1. Pak. seeks joint probe into missile incident
It slams ‘lapses’ in handling of strategic weapons by India
Pakistan on Saturday rejected the explanation offered by India regarding the accidental firing of a missile which ended up in the neighbouring country and demanded a joint investigation to “accurately establish the facts”.
This was also conveyed to the chargé d’affaires of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad.
Pakistan said the incident indicated many “loopholes and technical lapses” of a serious nature in “Indian handling of strategic weapons”.
“The Indian decision to hold an internal court of inquiry is not sufficient since the missile ended up in Pakistani territory. Pakistan demands a joint probe to accurately establish the facts surrounding the incident,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) of Pakistan said in a statement.
“The grave nature of the incident raises several fundamental questions regarding security protocols and technical safeguards against accidental or unauthorised launch of missiles in a nuclearised environment.”
Stating that it took note of the statement from India’s Defence Ministry, the MoFA said such a serious matter could not be addressed with the simplistic explanation offered by the Indian authorities.
A day after Pakistan made a detailed presentation that an Indian supersonic surface-to-surface missile landed 124 km inside its territory, the Defence Ministry on Friday said that in the course of a routine maintenance on March 9, a “technical malfunction led to the accidental firing of a missile” and the Government of India had taken a “serious view” and ordered a high-level Court of Inquiry.
On the missile landing in Pakistan, the Ministry said the incident was “deeply regrettable”, but it was also a matter of relief that there was no loss of life. Raising a series of questions, Pakistan said that given the “profound level of incompetence”, India should explain if the missile was indeed handled by its “armed forces or some rogue elements”.
Pakistan also sought answers to several questions, including the measures and procedures in place to prevent accidental missile launches and the particular circumstances of this incident, the “type and specifications of the missile”, and the flight path and trajectory and how it ultimately turned and entered Pakistan.
2. Kerala tops in maternal, child health
Records lowest Maternal Mortality Ratio in country
Kerala has yet again emerged on top in maternal and child health, recording the lowest Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) of 30 (per one lakh live births) in the country.
According to the latest Sample Registration System (SRS) special bulletin on maternal mortality in India (2017-19), brought out by the office of the Registrar General of India, Kerala’s MMR has dropped by 12 points. The last SRS bulletin (2015-17) had put the State’s MMR at 42 (later adjusting it to 43).
National MMR is 103
This puts Kerala way ahead of the national MMR of 103. Another State which has made significant gains is Maharashtra, whose MMR dipped from 55 to 38.
“This is an exciting moment for us, because Kerala has already achieved the target it had set for itself, based on the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, of an MMR of 30 by 2020, that too, one year ahead. We have to acknowledge the contribution of the private health sector in the State too, where 65% of the deliveries take place, though all complicated deliveries finally end up at public sector tertiary care maternity hospitals,” a senior health official said.
“COVID-19 has claimed over 90 mothers in Kerala in the past two years. This will reflect badly in our figures next year. But the State has made substantial investments in setting up high dependency units in every district and in improving 39 delivery points under the Union Health Ministry’s LaQshya (a quality improvement initiative in labour room & maternity operation theatres). Hence everything looks bright for us to achieve the next SDG target of an MMR of 20 by 2030,” he said.
Kerala’s achievement is a result of a decade of sustained efforts and taking up targeted initiatives to tackle each of these.
It developed the quality standards in obstetric care, in partnership with NICE International and specialists in 2012-13 and focused on the management of common causes of maternal deaths — postpartum haemorrhage (PPH), pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH), sepsis and amniotic fluid embolism. “There has been a substantial reduction in deaths due to sepsis, PIH and PPH, though postpartum haemorrhage continues to be a serious concern. Depressive disorders amongst young pregnant women leading to suicides is another major concern we need to address,” V.P. Paily, senior obstetrician, said.
“Confidential Review of Maternal Deaths, diligently done by KFOG since 2004-05 and which laid the foundation for all maternal health improvement initiatives was strengthened by maternal near-miss audits in all districts to analyse critical events which resulted in near maternal deaths. Kerala is perhaps the only State to have acted upon the operational guidelines released by the Union Health Ministry for Maternal Near Miss Review (MNMR) in 2014. This got the districts involved, along with much hand holding for the private sector too,” a Health official said.
IMR causes in India
India is not able to reduce its IMR for the following reasons:
- Premature birth: It contributes to more than 80% of newborn death in the country
- Asphyxia: Asphyxia is the state of being unable to breath. In India, Asphyxia in the new born is one of the leading cause of deaths. This is mainly due to lack of health infrastructure in rural areas. Also, it occurs due to infections such as pneumonia, meningitis, sepsis.
- Female literacy rates: In India, the babies born to illiterate mothers face twice the risk of early deaths as compared to those born to educated mothers.
- Child marriage: Anemia in young women and inadequate focus on adolescent sanitation
- Shortage of midwives and trained health workers
- 40% of IMR in India occurs due to poverty
- Lack of basic health practices related to immunization and breast feeding
3. Villages along China border to open for tourism
Centre’s decision is aimed at improving infrastructure in these areas under the Vibrant Village scheme
The Union government plans to open the villages along the Chinese border for tourists under the Vibrant Village programme announced in the Union Budget 2022-23.
