Vulnerable victims

For Printing Download Epaper from files section from bottom of this page

The Indians who have gone to Russia or Ukraine for some other work before war must be cursing themselves for their decision. They are now vulnerable victims of war. They are being used as human shields by both warring sides to score over each other. This has made evacuation task for India very perilous and full of difficulties. Minister of external affairs S Jaishankar is making relentless efforts to help evacuate these Indians from Ukraine through all diplomatic channels. But, there are difficulties and the task has been now herculean. Russian and Ukraine are accusing each other of keeping Indians as hostage. This is very dangerous situation for Indian side to tackle because if any side is made angry, they can kill hostages. This shows how delicate the job has become for Indian diplomatic channels. The evacuation of the remaining Indians from Ukraine is proving to be a perilous task amid allegations that they are being used as human shields. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s office claimed that some Indian students were taken hostage by Ukrainian forces and prevented from leaving for Russian territory. Making a counter-claim, the Ukrainian foreign ministry called on the governments of India, Pakistan, China and other countries ‘whose students have become hostages of the Russian armed aggression in Kharkiv and Sumy’ to urge Moscow to allow the opening of a humanitarian corridor to other Ukrainian cities. Putin says the Russian military has offered safe corridors for civilians to flee, while the Ukrainian government has stated that it is ready to assist foreign students to relocate from Kharkiv and Sumy if Russia commits to a ceasefire. Expectedly walking a tightrope, India has rejected claims by Russia and Ukraine about students being held hostage. With hundreds of citizens yet to be evacuated, New Delhi does not want to rile both governments. However, this matter needs a thorough investigation to find out the truth. Any government’s decision can hurt the drive of bringing back Indians smoothly back. India should press the two countries to come clean about the ground situation and take corrective action wherever required so that the safety of Indian nationals is not compromised. All the nations always talk of humanity but Russia and Ukraine should show their commitment towards human rights. Mere talking of humanity will not be sufficient. The international community must also build pressure on Russia and Ukraine to remove all roadblocks that are delaying evacuation. Civilians, including foreign nationals, become soft targets during an armed conflict. They are not trained fighters and without any weapons. So, naturally they are victims of military of any country especially when the nation is at war. The warring groups use them to achieve strategic gains, having no qualms about imperilling their lives. Under the Rome 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 February 2017, more than 20 civilians — mostly women and children —being used as human shields by the Taliban were killed in an operation by the US and Afghan forces. A much bigger disaster marked the end of the Sri Lankan civil war when LTTE turned hapless Tamils into human shields. It’s the responsibility of both Russia and Ukraine to refrain from such cowardly tactics. Even terrorists use civilians as their main soft target to pressurize for their demands be fulfilled. India should first diplomatically and skillfully bring back every Indian. This should be priority for Modi government.