First promulgated by the British to quell the freedom struggle in India, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), has been kept alive and continuously operative in several north-eastern states since 1958 and in Kashmir since 1990. It allows armed forces in “disturbed” areas the license to shoot to kill anyone whom they consider to be disrupting “public order”, make arrests without warrants, enter and search, detain and question, with complete impunity…
On 8 July 2016, the Supreme Court of India passed judgment on a PIL filed by the Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association regarding 1528 encounter deaths in Manipur that has been under siege of AFSPA for about 60 years. It directed that all the cases “must be investigated” because “democracy would be in grave danger” if armed forces were permitted to kill citizens on mere allegation or suspicion that they are enemies of the state. It also said that “no absolute immunity” could be given to armed forces personnel if any death was found to be “unjustified”.
At the 23rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Christof Heyns stated that “the powers granted under AFSPA are in reality broader than that allowable under a state of emergency as the right to life may effectively be suspended under the Act and the safeguards applicable in a state of emergency are absent. Moreover, the widespread deployment of the military creates an environment in which the exception becomes the rule, and the use of lethal force is seen as the primary response to conflict….
In 2004, in the wake of intense agitations following the death of 32 year old Ms Thangjam Manorama in the custody of the Assam Rifles (http://www.outlookindia.com/) the Government of India set up judicial committee to review the AFSPA. Yet when the Justice Jeevan Reddy report unequivocally recommended its repeal…
Welcoming the Supreme Court judgement that takes away the cloak of impunity offered by AFSPA to defence personnel, former NHRC member, Satyabrata Pal, writes a scathing piece that exposes the collusion between army, civil and magisterial authorities, as well as forensic and medical departments in the burying of evidence of false encounter deaths, and compromising the process of justice.
Arguing that ‘heavy militarisation in the north east has taken its toll on the very notion of “normal civilian life” and led to innumerable instances of violations committed against civilian populations.Encounter deaths, extra judicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary arrests, rape and torture have been a regular feature among the relentless series of atrocities meted out to the people by the army with impunity, especially in areas where they are protected by legislation like AFSPA.’ Indian women’s groups submitted an impassioned plea to the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee for the repeal of AFSPA….
In a joint report, REDRESS (UK), Asian Human Rights Commission (Hong Kong) and Human Rights Alert (India) examine the AFSPA in the light of Constitutional mandates of India, international covenants it is signatory to as well as the protests against its continued application, notably the longstanding hunger fast by Ms Irom Chanu Sharmila in Manipur.
The focus throughout these 16 years has been on the iconised personality of Irom Sharmila, rather than on the reason and the demand of her protest. She has still not given up her demand, which is to repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, but is merely changing her strategy. To misrecognise and misrepresent is also a form of violence, and it perpetrates the already existing militarism. Such misrecognition is what has led to the imposition of the AFSPA in the first place, the culture that looks at the people of the region with suspicion. The AFSPA has produced precisely such a culture of violence and impunity, the hallmark of which is the inability to trust.