Recently, the Union Home Ministry held a meeting with public representatives of such villages from the States of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and the Union Territory of Ladakh.
A senior government official said the Budget provisions for the programme had been sent to the Expenditure Finance Committee for its approval after which the scheme would be presented before the Union Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Tashi Gyalson, chief executive councillor of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), told The Hindu that a pre-exercise on plan formulation is under way at the district level in order to strengthen every border village.
“Some villages in Ladakh such as those in Changthang region can be turned into dark sky destination that could attract astronomy enthusiasts. Since the terrain is tough, several measures will have to be taken to improve the facilities for tourists,” Mr. Gyalson who represents the BJP in the LAHDC, said.
On February 23, at a virtual meeting organised by the Rural Development Ministry, a senior Home Ministry official said that for economic activities under the scheme, “emphasis be given on tourism and culture”.
“In the Vibrant Villages programme, schemes related to livelihood generation, road connectivity, housing, rural infrastructure, renewable energy, television and broadband connections should be undertaken,” the official stated.
A Parliamentary Committee on Home Affairs in its December 2021 report had recommended that all villages in Ladakh, particularly those located in Zero-Border such as Chumar and Demchok, should be electrified “in order to stop migration of people from these areas”.
According to the report, of the 236 habitable villages in Ladakh, only 172 have telecom infrastructure and “only 24 and 78 villages have 3G and 4G Internet connectivity”, respectively.
Konchok Stanzin, councillor of Chushul in eastern Ladakh, said there are 19 villages along border village that have nil or partial communicaton facilities. China has established several new villages along the LAC in the past few years particularly across the Arunachal Pradesh border.
Another government official said the Vibrant Village programme was a counter to China’s model villages but the name has been carefully chosen so as to not cause any consternation in the neighbouring country.
China and India have been engaged in a standoff at multiple locations in Eastern Ladakh fo the past two years and in one of the violent clashes with the China’s Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), as many as 20 Indian soldiers were killed.
Mr. Stanzin said the MHA has asked for suggestions to develop the border villages.
He stated that he has suggested to the Ministry that a fixed salary should be granted to the border population.
4. Sanctions could cause space station to crash: Roscosmos
‘Russian segment ensures that station’s orbit is corrected’
Western sanctions against Russia could cause the International Space Station to crash, the head of Russian space agency Roscosmos warned on Saturday, calling for the punitive measures to be lifted.
According to Dmitry Rogozin, the sanctions, some of which predate Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, could disrupt the operation of Russian spacecraft servicing the ISS.
As a result, the Russian segment of the station — which helps correct its orbit — could be affected, causing the 500-tonne structure to “fall down into the sea or onto land”, the Roscosmos chief wrote on Telegram.
“The Russian segment ensures that the station’s orbit is corrected (on average 11 times a year), including to avoid space debris”, said Mr. Rogozin.
Publishing a map of the locations where the ISS could possibly come down, he pointed out that it was unlikely to be in Russia.
“But the populations of other countries, especially those led by the ‘dogs of war’, should think about the price of the sanctions against Roscosmos”, he continued, describing the countries who imposed sanctions as “crazy”.
Mr. Rogozin similarly raised the threat of the space station falling to earth last month while blasting Western sanctions on Twitter.
On March 1, NASA said it was trying to find a solution to keep the ISS in orbit without Russia’s help. Crews and supplies are transported to the Russian segment by Soyuz spacecraft. But Mr. Rogozin said the launcher used for take-off had been “under U.S. sanctions since 2021 and under EU and Canadian sanctions since 2022”.
Roscosmos said it had appealed to NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency, “demanding the lifting of illegal sanctions against our companies”.
5. Geneva Conventions and the Russia-Ukraine war
Can the treaties protect those who have been affected by the conflict, especially civilians and the wounded?
The story so far: Russia’s armed invasion of Ukraine starting February 24 has set off a steady escalation in hostilities on Ukrainian soil, and in many cases civilian infrastructure and non-combatants have been impacted. As the Russian military continues to sweep through the country marching on to the capital, Kyiv, there is growing concern surrounding the issue of human rights violations. Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied any responsibility for harm to civilians. However, as the evidence of casualties in the civilian population continues to mount, the world will increasingly look to the Geneva Conventions, a set of principles outlining norms for combatant behaviour during a war, for standards to which the invading Russian forces can be held. Ultimately, if there is a compelling case for prosecuting combatants for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and the crime of aggression, evidence could be collected for an investigation and trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
What are the Geneva Conventions guidelines during wartime?
The Geneva Conventions are a set of four treaties, formalised in 1949, and three additional protocols, which codify widely accepted ethical and legal international standards for humanitarian treatment of those impacted by war. The focus of the Conventions is the treatment of non-combatants and prisoners of war, and not the use of conventional or biological and chemical weapons, the use of which is governed respectively by the Hague Conventions and the Geneva Protocol.
