Feb. 28, 2019

Indian Air Force fighter pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was freed by Pakistan, two days after his MiG-21 fighter jet came down in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). 


Abhinandan Varthaman: 

  • Abhinandan Varthaman is a fighter pilot and officer in the Indian Air Force who pilots a MiG-21 Bison fighter aircraft. 

  • On 27 February 2019, he was flying a MiG-21 when he crossed into Pakistan territory and was shot down by the Pakistani Air Force after which he ejected, deployed his parachute, descended safely to the ground, captured and held for three days in Pakistan during the 2019 India-Pakistan standoff. 

  • On 28 February 2019, Pakistan announced to release Abhinandan on 1 March 2019 via Wagah border as a peace gesture (He crossed the border on 1 March 2019 on foot at the border crossing at Wagah). 

  • Pakistani PM Imran Khan’s announcement to release the IAF pilot came as a surprise. However, Indian forces dismissed the release being a gesture of peace and suggested that it was mandated under the Geneva Conventions. 

Geneva Conventions: 

  • Meaning: The 1949 Geneva Conventions are a set of international treaties that ensure that warring parties 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. 

  • List: There are four conventions, with three protocols added on since 1949. 

  • Background: The Geneva Convention were adopted in 1949 in the backdrop of World War II. However, the four Geneva Conventions, with three protocols, continue to apply today to situations of armed conflicts. 

  • Signatories: All countries are signatories to the Geneva Conventions. 

List of conventions: 

  • The first convention requires that all wounded and infirm soldiers as well as medical personnel and chaplains in the field are treated humanely without discrimination on the basis of race, colour, gender, religion or faith, and the like. It prohibits acts such as torture, mutilation, outrages upon personal dignity, and execution without judgment. It also grants them the right to proper medical treatment and care. 

  • The second convention extends the protections described above to shipwrecked soldiers and other naval forces, including special protections afforded to hospital ships. 

  • The third convention is related to the treatment of Prisoners of War (PoWs). It should be noted that the Wing commander who was at the helm of a MiG – 21 Bison has not been termed as a PoW either by India or Pakistan. 

  • The last Convention focuses on the protection of civilians in times of war. 

Provisions for PoWs: 

  • The treatment of prisoners of war is dealt with by the Third Convention or treaty. 

  • Prisoners must be treated “humanely”. And the responsibility for this lies with the detaining power, not just the individuals who captured the PoW. 

  • Any act 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. 

  • In particular, no prisoner of war may be subjected to physical mutilation or to medical or scientific experiments of any kind which are not justified by the medical, dental or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest. 

  • Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity. In this sense, the wide publicity given to the video recording of a blindfolded Wing Commander Abhinandan identifying himself to his captives could be held as a violation of the Geneva Conventions. 

  • In captivity, a PoW must not be forced to provide information of any kind under “physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion”. Refusal to answer questions should not invite punishment. 

  • A PoW must be protected from exposure to fighting. Use of PoWs as hostages or human shields is prohibited. 

  • Access to health facilities, prayer, recreation and exercise are also written into the Convention. A PoW is also entitled to receive books or care packages from the outside world. 

  • The detaining power has to facilitate correspondence between the PoW and his family, and must ensure that this is done without delays. 

  • Parties to the conflict “are bound to send back” or repatriate PoWs, regardless of rank, who are seriously wounded or sick, after having cared for them until they are fit to travel”.