July 17, 2016

End Impunity: Scrap AFSPA

THE Supreme Court, in a salutary judgement, has declared that the armed forces cannot act with impunity in the disturbed areas where it operates under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). The court has held that there cannot be “absolute immunity” from trial by a criminal court if any offence is committed by an army soldier. The court has ordered that all allegations of extra-judicial killings in Manipur should be probed. So far, under the AFSPA, the armed forces personnel have been provided immunity from prosecution for any killings that occur during their operations. This has resulted in various excesses and unarmed civilians have also been gunned down. In Manipur, where the AFSPA has been in force for nearly six decades, there have been hundreds of cases of shootings and extra judicial executions by the armed forces. One of the notorious cases was the gang-rape and killing of Thangjan Manorama, a young woman who was gang-raped and killed after her arrest by soldiers of the Assam Rifles. The army version was patently false that Manorama was shot while trying to escape. But no one was ever prosecuted in the case. The Supreme Court verdict has come on a petition filed by hundreds of families of Manipur. The verdict strikes a blow against the impunity which has marked the operations of the armed forces in the disturbed areas where the AFSPA has been applied. This is so in Manipur and also in states like Jammu & Kashmir. Though the Supreme Court verdict will act as a check on the impunity granted to the security forces under the AFSPA, it is not sufficient to put an end to the violations of the basic rights of the citizens of the country. What is required is the scrapping of the AFSPA itself. This is what the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee had recommended. The use of the armed forces within the country is required only in exceptional circumstances in the areas adjoining the international borders of the country. Some of the insurgencies and terrorist violence has emanated from groups sheltering across the border. This has been the case in some of the North Eastern states, including Tripura. In Tripura, the Left Front government got the AFSPA and the disturbed area proclamation withdrawn since the armed activities from across the border have ended. It may be necessary for the army to be deployed in the border areas to meet such threats which cannot be dealt with by the state police or central paramilitary forces. For such instances, suitable legislation should be enacted which does not provide the draconian provisions of the AFSPA or sanctions use of force with impunity against civilians. The Supreme Court verdict should make the government and the armed forces reconsider their continued advocacy of the use of AFSPA. (July 13, 2016)