Court query to government on 1971 war prisoners in Pakistan
The Supreme Court on Wednesday sought the response of the Centre and others on a plea for repatriation of at least 54 prisoners of the 1971 war believed to be languishing in jails in Pakistan.
The petitioner — Jasbir Kaur, the wife of Major Kanwaljit Singh who is one of the missing 54 prisoners of war — wants the Indian government to approach the International Red Cross to know the exact numbers of those in jail and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to get them repatriated and ensure the prosecution of the Pakistani authorities concerned.
The petition before the Supreme Court says there is a definite view that 54 prisoners of the war that took place 41 years ago are still in Pakistani jails, and that an estimated 2,238 such people are “presumed” to be in that country’s prisons.
The petitioner has said mutual release of prisoners of war had been covered under the Simla Agreement of July 3, 1972, under which then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had promptly fulfilled the obligation of repatriating 93,000-odd “well-fed Pakistani PsOW”.
“…Yet she failed to have the same executed qua the Indian PsOW torturously detained by Pakistan, thereby yielding all the possible power of bargain against an enemy well known for scant regard for basic human rights,” the petition says.
“The Indian Government treated all the 93,000 Pakistani Prisoners with due respect and observed all the norms, rules and regulations of the universal nature regarding treatment of the Prisoners of War. There were 2,238 Indian Soldiers missing from the war front, whose dead bodies had not been recovered, leading to the logical deduction that most of them… it should be presumed that those 2,238 missing soldiers are in the Jails in Pakistan,” it adds.
A bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Surya Kant termed the matter “very important” and issued notices to the ministries of external affairs and defence and the Chief of Army Staff, asking them to reply within three weeks.
The petition filed through advocate Namit Saxena has accused the Indian government of living in its “comfort zone” by not taking any coercive steps against Pakistan in the ICJ. It also cites the killing and mutilation of the bodies of Capt. Saurabh Kalia and other soldiers during the 1999 Kargil war.
“The perpetrators of these heinous crimes of illegal detention and torture of helpless prisoners of war, against the universally applicable Geneva Convention have not been brought to book till date, nor have the respondents (Centre and others) succeeded in release of one single out of the 54 PsOW, despite existence of a specific bilateral agreement in force between the respondent UOI (Union of India) with the… Government of Pakistan, which is also shielding the perpetrators of crimes against humanity,” the petition says.
“…UOI and specifically the Indian Army under them have not initiated any concrete steps for establishment of a mechanism for effective
enforcement of provisions of the Geneva Convention despite elapse of more than 70 years, since the same first came into force,” Kaur’s petition adds.
“…Without discussing the adequacy or otherwise of the safeguards provided under the Geneva Convention, even the remedies short of approaching the ICJ available under Articles 13, 14 and Part-VI, Section-1 Articles 126 to 132 of the said Convention, have not even been availed for securing justice with respect to treatment of the PsOW,” it says.