AFSPA under scan
Working on a story on the highly controversial Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) last year, this writer had maintained that the legislation is more often seen as a mechanism to exploit the natives, curtail freedom and commit excesses on them. (See Eastern Panorama: November 2011 issue)
Now, such a contention has got valid legal backing. The vexed issue of extra judicial killings of ‘innocent’ civilians in Manipur has come haunting the Government of India otherwise battling internal dissidence in terms of insurgency and Maoist violence in several states.
The Supreme Court on October 1, 2012 ordered the central government and the state government of Manipur in the northeast of India, to respond to allegations that as many as 1528 people including women and children have been killed by security forces and state commandoes since 1978.
“This is frightening and the episode certainly can shake the conscience of the entire nation,” Colin Gonsalves, lawyer for the petitioner, told Eastern Panorama.
A Supreme Court Bench comprising justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Prakash Desai also asked the National Human Rights Commission to file its reply to the plea by November 5.
The 410-page petition has been filed on behalf of two Manipur-based organizations - Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association (EEVFAM) and Human Rights Alert (HRA).
The petition seeks halt to such indiscriminate killings and also setting up of a special investigation team comprising of honest police officers to probe the killings in the state.
Manipur, bordering sensitive and often vulnerable Myanmar, is a heavily militarized state ravaged for decades by insurgency. The Asian Human Rights Commission estimates there is at least one security officer for every 20 civilians in Manipur.
The petition further cites case studies of innocent civilians killed by security forces and whose bodies showed signs of torture.
|Sharmila, on a fast for 12 years ago demanding justice and repeal of the draconian Act, is now force-fed by authorities.|
The petition filed in the Supreme Court cites cases where in young people including women are often picked up by central security forces or Manipur commandos and killed in extrajudicial manner. “Often victims’ bodies are found with several bullet injuries and marks of merciless beatings and torture,” said Babloo Loitongbam of Human Rights Alert.
The petition also mentions how a 22-year-old who went looking for a missing cow on his bicycle, was found shot dead. The embattled Congress-led UPA government, faced with corruption charges and growing political opposition to reforms initiatives, want to go cautiously on a sensitive and emotive issue like this.
Neena Ningombam, who lost her husband in such an episode, said often the mandatory criminal investigations and prosecutions of the guilty are not conducted, even there are no departmental enquiries and no policemen or personnel of the security forces were punished departmentally for their actions.
She recalled that her husband had disappeared on November 4, 2008 after he had gone to a friend’s house for helping at the last rites of a family friend.
At around 9 in the evening, her husband was shown as a militant killed in an encounter with a hand grenade by his side.
“Our family submitted memorandum to the Chief Minister and the Director General of Police but nothing has happened on that,” she lamented.
“We have heard about the Supreme Court directive and will respond to the petition in time,” said a union Home Ministry official on the condition of anonymity.
The insurgency-hit Manipur government too said they will also “respond” to the allegations. However, officials in the centre and the state admit a “myriad of complex issues” ought to be understood in terms of providing adequate security to citizens, protecting the national integrity and honour in a sensitive border state and help governance and developments reach people.
The Manipur state like other northeastern states and also Jammu and Kashmir have been reeling under the controversial the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), which gives unbridled and sweeping powers to the state and central security forces.
But this legislation, initially drafted in 1958 go along with Disturbed Areas Act, is sought to be justified by the armed forces and the Government on the plea that it is required to fight the secession movements. The Defence Ministry had earlier this year opposed vehemently diluting the provisions of the law saying it is their “vital tool for operations”.
The primary complain against the Act is that under its provisions even a non-commissioned officer rank of havildars is granted the right to shoot and to kill individuals on mere suspicion in order to “maintain the public order”.
It may be mentioned that the efforts to ensure repeal of the controversial Act had gained momentum in 2011 once noted Gandhian, Anna Hazare team liberally associated itself with the Irom Sharmila’s agitation in the backyards of Manipur. Sharmila, on a fast for 12 years ago demanding justice and repeal of the draconian Act, is now force-fed by authorities.
In fact, On October 16, 2011, noted social worker Medha Patkar had also flagged off 11-state march from Srinagar in Kashmir to Manipur state capital Imphal expressing solidarity with Irom Sharmila.
Even the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) chairman Justice B G Balakrishnan had said his panel is ready to consider whether the AFSPA could be repealed or not.
The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Christ of Heyns, has recently called the alleged killings a matter “of serious concern” while the Amnesty International too has spoken against the Act.
The North East Dialogue Forum (NEDF), a conglomeration of civil societies, religious bodies, intellectuals and academicians from the northeast, has appealed to the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to revoke the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from the region saying there has been considerable improvement in the situation.
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