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Human Rights Violations by the Armed Forces

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Published: Mon, 02 Oct 2017

CHAPTER IV: ALLEGED HR VIOLATIONS BY THE ARMED FORCES

IN NE INDIA

Fundamental violations of human rights always lead to people feeling less and less human.

San Suu Kyi

India’s CI ops in the NE have allegedly resulted in widespread HR violations including, torture, forced disappearances, extra-judicial killing, rape, detention without trial, and harsh restrictions on freedom of assembly, movement and expression. Human rights abuses have been invariably now linked with the AFSPA, 1958, which was enacted in response to the Naga insurgency movement in then Assam State and union territory of Manipur.

Between 2005 and 2008, the number of security troops killed in the northeast declined from 71 to 46 per year. In that same period, the ACHR notes an increase in the number of reported civilian deaths (1666) in the region.[1] As per media reports, out of those killed very few died in combat with armed forces. Instead most were killed in ‘fake encounters’ where in an individual is usually picked-up by police or armed forces and later his dead body is found at a secluded location, in rebel uniform and planted with a forbidden weapon and some unregistered (illegal) SIM cards.

In February 2012, two judges of the Supreme Court, intervening in a case where the Central Bureau of Investigation was seeking to prosecute army officers accused of murdering five villagers in Jammu & Kashmir, in what is known as the Pathribal incident, declared clearly that AFSPA’s protection was limited to acts conducted in the line of duty. “You go to a place in exercise of AFSPA, you commit rape, you commit murder, then where is the question of sanction? It is a normal crime which needs to be prosecuted, and that is our stand,” declared the bench of Justices Swatanter Kumar and B.S. Chauhan.[2]

Thangjam Manamora Devi

On 10 Jul 04, a 29 yr old Manipuri woman named Thangjam Manorama Devi was allegedly picked up from her residence by the troops of 17th Assam Rifles. The next morning her bullet ridden body was found in the field at a short distance from her residence. The autopsy of her corpse suggested rape and murder. Assam Rifles claimed that she was shot for her attempt to escape. Post the incident an inquiry commission was set up by the Manipur Govt. The commission submitted its report in Nov 2004, but the Guwahati High Court ruled that the State Govt has no jurisdiction over the Assam Rifles because of its deployment under AFSPA.[3]

The Assam Rifles, for its part, has refused to cooperate with the Judicial Commission instituted by the Ibobi Singh Govt to probe the circumstances that led to Manorama’s death. It moved the Guwahati High Court and obtained an interim stay on the summoning of its personnel by the commission. Col. Jag Mohan, Commandant of 17 Assam Rifles, requested the commission to set aside the proceedings against Assam Rifles personnel since a petition had been filed in the Guwahati High Court.

The Assam Rifles’ petition in the High Court said that the commission has been summoning persons who do not come under its jurisdiction. In the past, some judicial inquiry commissions had to be wound up on technical grounds. Under the AFSPA, no prosecution process can be initiated against personnel of the Central forces without first obtaining the Centre’s approval. The Assam Rifles moved the High Court certainly not without the prior sanction of both the Home and Defence Ministries. Quoting the first post-mortem report of Manorama, Assam Rifles denied the charge of rape of her by its personnel.[4]

Mr Colin Gonsalves, a senior advocate of the Supreme Court has stated that “ Not only man on the street, but even judges have been arbitrarily picked up, detained and tortured by the men in uniform deriving unlimited and unaccounted powers from the Armed forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958. If the judiciary cannot protect itself, how can it do justice to the people of Manipur”.[5]

Guwahati High Court ruled for the submission of report of Inquiry commission constituted by State Govt to the Home ministry and since then this report has not been made public. This shocking incident resulted in wide scale unprecedented protests throughout the state. Anger and anguish among the locals reached such a level where a group of middle aged women stripped naked outside the headquarters of Assam Rifles and shouted slogans ‘ Indian Army Rape Us’. In order to reach out to the feelings of Manipuri people then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh promised the people of Manipur to review the AFSPA.[6]

Irom Chanu Sharmila

Irom Sharmila is a 42 years old woman from Manipur who is also referred to as ‘The Iron Lady of Manipur’ for her hunger strike which she started on 2 Nov 2000. She has been called “the world’s longest hunger striker” for having refused food and water for more than 14 years.

On 2 Nov 2000, ten civilians were allegedly killed by the armed forces operating in the state under AFSPA at Malom town in the Imphal valley. Protesting the ‘Malom Massacre’ Sharmila started her unending hunger strike which is continued till date. Her main demand to the central Govt is complete repeal of AFSPA which has been perceived by the local Manipuri people as the root cause of the HR violations by the armed forces.[7]

Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee.

As mentioned above, during the visit of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to Manipur in 2004, he promised the people to consider the review of AFSPA. Thereafter a committee was constituted by the Central Govt, under the chairmanship of Justice (Retired) BP Jeevan Reddy, on 19 Nov 04 to recommend either changes in the present act or to replace the AFSPA in present form with a more humane act. The committee also included four other members.

