Human Shield: The New Facet – II
So much so is about the armies but there are incidents when the civilians volunteer themselves to be used as human shields. In November 2006, Palestinian women volunteered as human shields to allow the escape of Hamas gunmen from Israeli forces in Beit ul Hanuon in the Gaza Strip. The armed Palestinians had confined themselves in a mosque which was surrounded by Israeli troops and tanks. Meanwhile, a crowd of women gathered outside the mosque in response to an appeal for women to protect the Hamas fighters, from a local radio station. The Palestinian gunmen escaped by dressing in women’s clothes and hiding in the large group.
In the recent past, few years back almost identical incident happened during Lal Masjid operation when the lady students refused to leave Jamia-e-Hifsa and remained pitched inside the compound. Although unknown sources claim that they were forced to stay put, nevertheless, no confirm proof could be provided by them in support of their claim. Yet another but an interesting example is of the human rights group Rabbis for Human Rights who agreed to act as human shields during the annual olive harvest to protect Palestinian villages from settlers. But that was an exception to the general Israeli behavior against the Palestinians. Israel has so far not been unable to clear the UN Human Rights Council’s charge of using human shields during 2008-2009 Gaza Conflict.
British newspaper daily The Guardian, in fact had compiled three videos and testimony from civilians of alleged war crimes committed by Israeli soldiers during the Gaza war, including the use of Palestinian children as human shields. The most famous case is of three teenage brothers from the al-Attar family who were taken from their home at gunpoint, made to kneel in front of tanks to discourage Hamas fighters from firing at them and sent by Israeli soldiers into Palestinian houses to clear them.
Contrary to that according to a Human Rights Watch report published on February 19, 2009, in Sri Lanka, the LTTE had been preventing Tamil civilians from fleeing out of rebel held area and using them as human shields against the Sri Lankan Army offensive. Recently, during the Crimean crisis, the Russian troops are reported to have used local civilians, to avoid defense shooting, while storming the Ukrainian Navy headquarters in Sevastopol and Ukrainian naval vessels.
In May 2009, during Swat operation, thousands of people were stranded in violence-wracked Swat and Buner districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province because the Pakistani Taliban had refused to allow them passage to safer places. According to the locals who talked to media reps Taliban were using civilians as human shields. They weren’t letting people through the checkpoints in Kanju, Matta and Khwazakhela in Swat. The government functionaries were expecting at least a million people’s displacement due to the military operation but Taliban weren’t permitting them to go outside Buner and Swat.
The most recent case is of North Waziristan Agency, which remained under American drone umbrella for many years and suffered heavy casualties. According to an unofficial organisation http://www.pakistanbodycount.org/ which collects data from media reports, internet and hospitals, in American drone strikes so far there are 4514 casualties and the count is still on. Out of this 3248 are dead while 1266 are injured. Since the drones were out of the reach hence the revenge was taken from innocent brethren Pakistanis through suicide bombing. So far 6108 are dead whereas 15972 are injured, hence making it the total of 22080 and counting is still on. It was a matter of concern for the authorities, therefore, Pakistan insisted that the US should suspend the drone strikes forthwith and let Pakistan take the action against the culprits. After a great effort the Americans agreed to it with a heavy heart though they couldn’t control themselves for long.
On June 16, 2014, Pakistan army launched the much anticipated operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan. As it was expected the historic Pakistani settlement of Bannu, lying just outside the North Waziristan Agency is now the center for displaced families escaping a looming government offensive in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). According to the political administration of North Waziristan roughly 600,000 people living in those areas have already endured heavy fighting in the last few years. Besides that more than two thirds of the 370 suspected American drone strikes in FATA had struck North Waziristan and has brought wrath to the common man who is sandwiched between drones in the skies and militants on earth.
According to the FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA), which assists IDPs in the region, more than 17,000 people have fled North Waziristan in the last month, while, up to 800 people have also fled across the border to Afghanistan’s Khost and Paktika provinces.
Opposing to the government notification, tribal elders and militant leaders have clearly warned residents to leave but preferably to make their way to safer areas near the Afghan border as early as possible. The elders from the locally-dominant Wazir and Dawar tribes have said that in the light of threats from the militants they prefer to live with relatives or friends instead of in Pakistani IDP camps which is likely to endanger their lives.
The preparations have been made for the safe evacuation of civilians. Necessary logistics and administrative arrangements for internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been made by Political Administration and Disaster Management Agency. Registration points and IDP camps have been set up. Surrender points have also been made for those militants who chose to quit violence and give up their arms. Despite all the efforts and utmost care the chances of using the human shields by the militants can’t be 100% ruled out. This would be one of those rare occasions in the history when instead of forces the militants and insurgents would be exploiting the human shields. The army and Taliban are daggers drawn and have a score to settle but dragging-in the unarmed civilians by any party would not be fair. As far as the armed forces are concerned they have categorically shown their concern for the safety of the innocent tribal population and are leaving no stone unturned to ensure their absolute safe and peaceful evacuation. Now it’s on Taliban’s part to prove their recent vow for not harming the civilian population.
Despite all the efforts, it cannot be ensured whether the civilians have totally evacuated from the warzone or as the reports are there, that they have been forced not to leave their locations, at many places. If that’s so then the human rights watchdogs that always raise voice for the missing persons should now come forward and play their role for the safety of peaceful tribal population and neutralizing of any possibility of their use as human shield.
One thing is for sure that human shield as a weapon will never get obsolete and individuals or armies shall keep using it in need and in nervousness, keeping all the ethics wrapped and rolled, aside.