Monday, October 09, 2006

Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958: A Fact Sheet

[- a factsheet adapted by the SAHELI and PUDR team from earlier reports and submissions to the Jeevan Reddy Committee]

Over the last five decades, heavy militarisation in the north east has taken its toll on normal civilian life and led to innumerable instances of violations committed against the civilian populations there. Encounter deaths, extra judicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary arrests, rape and torture have been a regular feature among the relentless series of atrocities meted out to the people by the army with impunity, especially in areas where they are protected by legislation like AFSPA.

Some of the most widely known incidents of such excesses in the north east are:

• army torture and violence against the villagers of Oinam (Manipur) in 1987 who were detained in army camps, beaten mercilessly, given electric shocks. At least 3 women were raped, 15 villagers killed, and many left permanently disabled;
• the gang rape of the women of Ujanmaidan (Tripura) by security forces;
• the terror wreaked by the army in Assam during Operation Rhino in 1991;
• the shelling of the town of Ukhrul (Manipur) with mortars in May 1994 by the Assam Rifles when they violently ransacked the town, leaving many homes damaged, over a hundred men and women bleeding with serious injuries and 3 dead;
• four women raped at gunpoint, and homes and shops set on fire by the Maratha Light Infantry, killing others people in December 1994 in Mokokchung (Nagaland);
• indiscriminate firing on civilians and combing operations by the combined forces of the 16th Rashtriya Rifles, CRPF and Assam Rifles when a tyre of an army jeep burst in the Kohima town (Nagaland) in March 1995;
• torture, forced detaining, starvation, sexual assault of women and looting in the 5 villages of Namtiram (Manipur) in 1995 by the 21st Rajputana Rifles;
• the army’s reign of terror in Jesami (Manipur) in January 1996;
• the rampage of the village of Huishu (Manipur) by the Assam rifles in March 1996
• the massacre of 10 innocent civilians by the Assam Rifles in Malom (Manipur) on 2 November, 2000 by security forces
• the torture, rape and killing of Thangjam Manorama in Imphal (Manipur) in 2004

Outside the north east too, human rights violations in Jammu & Kashmir under the AFSPA are commonplace, including disappearances, torture, arbitrary killings and numerous instances of mass rape of Kashmiri women by security forces.

AFSPA : Constitutional Contradictions

The large scale violations of fundamental rights in the north eastern states is a direct consequence of the provisions of the AFSPA, of areas declared as Disturbed Areas under Section No. 3 and the simultaneous acquiring of wide powers by army personnel under Section 4 of the Act.

The AFSPA which grants armed forces personnel the power to shoot to arrest, search, seize and even shoot to kill, violate the Right to Life enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India which guarantees the right to life to all people.

The AFSPA also violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Indian signed the ICCPR in 1978, taking on the responsibility of securing the rights guaranteed by the Covenant to all its citizens. In particular, the Act is in contravention of Article 6 of the ICCPR guaranteeing the right to life.

Crucially, the AFSPA effectively undermines civil authority. For instance:
After the Oinam incident (1987) the Chief Minister, wrote to the Union Home Minister, “The civil law has, unfortunately, ceased to operate in Senapati District Manipur due to excesses committed by the Assam Rifles with complete disregard shown to the civil administration. ....the Deputy Commissioner and the Superintendent of Police were wrongfully confined, humiliated and prevented from discharging their official duties by the Security Forces”. And consequent to the Kohima incident in 1995, even the Superintendent of Police, Kohima, was stopped at gun point by army personnel.

At the same time, the AFSPA is an emergency legislation that Constitutionally requires to be reviewed every 6 months. Yet it has been imposed in Manipur and other states of the north east for years on end, which contributes the misuse of unbridled and arbitrary powers by the armed forces.