widely regarded as an example of humane treatment of prisoners of war.

During the Vietnam War, scores of US soldiers were taken hostage as prisoners or war. On 12 February, 1973, Vietnam released the first batch of US POWs as part of "Operation Homecoming", which ended US military involvement in the South East Asian country. However, the US still lists over a thousand Americans as prisoners of war, or missing in action, in Vietnam. These US prisoners were kept in 13 prisons and prison camps.

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Ministry of External Affairs said it was also agreed that both sides should continue to ensure a stable ground situation and avoid any untoward incident