Army Personnel Using 'Human Shield': The Rights Thing

  0 comments   |     by Editorial –The Hindu

The Army must act quickly on reports of the use of a human shield by its personnel

Reports of Army personnel using a young man as a human shield in Jammu and Kashmir’s Budgam district must not only invite a swift inquiry and justice, but also compel the Army and the government to issue clear statements on the unacceptability of this shocking practice. A short video clip that went viral on Friday showed a man tied to the bonnet of an Army jeep being driven through the streets, as it escorted election officials on polling day in the Srinagar parliamentary constituency. Heard in the clip, on what appears to be the public address system of the vehicle, are the threatening words, “Paththar bazon ka yeh haal hoga (this shall be the fate of stone-pelters).” The man has subsequently been identified as Farooq Dar, a 26-year-old who embroiders shawls, and the Army personnel are said to belong to the 53 Rashtriya Rifles. There is a lack of total clarity on exactly what happened, including how long Mr. Dar was tied to the bonnet — he says he was subjected to this humiliation as the vehicle passed through 10 to 12 villages, while Army sources have been quoted as saying it was for just about 100 metres. But such questions relating to distance are hardly the issue. The larger point here is that if he was indeed forcibly strapped on to the bonnet, it amounts to an instance of gross human rights violation, and must officially be called out in clear terms.

Human shields have often been used cynically by terrorist organisations — the Islamic State uses civilians as shields in its battles, and the LTTE used them in the closing stages of the civil war in Sri Lanka. To use a person as a human shield is to abduct him, to hold him hostage, and to potentially put him in harm’s way. There is no argument that the Army, which is caught in a situation in which terrorists attempt to blend in with the civilian population, is fighting a difficult and unenviable battle. But the difficulties in fighting a hybrid war do not constitute a justification for the use of human shields, which is categorised as a war crime by the Geneva Conventions. Only a couple of days before the human shield video surfaced, another one — which showed CRPF personnel exercising admirable restraint as they were pushed and beaten by youth in Kashmir — had gone viral. It is ironic and hypocritical that some of those who commended such self-control are now defending the indefensible use of a human shield. It is true that the polling in Srinagar was held in a hostile environment, the abysmally low 7% turnout being a reflection of local alienation as well as intimidation by militants to keep people away from voting. But the security bandobast was aimed precisely to reassure the people and not to force an ‘us vs them’ binary. The Army must expedite the inquiry and act against the erring personnel where warranted. Its response must also publicly affirm its Code of Conduct vis-à-vis civilians, which includes the clause, “Violation of human rights… must be avoided under all circumstances, even at the cost of operational success”. To do any less would amount to being a party to rights violations.

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