The AFSPA verdict

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The recent Supreme Court decision to do away with the impunity extended to members of armed forces under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has indeed given a fresh impetus to the human rights movement in the northeast region. While the judgement has been hailed in many quarters, top generals and retired army officers are raising hue and cry over it. They argue that it will be very difficult to operate in ‘disturbed areas’ if the special powers to armed forces are diluted and that tougher laws are needed to contain terrorism. Experts have opined that tougher laws are not the answer to the problem, as is evident from the effects of prolonged imposition of AFSPA in the state, but rather the problem lies with the army, the implementing agency. Laws that grant room for abuse or misuse of its provisions to the implementing agencies are the real culprits hiding behind the façade of curbing terrorism. Lessons can be learnt from instances around the world where draconian laws which allow the security forces to keep in detention indefinitely or even shoot down any person at will has, far from bringing down terrorism in Iraq, have only led to conditions which have created more terrorists who are blowing themselves up and hundreds of people every day. Leaving aside punitive laws, we even have preventive laws in the form of the National Security Act, 1980 and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act as ways and means to curb terrorism and unlawful activities. The National Security Act has been solely enacted for the purpose of maintaining public order and security of the state. However, we have seen a number of individuals being arbitrarily detained under the Act in the state in unprecedented proportions, even in cases which do not affect the maintenance of public order and security of the state, from which we may pertinently arrive at the conclusion that it is one of the instances of gross abuse of the provisions of the law by the implementing agencies. Ordinary laws are far more adequate to deal with the present law and order situation without taking recourse to extraordinary laws which only serves to further aggravate the ongoing crisis. The problem with AFSPA is that it not only facilitates humans rights violations by the members of armed forces, but it also creates an imagined culture of impunity among the other forces including the state police and paramilitary forces who are not vested with special powers. The recent verdict of the apex court has made it clear that there is no ‘warlike’ situation in Manipur but ‘internal disturbance’ and that a person merely carrying arms in a disturbed area does not become an enemy. The court also noted that killing an ‘enemy’ was not the only available solution and stressed that this is what the Geneva Conventions and the principles of international humanitarian law say. There is simply no ambiguity in the verdict. Now, it remains to be seen whether the central government is ready to repeal AFSPA.

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