AFSPA to remain

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People outside the northeast simply do not believe the existence of the special law called the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 which is operational in both the northeast and Jammu and Kashmir. How could such a draconian Act exist in a democratic country like India? The Indian civil society has begun to question the establishment, especially with Irom Chanu Sharmila’s fast getting international attention. The Gwangju awardee had been a subject of a number of film documentaries and special reports. Besides, the 2004 widespread agitation for repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and 2009 movement against fake encounters have brought AFSPA into focus.

The cases of human rights violations by armed forces had piled up over the six decades which had gone by. The blatant abuse of the special powers given by the Act by armed forces had been carefully documented by human rights groups working in the region over the years and now it is reaching the ears and eyes of the international forums including the United Nations. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns had said that the Act had no role to play in a democracy and should be scrapped. “The repeal of this law will not only bring domestic law more in line with international standards, but also send out a powerful message that instead of a military approach the government is committed to respect for the right to life of all people of the country,” he said. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, called on the Government of India to continue to take measures to fight impunity in cases of extrajudicial executions, and communal and traditional killings. Christof Heyns, had visited India from 19 to 30 March 2012. While recognizing the size, complexity, security concerns and diversity of India, the Special Rapporteur was concerned that the challenges with respect to the protection of the right to life in this country are still considerable. Evidence gathered confirmed the use of so-called ‘fake encounters’ in certain parts of the country.

Where this happens, a scene of a shoot-out is created, in which people who have been targeted are projected as the aggressors who shot at the police and were then killed in self-defence. Moreover, in the North Eastern States, and Jammu and Kashmir the armed forces have wide powers to employ lethal force. Another
Special Rappoteur who had earlier visited India and had called for the repeal of AFSPA. Noting the “arbitrary application of security laws at the national and state levels,” the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya had urged the Government to repeal the Public
Safety Act and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, and to review the application of other security laws which negatively impact on the situation of human rights defenders. Earlier, in the height of the 2004 movement for repeal of AFSPA following the rape and murder of a former militant Manorama Devi the Prime
Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had promised a more humane law. Dr Singh had constituted the Jeevan Reddy Committee which had recommended for repeal of the draconian Act. After that, the Administrative Reforms Committee headed by Veerapan Moily had also recommended for its repeal.

Yet, the recommendations had been shelved for reasons best known to the Indian establishment. While recommending its repeal the Jeevan Reddy Committee had asked for incorporating the provisions (with amendments) into the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. But, the establishment is not yet ready to scrap the Act and the Union Home Ministry had called for amendments in the Act while the Union Defence Ministry is against such amendments. The establishment however divided it be, does not want to shed the colonial legacy of the Act. On the other hand, the non-state actors do not seem to care whether the Act is repealed or not. The continued prevalence of the Act facilitates good propaganda material for them. At the same time, the state and its agencies which profits from the ongoing conflict wants the Act in place. And, the general public suffers.

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