A Welcome Visit

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The expected visit of UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions Christof Heyes to India this month is a welcome move, in the light of the recent discussions in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The visit of UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Margaret Sekaggya has already borne fruit in the corridors of UN human rights forums. In India, cases of extrajudicial killings or in common man`™s language `fake encounter`™ have been piling up in recent years. There are still prominent cases pending in the Supreme Court. In the case of Manipur, the July 23 incident of 2009 in which a youth and a young housewife was killed by police commandoes in the crowded Imphal market still rankles our mind. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) has been in operation in the North-East India for more than four decades. With its prolonged imposition, the cycle of violence had only increased both in geographical spread and intensity. Enforced disappearances, arbitrary executions, torture, rape, house breaking, looting, arbitrary detention, etc., have become a part of everyday life in Manipur. And yet, few perpetrators of these gross violations of human rights ever got indicted or prosecuted. The long drawn conflict and repressive policies of the state in Manipur had brought its share of faction-ridden groups. Their brand of revolution based on extortion, kidnapping for ransom, kangaroo courts and summary executions, bomb blasts and terror tactics led to increase of discontent among the general public against the non-state actors. The civil society organizations were also immobilized with charges of siding with the banned organizations. And the situation had become so ripe for setting into motion an unofficial sanction for elimination of any suspect and a killing spree. A disturbing scenario has emerged within the last few years, especially during the year 2008, a pattern that shows an escalating trend in the number of extra-judicial killings in the state as compared to the previous years. It may be adduced from a cursory perusal of the case records that most of the alleged encounters are stage-managed where the facts and circumstances of the case amply indicate questionable circumstances. Another aspect that requires serious deliberation is the `relief`™ usually proffered to the families of the victims. Though the state government usually skirt the payment of compensation to most of the families by labelling the victims as members of a proscribed outfit, the few who do obtain such compensation are compelled to be content with the paltry sum donned out to them mostly due to the fact that such families are normally poverty-stricken living on a hand-to-mouth existence and cannot even voice their protests due to fear of reprisals. The situation has reached such a nadir that human life is equated to paltry amounts of money given in the form of compensation. And adding yet another spoke to the cycle of atrocities is the fear psychosis instilled into the minds of the masses. In the aftermath of ambushes or strikes against security forces by any of the proscribed outfits, the inhabitants of the villages within the vicinity of the place of occurrence are always compelled to flee for safety fearing retaliation from the security forces. It is a common occurrence for the security forces to ventilate their angst and wrath on innocent civilians in the aftermath of such ambushes.

Although the operation of the Act was ultimately withdrawn from the Imphal Municipal area, the state police commandos operated along with para-military forces and continued killing suspects with a rare sense of bravado otherwise interpreted as a symptom of the air of impunity percolating down to the state forces also. In the year 2008 alone, the state had witnessed the killing of more than 285 `suspects`™ by state and security forces, many of which still remained unexplained till date. Independent claims by either the family or local eye-witnesses that the deceased `suspects`™ were killed after being arrested from some other place were brutally silenced by the state forces. These incidents need to be taken into consideration by the UN Special Rapporteur.

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