Russian Pilots Shot While Descending By Parachute?

By Adam Klein
Wednesday, November 25, 2015, 10:47 AM

Reuters reports

Turkmen forces in Syria shot dead the two pilots of a Russian jet downed by Turkish warplanes near the border with Turkey on Tuesday as they descended with parachutes, a deputy commander of a Turkmen brigade told reporters.

"Both of the pilots were retrieved dead. Our comrades opened fire into the air and they died in the air," Alpaslan Celik, a deputy commander in a Syrian Turkmen brigade said near the Syrian village of Yamadi as he held what he said was a piece of a pilot's parachute.

If true, this constitutes a war crime. And in an ironic pot-kettle moment, the Assad regime’s Foreign Minister actually pointed this out yesterday. It is an established principle of customary international law that persons parachuting from an aircraft in distress cannot be fired upon and must be given an opportunity to surrender upon landing. Armed paratroopers “upon hostile missions,” however, are fair game.

This principle is enshrined in treaty law in Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions. The United States has not ratified the first Additional Protocol, but it accepts this particular prohibition as customary international law. The DOD Law of War Manual explains that “persons parachuting from aircraft in distress” are considered hors de combat and thus “may not be made the object of attack …, provided they abstain from any hostile act and do not attempt to escape.”