But the Pakistani government may have diverged from other norms spelled out in the Geneva Conventions, appearing to violate regulations written to protect prisoners from, among other things, “insults and public curiosity,” as spelled out in Article 13.
“Releasing the video would be prohibited by that provision,” Rachel E. VanLandingham, a military justice expert at Southwestern Law School, told The Washington Post on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan told his parliament the pilot would be released Friday as a “peace gesture” in a move likely to relieve tensions that rose sharply after the pilot’s capture. India and Pakistan have struggled over the Himalayan Kashmir region, which is divided by a militarized “Line of Control.”
The fight over the territory Wednesday was the first aerial combat between India and Pakistan in five decades.
Government officials in Pakistan inflamed rhetoric early on social media after the pilot’s capture. Raveesh Kumar, a spokesman for India’s ministry of external affairs, said the video was posted Wednesday on Twitter by the Pakistani government and later deleted.
The removal, VanLandingham said, was “clear recognition they shouldn’t have released it.” India and Pakistan are both signatories of the Geneva Conventions.
Other videos circulated online showed the pilot being pulled from wreckage and beaten by apparent civilians before soldiers fire to disperse the mob. Another showed him drinking tea while praising his treatment by his captors and declining to answer questions about his aircraft and mission.
India’s Foreign Ministry said it “strongly objected to Pakistan’s vulgar display of an injured personnel in violation” of Geneva Conventions. India has said it expects “his immediate and safe return.”
Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, Pakistan’s military spokesman, said the pilot was being treated “as per norms of military ethics.” Indian media outlets identified him as Abhinandan Varthaman.
Anthony H. Cordesman, a security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Geneva Conventions are broadly written and are difficult to enforce in this particular instance.
“In this case, probably by that standard almost every handling of prisoners of war involves violation of laws of war,” he said Wednesday.
VanLandingham said that not every violation of the Geneva Conventions is a war crime in itself. But what does matter in terms of violation, she said, was the purpose of releasing the video and whether the pilot was recognizable.
“Here, [there was] no military necessity to release the video, and presumably it was released with the intent to humiliate the captive and, thus, the state of India, and, thus, Pakistan is in violation of Article 13,” she said. The article is applicable because international conflict has occurred despite the lack of a formal declaration, VanLandingham added.
The provision was invoked by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in 2003 after Iraqis showed captured U.S. troops on television. “The Geneva Conventions indicates that it’s not permitted to photograph and embarrass or humiliate prisoners of war,” he said days after the invasion.
It was also widely discussed during the Vietnam War, when North Vietnam used images of captured Americans as propaganda.
In 1946, a U.S. military commission tried and convicted a German lieutenant general under the same provision. He ordered U.S. prisoners paraded through Rome in 1944; the scene was recorded and later appeared in Italian newspapers.
Although this apparent violation may be difficult to enforce, the international community could apply soft pressure to Pakistan to alter its behavior, VanLandingham said.
“There is no country in the world party to the Geneva Conventions that doesn’t violate them. But there is value in articulating the law itself,” she said. “They can say, ‘Your folks will eventually get captured, too, so don’t forget that.’ ”
Pamela Constable in Kabul and Joanna Slater and Niha Masih in New Delhi contributed to this report.