During the course of its work, the committee members met several individuals, organisations, parties, institutions and NGOs, which resulted in the report stating that “the Act, for whatever reason, has become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high handedness.” The report clearly stated that “It is highly desirable and advisable to repeal the Act altogether, without of course, losing sight of the overwhelming desire of an overwhelming majority of the [North East] region that the Army should remain (though the Act should go).”[8]

The committee submitted its report to the Central Govt in August 2005. The Govt has not yet decided on the recommendations proposed by the committee. Some of the important recommendations of the committee are as follows[9]:-

(a) AFSPA should be repealed. The Act is too sketchy, too bald and quite inadequate in several particulars.

(b) Insertion of appropriate provisions in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (as amended in the year 2004) would be more appropriate, instead of suggesting a new piece of legislation. Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 as amended in 2004 by the Parliament should be the only law to deal with all kinds of internal security problems including the threats of insurgency and terrorism.

(c) A chapter needs to be added to facilitate employment of armed forces in the present Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 as amended in 2004. The draft chapter has also been included in report of the Reddy committee as compatible to the constitutional principles.

Justice Santosh Hegde Committee

The Supreme Court of India by its order dated 4th Jan 2013 appointed Justice Santosh Hegde commission with directions to make thorough inquiry in the first six cases detailed in ‘Compilation –I’ filed by the writ petitioners in WP (Crl) No.129 of 2012, with further directions to the commission to record a finding regarding the past antecedents of the victims and the circumstances in which they were killed.[10]

The Apex Court further directed the commission to report regarding the functioning of State Police and Security Forces and if necessary the commission was mandated to make recommendations for keeping the police and the security forces within the legal bounds without compromising the fight against insurgency.[11]

The specific cases which were enquired by the commission are as per the details given below[12]:-

After carrying out the detailed inquiry in respect of all six case the Justice Santosh Hegde Commission submitted its report on 30 Mar 13. Following are the highlights of the recommendations proposed by the commission[13]:-

(a) The six cases which were inquired by the commission were egregious examples of AFSPA’s gross abuse.

(b) With a burgeoning, restive and youthful population only proactive inclusive governance can hope for some stability.

(c) Commission was in respectful agreement with the finding of Justice Jeevan Reddy committee that AFSPA has become “a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and instrument of discrimination and high headedness”.

(d) It is time to progressively de-notify more areas of the Manipur State under section 3 of AFSPA. If at any stage of the de-notification there is a serious and continued regression in the law and order situation, it should be open to the appropriate Govt to reconsider the options available to it.

(e) The Do’s and Don’ts, laid down by the Supreme Court during its 1997 verdict, may be given statutory status.

(f) A sensitive, proactive and responsive administration will go long way in normalizing the situation and winning the confidence of the people.

(g) All cases of encounters resulting in death are reviewed once in three months by a committee chaired by the Head of the State Human Rights Commission with Principal Secretary Home and DG of the state as members.

(h) Central Govt be given a reasonable time to pass order under Section 6 of AFSPA, preferably within three months from the date of its receipt of the request of the prosecution, failing which its sanction will be presumed.

Conclusion

Apart from the cases of HR violations discussed above, there are many other cases some of which are not even reported. These HR violations clearly show the undesired consequences of employing the Armed Forces for the task which under the normal circumstances should have been undertaken by the state law enforcing agencies. When the Armed Forces are deployed for prolonged duration for maintenance of public order, there is ample possibility of certain member from the forces seeking advantage of the power and position to harass or trample upon the rights of the local people. Hence the act needs to be analysed in detail to ascertain the availability of suitable checks and balances to prevent the appalling HR violations by the Armed Forces.

Footnotes

[1] Lierde Van Frank, We, Widows of the Gun, A joint publication from Manipuri NGO’s Women in Governance (WinG), the Gun Victims Survivors Association (GVSA), Human Rights Alert (HRA), the Extrajudicial Execution Victims Families Manipur (EEVFAM) and the Dutch international development organization Cordaid, 2011, p-13.

[2] An abomination called AFSPA, The Hindu 12 Feb 2013, http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/an-abomination-called-afspa/article4405641.ece accessed on 15 Nov 14.

[3] Thangjam Manorama, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thangjam_Manorama accessed on 15 Nov 14.

[4] Talukdar Sushanta, Manipur on fire, Frontline Aug28-Sep10,2004, http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl2118/stories/20040910007400400.htm accessed on 16 Nov 14.

[5] The Murder of Manorama, http://www.unipune.ac.in/snc/cssh/HumanRights/02 STATE AND ARMY – POLICE REPRESSION/B Assam and the north east/11.pdf accessed on 15 Nov 14.

[6] Dr. Manmohan Singh was amiable with Manipur leaders, assured to amend armed forces special powers law with a new humane law, Asian Tribune, 01 Nov 04, http://www.asiantribune.com/news/2004/11/01/dr-manmohan-singh-was-amiable-manipur-leaders-assured-amend-armed-forces-special-pow accessed on 15 Nov 14.

[7] Irom Chanu Sharmila, Wikipedia, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irom_Chanu_Sharmila accessed on 15 Nov 14.

[8] Justice(Retd) BP Jeevan Reddy Committee’s Report, 6 Jun 05.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Report of Supreme Court Appointed Justice Santosh Hegde Commission, P-1.

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid, P- 4,5.

[13] Ibid, P- 95-104.


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