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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Thousands of adivasis have been uprooted from their villages and forcibly regrouped in new settlements

Salwa Judum & international humanitarian law
Siddharth Varadarajan The Hindu Saturday, Sep 08, 2007
India may not be a party to the Geneva Convention Additional Protocols but it has a legal obligation to protect civilians caught in the cross-fire between the Maoists and state-sponsored vigilantes in Chhattisgarh.
States have the right to wage war against one another and against armed insurgents who challenge them but it is a settled principle of international humanitarian law that the methods of warfare employed must at all times conform to the bounds of legality. While all societies have traditionally grappled with what is and is not permissible on the battlefield, the first systematic attempt to modernise the laws of war was made at the international Peace Conference convened in The Hague in 1899. The Conventions of 1899 that emerged were modest even by the standards of the time but the statesmen and jurists who met there had the foresight to acknowledge the limited nature of their initiative...
Indeed, if ever there was a textbook case of the kind of conflict envisaged by Protocol II, the tragedy that is playing out in Chhattisgarh is surely it. At the heart of this tragedy is the criminal vigilantism of Salwa Judum (SJ), a government-sponsored counter-insurgent ‘movement’ launched in 2005 with the aim of defeating the Maoists by targeting villages believed to be ‘pro-naxalite.’ Tens of thousands of adivasis have been uprooted from their villages and forcibly regrouped in new settlements or rendered internally displaced. According to official statistics, the total number of civilian deaths in Chhattisgarh in 2005-2006 was 243 while the number of security personnel killed by the Maoists was 65. In the first three months of 2007, as many as 226 civilians were killed in the State. By way of contrast, the official tally of killings by the Maoists in 2003 and 2004 — the years immediately preceding SJ — was 74 and 83 respectively, including policemen. If the idea is to counter naxalite violence, the strategy is clearly not working...
In the case of Salwa Judum, however, the bar is explicit. The targeting of civilians in an internal conflict violates the public conscience and is expressly prohibited by customary law. There is no way India can claim immunity from its sanctions.

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