TODAY -
Intl rights body takes up anti-AFSPA stand
Source: The Sangai Express

Imphal, August 18: Human Rights Watch, an influential International body, has asked the Government of India to display the same courage shown when it repealed the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act now in repealing Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

Coming out with a 16-page report titled 'Getting away with murder: 50 years of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act' from New York to coincide with 50 years of enactment of the draconian Act by the Indian Parliament after allowing discussion only for 3 hours on August 18, 1958, the International human rights body described how the Act has become a tool for State abuse, oppression and discrimination.

It is for the first time that the New York-based influential International human rights body has come out with a public statement on the issue of AFSPA covering reports related to human rights violation in the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Jammu and Kashmir where the Act is currently in force.

Recommending repeal of AFSPA, the report pointed out that the law grants the military wide powers to arrest without warrant, shoot-to-kill and destroy properties in so-called 'disturbed areas'.

It also protects military personnel responsible for serious crimes from prosecution, creating a pervasive culture of immunity.

Recalling the history of AFSPA, the report of the Human Rights Watch noted that enacted on August 18, 1958 as a short term measures to allow deployment of the army against an armed separatist movement in India's Northeaster Naga Hills, the Act has been invoked for five decades.

It has been used throughout the Northeast, particularly in Assam, Tripura and Manipur.

A variant of the law was also used in Punjab during a separatist movement in the 1980s and 90s, and has been in force in Jammu and Kashmir since 1900 .

The report further said that the Indian officials have long sought to justify use of the law by citing the need for the armed forces to have extraordinary powers to combat armed insurgents.

However, the abuses facilitated by the AFSPA especially extrajudicial killings, torture, rape and 'disappearances' have fed public anger and disillusionment with the Indian State and this has permitted militant groups to flourish in the Northeast and Jammu & Kashmir.

The report also noted that Indians have long protested against the AFSPA, and the Supreme court had issued guidelines to prevent human rights violations, but these are routinely ignored.

Since 2000, Irom Sharmila, an activist in Manipur, has been on hunger strike demanding repeal of the Act.

But the Government has responded by keeping her in judicial custody, force-fed through a nasal tube.

Following widespread protests after the 2004 murder in custody of an alleged militant called Manorama Devi in Manipur, the Indian Government set up a five-member committee to review the AFSPA,.

The review committee submitted its report on June 6, 2005 recommending repeal of the Act.

In April 2007, a working group on Jammu & Kashmir appointed by the Prime Minister also recommended that the Act be revoked.

However, the Cabinet has not acted on these recommendations because of opposition from the armed forces, the report said.

The report recommended that the Indian Government should follow its own example when in 2004 Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh repealed the widely abused Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA).

POTA was enacted soon after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and allowed security agencies to hold suspects for upto 180 days without charges.

In practice, the law was often used against marginalised communities such as Dalits, indigenous groups, Muslim and the political opposition.

The Indian Government acted with principle when it repealed POTA and it must display the same courage now in repealing AFSPA, the report added.

Releasing the report of the Human Rights Watch here at the office of Human Rights Alert, its executive directive Babloo Loitongbam said the public statement of the influential International human rights body on the issue of AFSPA and its recommendation to the Government of India to repeal the Act is an significant step which the Government of India would no more be able to ignore.

Observing that the recommendation of the Human Rights Watch is an reassurance that the day is not far for repeal of AFSPA, Babloo said people of Manipur can start thinking about the dishes to be prepared for Sharmila who has pledged to continue her fasting agitation until withdrawal of AFSPA.


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