Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Northeast India and the Imposition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA)

 The troubled frontier of Northeast India has witnessed several insurgency movements over the years. Starting from the Naga insurgency to the present day turmoil in Manipur, this region has witnessed days of protracted conflict. In response to these insurgency movements, government began militarising the region. In the name of counter-insurgency operations, the region witnessed sustained operations by the security force personnel. But instead of solving the problem, it led to further discontentment among the people. The imposition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) and declaration of parts of the Northeast as ‘Disturbed Areas’[1] under the Act, led to protests all over the region, which continues till today.

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA)[2] is a controversial Act applicable in the northeastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. The Act gives certain special powers to armed forces in the areas declared as “disturbed”, according to which any commissioned officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer or any other person of equivalent rank in the armed forces may:

·        fire upon or use other kinds of force even if it causes death, against the person who is acting against law or order in the disturbed area for the maintenance of public order, after giving due warning.
·        arrest anyone without a warrant, who has committed cognizable offences or is reasonably suspected of having done so and may use force if needed for the arrest.
·        enter and search any premise in order to make such arrests.
·        stop and search any vehicle or vessel reasonably suspected to be carrying such person.

Under this act, Army officers have legal immunity for their actions. There can be no prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding against anyone acting under that law instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government.[3]
AFSPA was first implemented in Assam and Manipur and was later extended to the seven states of the northeastern region. Innumerable cases of human rights violations in the region like killings, torture, rape and disappearances has been associated with the AFSPA. There are allegations that AFSPA violates many international human rights treaties like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.[4] Even the United Nations has asked the Indian government to repeal the AFSPA. Christof Heyns, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions told on 31 March, 2012 that, “The 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”.[5] The continuous imposition of the Act has also led to grievances and has indirectly helped insurgents garner support among the common people.

The Act has been opposed ever since its imposition in the region, with the most notable protests coming from the state of Manipur. Irom Sharmila Chanu[6] from Manipur has now become the face of protest against this Act. She has been on hunger strike since November 5, 2000 demanding the repeal of the Act. The naked protest by Manipuri mothers on July 15, 2004 was another incident which showcased the people’s protest against the Act. The women were protesting the rape and murder of a Manipuri woman, Thangjam Manoroma Devi, in the hands of Assam Rifles personnel. The women bared themselves in front of the Assam Rifles Headquarters in Imphal, capital of Manipur and held banners which read “Indian Army, Rape Us”.[7]

After this incident, government constituted the Jeevan Reddy Committee to review the provisions of the AFSPA. It was a five member committee, with Justice B P Jeevan Reddy, former judge of the Supreme Court, as its chairman. The panel was given the mandate “to review the provisions of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 as amended in 1972 and to advise the Govt. of India whether (a) To amend the provisions of the Act to bring them in consonance with the obligations of the Govt. towards protection of Human Rights; or (b) To replace the Act by a more humane Act."[8]
The Committee came up with the following recommendations[9]:
a) The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 should be repealed.
b) Appropriate provisions of the AFSPA can be incorporated in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.
However, government did not take any action on the recommendations of the committee and the AFSPA is still in force in the Northeast.
There also have been many incidents of rape done by Army personnel in the Northeast. But the Army personnel escape without getting any punishment due to legal immunity granted to them under the AFSPA. There has been only one instance when the rapist was punished, however, that too was by the military court.  It was in August 1996, when two army personnel raped a woman in front of her disabled son during the course of a combing operation in Manipur. Compelled by the public outrage and protests by the local people and human rights activists, the army authorities initiated court martial proceedings against the two personnel. They were found guilty and punished for their crime in 1997.[10] However, more such examples where the security force personnel were punished for their excesses are difficult to find.

This draconian Act needs to be repealed from this region. This Act has by no means been successful in curbing insurgency, on the contrary, it has caused discontentment among the people, which has indirectly helped the cause of the insurgents. Hope the government listens to the voices of the people from the Northeast and we get to see the repeal of the Act from this region forever.

A Brief Note:

Below is a list of number of insurgents, security force personnel and civilians killed in insurgency-related incidents in the Northeast from 1992 to 2012. [11] It can be seen that almost one thousand people died per year due to insurgency in the region. The numbers are gradually decreasing and we hope that we see an end to it soon.

Security Force Personnel

[1] The whole of Manipur (except Imphal Municipal area), Nagaland and Assam, Tirap and Changlang districts of Arunachal Pradesh and 20 km. belt in the States of Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya having common border with Assam have been declared ‘Disturbed Areas’ under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, as amended in 1972.
[2] Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, http://mha.nic.in/pdfs/armed_forces_special_powers_act1958.pdf
[3] Ibid.
[4] Meitei, Puyam Rakesh, “AFSPA, 1958 And The Jeevan Reddy Review Committee”, http://e-pao.net/epSubPageExtractor.asp?src=news_section.opinions.Opinion_on_Killing_of_Manorama.AFSPA_1958_and_The_Jeevan_Reddy_Committee
[5] Dhar, Aarti, “U.N. asks India to repeal AFSPA”, The Hindu, March 31, 2012, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article3263687.ece
[6] Irom Sharmila Chanu, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irom_Chanu_Sharmila
[7] Dobhal, Harsh, “Manipur in the Shadow of AFSPA: Independent People's Tribunal Report on Human Rights Violations in Manipur”, Socio Legal Information Cent, 2009
[8] “Report of the Committee, headed by Justice (Retd) B.P. Jeevan Reddy, to Review the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958”, The Hindu, http://www.hindu.com/nic/afa/
[9] Ibid.
[10] Yengkhom , Nonibala Devi and Rakesh, Meihoubam, “Fear of rape: The experience of women in Northeast India”, http://www.humanrights.asia/resources/journals-magazines/article2/0105/fear-of-rape-the-experience-of-women-in-northeast-india
[11] State-wise Datasheets, www.satp.org

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