Another UN Special Rapporteur has called for repeal of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). This time it is the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions Christof Heyns who has called for its appeal at the end of his visit to the country.
The first was UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Margaret Sekaggya who visited the country in January last year and came upto Guwahati.
Christof Heyns also came to Guwahati and met both human rights activists and families of victims. In the preliminary report following his visit to the country Heyns has said, AFSPA has no place in a democracy and it should be scrapped. He had also said that AFSPA in effect allows the state to override rights in the disturbed areas in a much more intrusive way than would be the case under a state of emergency, since the right to life is in effect suspended, and this is done without the safeguards applicable to states of emergency.
The Special Rapporteur has also expressed surprise at the 1997 ruling of the Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of AFSPA. He had said that it is difficult to understand how the Supreme Court which has been so progressive in other areas, also concerning right to life could have ruled in 1997 in favour of AFSPA although qualified by dos and don’ts.
The UN Special Rapporteur had in effect validated the reports of human rights activist from the region and the call for the appeal of AFSPA by the people of Manipur including Gwangju Awardee Irom Sharmila. Special Rapporteurs are in fact eyes and ears of the UN Human Rights Council. Although, the final report of Christof Heyns is slated for 2013 the preliminary report has put the Indian government in an embrassing situation.
Look at Union Home Minister P Chidambaram. He is guarded in his reaction to the statement of the UN Special Rapporteur. He had said that the view of the Ministry of Home Affairs is for suitable amendments to the law AFSPA after considering the Justice Jeevan Reddy report and all other reports. He is defending his own ministry and saying that some others are not sharing the opinion of the Home Ministry.
Although he has not spelled out clearly who is blocking the amendment proposal, it is clear from earlier reports that it is the Defence Ministry and the army lobby who had been consistently objecting to the proposal.
The proposed amendments include taking arrests warrants in advance, taking away the power of the armed forces to open fire causing death and setting up of a grievance redress cell, according to recent reports in the media.
But the army top brass has all along been saying that it cannot operate in the Northeast and Jammu & Kashmir without the protection of AFSPA.
Why? Why is impunity so essential in conducting operations in insurgency affected areas? Is it their intent to continue with enforced disappearances, arbitrary executions, torture, rape, molestation, house breaking, looting, and arbitrary detention.
We all know that few perpetrators of these gross violations of human rights ever got indicted or prosecuted.
The Hindu report had said that in the past four years alone, the Union home ministry rejected at least 42 requests to sanction the prosecution of military personnel found by the police to have engaged in crimes such as murder, homicide and rape in Kashmir.
This sense of not having to answer for their actions have percolated down to the state forces also as seen in the numerous fake encounters including the Khwairamband Bazar incident of July 23, 2009.
Having said this, we would like to say that Manipur’s demand is not for amendments to the law but for its repeal. The fate of AFSPA has been sealed with two UN Special Rapporteurs seeking its repeal. India has to respect the verdict of the Special Rapporteurs, if it sincerely believes in the tenets of democracy.