Human Shields

Human shield is a military and political term describing the deliberate placement of non-combatants in or around combat targets to deter the enemy from attacking these combat targets. It may also refer to the use of persons to literally shield combatants during attacks, by forcing them to march in front of the combatants. In other words, The prohibition of using human shields in the Geneva Conventions, Additional Protocol I and the Statute of the International Criminal Court are couched in terms of using the presence (or movements) of civilians or other protected persons to render certain points or areas (or military forces) immune from military operations. Most examples given in military manuals, or which have been the object of condemnations, have been cases where persons were actually taken to military objectives in order to shield those objectives from attacks.

In the context of international armed conflicts, this rule is set forth in the Third Geneva Convention (with respect to prisoners of war), the Fourth Geneva Convention (with respect to protected civilians) and Additional Protocol I (with respect to civilians in general). 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. With respect to non-international armed conflicts, Additional Protocol II does not explicitly mention the use of human shields, but such practice would be prohibited by the requirement that “the civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against the dangers arising from military operations.
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. International human rights law does not prohibit the use of human shields as such, but this practice would constitute, among other things, a violation of the non-derogable right not to be arbitrarily deprived of the right to life (see commentary to Rule 89). The UN Human Rights Committee and regional human rights bodies have indicated that this right involves not only the right not to be killed, but also the duty of States to take measures to protect life

Human Shielding is a tragically prevalent tactic in contemporary warfare. There are certain prohibitions on the use of human shields, and these prohibitions are uncontroversial and generally accepted as reflective of customary international law. Much more problematic is the issue of how the use of human shields affects an attacker’s obligations under international humanitarian law. No treaty norm addresses the issue. There is of course a distinction between compelled and voluntary shielding which argues that those compelled to shield retain all the protections to which they are entitled as civilians during an attack. This result remains true despite the clear violation of international humanitarian law by the attacker’s enemy. On the other hand, those who voluntarily shield a military objective qualify as Direct Participants in Hostilities.

As such, international humanitarian law removes their immunity from attack during the period of participation. Although there will always be a military reason to target voluntary shields, their status as direct participants does influence battlefield application of both the proportionality rule (prohibiting attacks expected to cause excessive collateral damage) and the legal requirement to take feasible precautions in attack (requiring attackers to take steps to minimize harm to civilians).

In Kashmir, the most prolific and gruesome incident explaining the horror of Human Shield was seen when Farooq Ahmad Dar a 26-year-old shawl artisan from Chil village became a victim of the old Kashmiri dilemma, whether to choose a civilian’s right to be a part of an established country or the right to be separated from it. As he chose the former right, his enthusiasm for asserting his democratic rights literally took a beating on Sunday, April 9. The man was among the meagre 7.1% of registered voters who cared to go to a polling booth to cast their vote for the Srinagar by-elections. His story of accidental victimhood has added to the disturbing series of violations in the army-civilian conflict taking place in the Kashmir valley.

The details throw a chilling light on how a sudden rush of suspicion can turn into an instant criminalising of space. Having cast his vote, Dar was on his way to Gampora village in Pulwana district, to attend a commemorative ritual for a relative, when he briefly stopped his motorcycle in Utligam village at the sight of women protestors. It turned out to be his peril, as an army patrol rushed out from an alley and caught hold of him. They allegedly hit him with rifle butts and wooden sticks without provocation and damaged his bike. The women tried to intervene, but retreated after a warning shot was fired in the air. Dar was not fully in his senses when he was strapped to an army jeep and paraded around many villages for three-four hours.

Resorting to the war tactic of using a human shield to make a point is a matter of grave concern. People in the Khospora village tried to get him released. But men belonging to the Rashtriya Rifles refused their plea, accusing the man of being a stone pelter. A white paper was stuck on Dar’s chest declaring his crime. In the video that circulated this heinous act it was seen what message the Forces were trying to spread through him, which was heard to be “this is the fate that will befall stone-pelters.” It was a punitive act by the army, setting an example against the relentless stone throwing they face in the Valley. A man was turned into a spectacle of ridicule, simply because he happened to be in the wrong place. In the video the Army had tried to show the crowd how they had caught a stone-pelter and what type of treatment they had in mindif anyone tried to follow this path, which in itself proves to be gruesome and barbaric and this sparked national criticism and condemnation and to make matters worse, the army personnel picked the wrong man.