Legality of using human shields

The Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission has directed the Government to pay a compensation of Rs. 10 lakh to Farooq Ahmad Dar, the citizen who was used by the Army as a ‘human shield’ in the Budgam district of Kashmir on April 9. Even as the civil society felt disturbed by the incident and did not conceal its disapproval, the junior Army officer, a major, who had hit on this novel idea, was awarded the Army’s ‘commendation card’ for his ‘sustained efforts in counter-insurgency operations’ in Jammu and Kashmir. Those who criticized the use of a civilian as a human shield became immediate targets of the hyper-nationalist section of the media. Their patriotism was questioned, they were fiercely condemned for speaking ill of the Army which was defending the freedom and integrity of the country in trying times and situations, facing terror attacks from a hostile country. Nobody, however, asked the question whether using a private citizen by the Army as a human shield is permissible under the law – national or international.
The legality of the matter is now bound to be questioned in view of the J & K State HRC direction. Under the Statute of the International Criminal Court, “utilizing the presence of a civilian or other protected person to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations” constitutes a war crime in international armed conflicts. As far as non-international conflicts are concerned, it is said that “Several military manuals which apply in non-international armed conflicts prohibit the use of human shields.  The legislation of several States criminalizes the use of human shields in non-international armed conflicts.  The use of human shields in non-international armed conflicts has been condemned by States and by the United Nations.”
Ultra-nationalism and appeals to ultra-nationalist sentiments have often been used in different countries at different periods to whip up mass frenzy. In the present case, as soon as the State HRC decision was known, some sections of the media mounted a shrill campaign that a ‘stone-pelter’ had been rewarded. First, the citizen concerned was not a stone pelter. If he were a stone-pelter the security forces would have shot him. Secondly, the compensation was awarded by an official body. It was an indirect insinuation that the State HRC was rewarding a criminal. This type of mischievous propaganda, if not firmly checked, will make it difficult for constitutional bodies to act impartially, objectively and fearlessly. It will be a blow to our democratic polity.

Saturday, 15 July, 2017