The First Geneva Convention protects wounded and sick soldiers on land during war. This convention extends to medical and religious personnel, medical units, and medical transport. While recognising distinctive emblems of these organisations, the convention has two annexes containing a draft agreement relating to hospital zones and a model identity card for medical and religious personnel.
The Second Geneva Convention protects wounded, sick and shipwrecked military personnel at sea during war. This convention also extends to hospital ships and medical transports by sea, with specific commentary on the treatment and protections for their personnel.
The Third Geneva Convention applies to prisoners of war, including a wide range of general protections such as humane treatment, maintenance and equality across prisoners, conditions of captivity, questioning and evacuation of prisoners, transit camps, food, clothing, medicines, hygiene and right to religious, intellectual, and physical activities of prisoners.
The Fourth Geneva Convention, which most imminently applies to the invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces, protects civilians, including those in occupied territory. The other Geneva Conventions were concerned mainly with combatants rather than civilians. However, based on the experience of World War II, which demonstrated the horrific consequences of having no convention for the protection of civilians in wartime, the Fourth Convention comprising 159 articles outlines the norms for this critical dimension of conflict.
Along with the Additional Protocols of 1977, the Fourth Convention expounds upon the general protection of populations against certain consequences of war, the conduct of hostilities and the status and treatment of protected persons, distinguishing between the situation of foreigners on the territory of one of the parties to the conflict and that of civilians in occupied territory. This convention also spells out the obligations of the occupying power vis-à-vis the civilian population and outlines detailed provisions on humanitarian relief for populations in occupied territory. As the International Committee for the Red Cross, a key medical intermediary in such situations, explains, this convention also contains a specific regime for the treatment of civilian internees, including three annexes on hospital and safety zones, and model regulations on humanitarian relief.
Which countries are signatories?
The Geneva Conventions have been ratified by 196 states, including all UN member states. The three Protocols have been ratified by 174, 169 and 79 states respectively. In 2019, perhaps anticipating the possibility of its invading Ukraine in the near future, Russia withdrew its declaration under Article 90 of Protocol 1, which states that “The High Contracting Parties may at the time of signing, ratifying or acceding to the Protocol, or at any other subsequent time, declare that they recognize ipso facto and without special agreement, in relation to any other High Contracting Party accepting the same obligation, the competence of the [International Fact-Finding] Commission to enquire into allegations by such other Party, as authorized by this Article.” By withdrawing this declaration, Russia has pre-emptively left itself with the option to refuse access by any international fact-finding missions to Russian entities, individuals or resources that might potentially, in Moscow’s reckoning, find Russia responsible for violations of the Geneva Conventions standards.
Further, the four conventions and first two protocols of the Geneva Conventions were ratified by the Soviet Union, not Russia, hence there is a risk of the Russian government of the day disavowing any responsibility under the Conventions in toto.
What would be the steps for potential prosecution under the Conventions?
Under Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the ICC, it is the ICC that has jurisdiction in respect of war crimes, in particular “when committed as part of a plan or policy or as part of a large-scale commission of such crimes.” Under the statute, ‘war crimes’ refers to “Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions… [including] wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments; wilfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health; extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly; compelling a prisoner of war or other protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile Power; wilfully depriving a prisoner of war or other protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial; unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement; taking of hostages.”
What evidence of war crimes has been accumulated so far?
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris called for an investigation into allegations of Russia committing war crimes in Ukraine, citing as example the bombing of a maternity hospital in the southern city of Mariupol. Similarly, there has been photographic and video evidence of lethal firing on civilians trying to escape across a damaged bridge in Irpin, near Kyiv; and hours of cell phone videos of bombed-out schools, houses, and apartment buildings across Ukraine.
However, analysts have argued that much of such evidence does not answer the central question of any war crime prosecution: who ordered which crime? The evidence that is required to answer this question, if it is recoverable, will come from the mobile phones and other communications equipment of Russian soldiers, which would typically include information on orders received from commanding officers, and video or audio evidence of attacks executed and the aftermath. To examine any such evidence emerging, on February 28 the ICC opened a war crimes investigation under its prosecutor, Karim Khan.
To what extent have Geneva Conventions been upheld worldwide in recent years?
On the 70th anniversary of the Conventions’ adoption, Amnesty International, a human rights advocacy group, noted in 2019 that there has been a “blatant disregard for civilian protection and international humanitarian law in armed conflicts where four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council are parties – Russia, the U.S., the U.K. and France.” Specifically, Amnesty cited the U.S.-led coalition’s bombing of Raqqa in Syria, which left more than 1,600 civilians dead; destruction of civilian infrastructure and lives in Aleppo and Idlib by Russian forces, leading to mass displacement of millions; and the war in Yemen where the Saudi Arabia and the UAE-led coalition, backed by the West, killed and injured thousands of civilians, fuelling a full-blown humanitarian crisis.
These cases underscore the grim fact that the Geneva Conventions, even when backed by rulings of the ICC, cannot be enforced by third parties to any conflict. However, they have in the past proved effective at raising global awareness of human rights violations across conflict zones, and in some cases led to sanctions or trade embargoes against the belligerents.