Cross-country prisoners need to be treated on humanitarian grounds

Jatin Desai
Monday, 25 December 2017

Kulbhushan Jadhav’s wife and mother, finally, met him on Monday across a glass screen in the office of Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), Islamabad. There was much hype in both the countries about their meeting. Such meetings should not be used for propaganda. It was a ‘humanitarian gesture’ according to Pakistan on the birth anniversary of Quaid e Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. It was a positive thing and one can hope that in future close relatives of all prisoners languishing in each other’s prisons will be allowed to meet them.

Kulbhushan Jadhav’s wife and mother, finally, met him on Monday across a glass screen in the office of Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), Islamabad. There was much hype in both the countries about their meeting. Such meetings should not be used for propaganda. It was a ‘humanitarian gesture’ according to Pakistan on the birth anniversary of Quaid e Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. It was a positive thing and one can hope that in future close relatives of all prisoners languishing in each other’s prisons will be allowed to meet them. Such kind of ‘reunion’ has not happened, at least, in many years.

Initially, there was a lot of confusion regarding consular access. The mere presence of Indian Deputy High Commissioner JP Singh does not mean consular access. It is altogether a different process. Also, JP Singh was not allowed to meet Jadhav, he was only allowed to see the meeting of Jadhav family. It was an emotional meeting as they were meeting after 21 months. The meeting was originally scheduled for 30 minutes but was extended for 10 more minutes. Indian High Commission, Islamabad has written more than 25 letters to the Pakistan government requesting consular access. But, so far, it has been denied. Again, it is not clear whether it will be provided following the meeting of Jadhav family.

On consular relations, there is a Vienna Convention of 1963. It is an international treaty and it defines a framework of consular relations. There is also an Agreement on Consular Access between India and Pakistan signed in 2008. Consular access is a right of a prisoner and the host country has to provide it to the consular officer of the arrested country within a stipulated time.

The Agreement on Consular Access categorically says in Article (IV) that each government shall provide consular access within three months to nationals of one country, under arrest, detention or imprisonment in the other country. The Article (VI) says, in case of arrest, detention or sentence made on political or security grounds, each side may examine the case on its merits. Vienna Convention on Consular Relation’s Article 36 also deals with the consular access.

Though there is an agreement on consular access between India and Pakistan, it is not implemented in letter and spirit. There is also a case of young Mumbaikar Hamid Ansari who is in the custody of Pakistan since the end of 2012. It was only in January 2016 Pakistan confirmed the presence of Hamid in Pakistan. He was sentenced to three years. Hamid’s case is a sad love story. He entered Pakistan to meet his love. In his case, India has written more than 65 letters requesting Pakistan to allow consular access. But, still, it has not been granted.

The consular access is necessary to identify whether the arrested person belongs to the country he or she claims. Also, the consul officer can find out what kind of help (legal, medical etc.) he or she requires. In case of Kulbhushan and Hamid, India had confirmed that they are Indian citizens without access. Consular access also gives confidence and relief to the prisoner/s.

It is clear that the meeting was only of a family and according to Pakistan, it was a ‘goodwill gesture.’ Pakistan’s MoFA’s spokesperson
Dr Mohammad Faisal clarified that it was not consular access. Pakistan also said that this is not the last meeting.

Ideally, such kind of family ‘reunion’ should be kept private. But, it turned into an event with much hype in both the countries. The photos of the reunion were tweeted when the meeting was on. A video of Kulbhushan ‘thanking Pakistani government for grand gesture’ was played at a press conference addressed by Faisal.  

The issue of Kulbhushan and others languish in each other’s jails needs to be seen from a humanitarian perspective. Hundreds of innocent fishermen of each other’s country are in the custody of India and Pakistan. They suffer and so their families. It is time for both the countries to think out of the box and find some solution towards the suffering of prisoners of the other country.

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