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Absence of justice triggering insurgency in Manipur

Sep 16, 2008

Human Rights Watch says that failure to provide justice in cases of human rights violations by security forces in northeast India is fuelling insurgency. The rights body calls on the government to heed the recommendations of its own commission to repeal laws that foster impunity.

New Delhi: The Indian government should fully prosecute army, paramilitary, and police personnel responsible for killings and torture in the northeastern state of Manipur, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released on September 15.

Human rights violations by Indian security forces have fueled the armed opposition in Manipur. Armed groups have carried out torture, killings, indiscriminately used bombs and land mines, engaged in forced recruitment, and conducted widespread extortion.

Impunity in Manipur

The 79-page report: These Fellows Must Be Eliminated: Relentless Violence and Impunity in Manipur, documents the failure of justice in the state, where for 50 years the army, empowered and protected by the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), has committed numerous serious human rights violations.

Soldiers and police are protected by laws granting immunity and officials unwilling to hold them accountable for serious crimes,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, senior researcher on South Asia at Human Rights Watch and author of the report.

“These laws perpetuate human rights abuses, which drive civilians to seek the protection of one or other armed group.”

The report details the failure of justice in the killing and possible rape of alleged militant Thangjam Manorama Devi by the paramilitary Assam Rifles in 2004. Repeated attempts to identify and punish those responsible for her death have been stalled by the army, which has received protection under the immunity provisions of the AFSPA.

Failure to curb abuses

The report documents specific cases of extra judicial executions and torture by soldiers, paramilitaries, and police in Manipur since 2006, and the Indian government’s failure to curb the abuses.

Torture of detainees, in particular severe beatings during interrogations of suspected militants and their supporters, remains common. Torture victims described to Human Rights Watch how they were arbitrarily arrested, beaten, and subjected to electric shocks and simulated drowning (water boarding).

Extra judicial killings often followed a consistent pattern in which the military or police took a person into custody, often in front of eyewitnesses, who was later declared to have been killed in an armed encounter with militants. Such faked “encounter killings” often occurred when security forces suspected someone to be a militant, but did not have enough evidence to ensure a conviction.

On occasion, government officials or members of the armed forces would later admit to relatives that a person had been killed by “mistake.”

This claim is never made officially, so in police records the victim remains identified as a militant, and avenues for redress remain closed.

Bypassing law

“Security forces are bypassing the law and killing people on suspicion that they are militants instead of bringing them before a judge,” said Ganguly.

“In the name of national security and armed forces morale, the state protects abusers and leaves Manipuris with no remedy to secure justice.”

Human Rights Watch called on Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to act on the findings of the committee he appointed to review the AFSPA in Manipur.

Jeevan Reddy Commission

Created after weeks of protests in Manipur following the killing of Manorama in 2004, the committee led by Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy recommended in 2005 that the AFSPA be repealed. The Indian government has failed to take action on the committee’s recommendation.

India has also ignored concerns and recommendations by United Nations human rights bodies calling for a review of the AFSPA.

For example, in 1997 the UN Human Rights Committee said that the continued use of the AFSPA in Manipur was tantamount to using emergency powers and recommended that the application of these powers be monitored to ensure compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Repeal AFSPA

In 2007, the Committee on the Elimination Racial Discrimination (CERD) called for India to repeal the AFSPA and to replace it “by a more humane Act” in accordance with the recommendation contained in the leaked Jeevan Reddy committee report.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in February 2007 urged India to provide information on the steps being taken to abolish or reform the AFSPA.

“The Indian government has not only ignored the pleas of ordinary Manipuris and UN human rights bodies to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, but has even ignored the findings of its own committee,” said Ganguly. “This reflects the sort of callousness that breeds anger, hate and further violence.”

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