Espionage and The Curious Case of Kulbhushan Jadhav

This Article is written by Yoshita Dahiya, student of Army Institute of Law, Mohali.


International law seeks to incorporate equity, transparency and good faith in it’s pursuit of justice. The act of espionage or of spying and gathering information through covert means greatly relies on deceit and treachery. The two seem rather incompatible with each other, and seemingly the founding principles of espionage are directly in contradiction with the values of international justice systems.

This will be in the context of the capture of Mr. Kulbhushan Jadhav and to the objective by Pakistan forces in 2016. Before we engage with the law, it is pertinent to note that both India and Pakistan are parties to the Vienna Conventions and the optional protocols with no reservations

Jadhav (India v Pakistan)

On 8 May 2017, India filed an application instituting proceedings against Pakistan in regard of a debate concerning affirmed infringement of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 24 April 1963 in the matter of the confinement and preliminary of an Indian public, Mr. Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav.

Jadhav, a former Indian Navy officer, who had been condemned to death by a military court in Pakistan in April 2017. Pakistan also communicated a videotape that records Mr. Jadhav confessing his role in espionage activities conducted at the behest of all of the research and analysis wing of India. The court, however, establishes very clearly that the circumstances in which the video was made have not been furnished to the court. The Indian government immediately recognized him as an Indian national and repeated pleas to allow consular access to Mr. Jadhav had been ignored.

India asserted that Pakistan had neglected to advise it, immediately, of the capture and confinement of its national. Around the same time, India recorded a petition for the indication of provisional measures, asking the Court to direct Pakistan to “take all actions important to guarantee that Mr. Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav is not executed.” The Court next tended to the three issues with applicability of the Vienna conventions raised by Pakistan, which depended on India’s supposed maltreatment of interaction, maltreatment of rights and unlawful direct.

Having tracked down that none of the contentions raised by Pakistan could be maintained, the Court reasoned that the Vienna Convention was relevant for the situation. The Court saw that Pakistan didn’t challenge India’s attestation that Mr. Jadhav had not been educated regarding his rights under Article 36, paragraph (1) , of the Convention, and consequently held that Pakistan had neglected to fulfill its commitment under that arrangement. As regards Pakistan’s alleged neglection of its obligation to inform India, immediately, of the capture and confinement of Mr. Jadhav, as accommodated in Article 36, paragraph (1)a, of the Vienna Convention, it was called to attention to how Pakistan had not conceded any Indian consular official admittance to Mr. Jadhav. The Court was of the view that India’s alleged inability to co‑operate in the examination interaction in Pakistan didn’t alleviate Pakistan of its commitment to give consular access, and didn’t legitimize Pakistan’s refusal of admittance to Mr. Jadhav, by denying India’s consular officials admittance to Mr. Jadhav. With respect to India’s argument that it was qualified for restitutio in integrum, it’s request for the Court to invalidate the decision of the military court and restrain Pakistan from giving effect to the sentence or conviction, and the further solicitation for the Court to direct Pakistan to discharge Mr. Jadhav. The Court additionally found, nonetheless, that Pakistan was under an obligation to give, through its own picking, a powerful survey and re-examination of the conviction and sentence of Mr. Jadhav.

Espionage and International Law

Espionage has been referred to as a known crime. Espionage is neither legal nor illegal under international law. Espionage “exists between the tectonic plates of legal systems.” This idea found legal footing first in the 1874 Brussels declaration, where at the behest of Czar Alexander the second of Russia, 15 European states contributed to the examination of a draft of the laws and customs of war created by the Russian government. It classified deceptive means of procuring information as a lawful act.

Here, perspective is important, to the directly engaged enemy a nation’s covert information outsourcing activities are criminal. In the larger picture, the fact remains that international law is largely silent on the phenomenon of espionage. Through the medium of this article I shall attempt to analyze what international law says it will do about acts of espionage and seek to find out what protections the Vienna and Geneva Conventions offer to those captured on these charges.

The report, nonetheless, failed to convert into restricting global law after large numbers of the countries would not endorse it. The Lieber code was a homegrown American request endorsed by President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War that Demarest accepted to have impacted the Hague and Geneva arrangements. It discussed the status of spies and their immunity after the fact of spying while acknowledging the heavy penalties if caught in the act. But, moving onto relevant contemporary law, it is basic to examine The Hague rules Article 29 and 31 until you turn off Chapter two of the Fourth Hague Convention on the Laws and Customs of War on Land of 1997. Article 29 defines a spy as one who clandestinely seeks to obtain and communicate information from within the zone of operations of the belligerent. It excludes from its definition soldiers who do the same act without engaging in deceit to achieve their ends. Article 13 mandates a trial for any person accused of espionage, and Article 31 explicitly states that, that person can only be tried as a spy if caught in the act and not if he’s captured after the act is completed and he has rejoined the army to which he belongs.

The Geneva protocols of 1977 have since reaffirmed the position taken up by the international community on the rules pertaining to spying and espionage. The above provisions, however, have exclusively referred to wartime espionage, while the legality of aggressive war remains another topic to be discussed in the context of maIs espionage among these things? International law is largely silent on peacetime espionage, and scholarly works differ widely in their opinions, a popular view remains that espionage is morally and politically untainted, even during peacetime. Scholars such as Quincy, believe it to be a violation of international law and customs. It may well be a violation of Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter. English historian Michael Byrne has included in his definition of spies a point that raises an interesting question.

It incorporates surveillance conducted by a state on its own residents and counter surveillance by at least one residents or gatherings of residents on the state and its secrets in the ambit of his meaning of spying. While the Apex court in a Democratic state has been to regulate state surveillance, acquiring and disseminating  state secrets by homegrown gatherings is often a crime of the nature of treason or even dissidence and domestic law, and is punishable by a court of law.

If states and citizens are criminally liable for their espionage activities within domestic borders in virtually every jurisdiction on this planet, should international law also adopt a similar criminal connotation to peacetime espionage?


Pakistan has since called for India’s cooperation with the investigation at the trial of Kulbhushan Jadhav, the record before a military court in Pakistan. This was despite never making the case file and other important documents available to Indian officials. On April 10th, 2017, Mr. Jadhav received the death sentence before the military court. Pakistan later allowed for his wife and his mother to visit him, but the circumstances of their experience and interaction are still largely disputed by both parties.

Gathering intelligence is just the flip side of performing espionage, and performing espionage is just one part of a country’s broader effort for survival. Beyond any international consensus, countries will continue to perform espionage to serve their national interests. Negative or positive, it all depends on who does what to whom. International law does not change the reality of espionage.


  1. John Radson, The Unresolved Equation of Espionage and International law, Vol 28, Issue 3, Michigan Journal of International Law, Pg 26
  2. Who is Kulbhushan Yadav?, JAN 06, 2021 10:50 PM IST;
  3. Special correspondent,Kulbhushan Jadhav coerced into refusing appeal, says India  JAN 14, 2021 10:08 PM IST.