PUDR Statement on armed conflict and the protection of non-combatants

December 26, 2013

Peoples Union for Democratic Rights condemns the Maoist killing of Sai Reddy , a correspondent of the Hindi newspaper ‘Deshbandhu’, based in Bijapur in South Bastar, Chhattisgarh on December 6, 2013. The South Regional Committee of CPI(Maoist) on December 10, 2013 claimed that Sai Reddy “played an active role against the people’s movement in Basaguda and Usur areas over last two decades”, and therefore, he was condemned to death. Ironically, Sai Reddy not only wrote against Salwa Judum but was arrested by the police in 2008 and charged under the Chattisgarh Special Public Security Act for allegedly being a Maoist supporter. Earlier, on February 12, 2013, the body of a local journalist Nemichand Jain, a stringer for Haribhoomi, Nai Duniya and Dainik Bhaskar was found near Nama village in Sukma district. After several months, the Dandkaranya Special Zonal Committee of the CPI(Maoist) I October last apologized for the killing of Nemichand Jain and claimed that it was “a miscalculation and result of narrow-mindedness of the lower committee”.

Such an apology falls short of the obligation that all sides in an armed conflict have towards civilians in general and non-combatants like journalists/doctors/teachers etc, in particular. First, an apology after killing does not necessarily commit the Party to put a stop to carrying out death sentences, as evident from the more recent killing of Sai Reddy. The irrevocability and finality associated with death sentence apart as seen in Nemichand’s killing, such conduct is in defiance of humanitarian laws that govern armed conflicts/wars. Article 79 of Protocol I of Geneva Convention (1949) says that journalists “engaged in dangerous professional mission in areas of armed conflict shall be considered as civilians….” Since the CPI(Maoist) by their own admission claim that reporter Sai Reddy was an ‘informer,’ they violated the explicit bar against mistreatment,including killing. Furthermore, it is expressly prohibited to kill a ‘Prisoner of War’ or for that matter anyone else taken into custody, whether a combatant or a civilian.
The two killings were carried out by the Maoists without even complying with the provision of their own constitution which obliges the local committee under Article 5(h) of the ‘Policy program of Revolutionary People’s Committees’ to seek approval of higher instance. It says that before carrying out death sentence “the local people’s government have to obtain permission from the higher courts.” It was clearly flouted when Nemichand Jain was executed and appears to have been ignored in the killing of Sai Reddy too. This raises a question if they take their own constitution seriously or not.

PUDR is aware that threats to media and other non-combatants, such as doctors, health workers, teachers etc is widespread at the hands of Indian security forces. In areas where the military suppression of the Maoist-led Adivasis is being carried out, reporters come under fire for carrying a statement of the CPI(Maoist) just as they are perceived to be hostile if anything critical is written about the security forces. Besides, reporters also face problems writing against the mining companies because of editors who are afraid of antagonizing mining companies that are big advertisers. Often, the news of attacks by security forces on villages is suppressed out of fear, such as the media blackout of the burning of scores of houses by the security forces in hamlets which fall under Pidiya gram panchayat in Bijapur district. We know that medical and food supplies to the people living in areas controlled by Maoists are prevented by security forces. This enforcement is carried out strictly in violation of domestic and international laws. And this has not been an issue of much media coverage. However, the lapses and pusillanimity of the media or the dastardly role of the security forces cannot justify the killing of media personnel.

PUDR is convinced that death sentence meted out by CPI(Maoist) held People’s Court cannot be defended because all death sentences are arbitrary , subjective and irrevocable.

Asish Gupta and D Manjit
(secretaries PUDR)