In a series of military encounters in Nagaland in the past month that led to the death of 14 people, the civilians and the state government have taken a firm stance of repealing the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) stating that the act gives unfair powers to the armed forces over mere suspicion.
In a meeting with the central government, it was decided that all the activities of the armed forces will be halted and a committee will be put in place to review the killings in Nagaland. The revocation of the act will be considered on the recommendation of the committee, announced Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio.
‘The AFSPA empowers the security forces to conduct operations and arrest anyone without any prior warrant. It also gives immunity to the forces if they shoot someone dead in a designated disturbed area,’ reported India Times.
Human rights activists have been accusing the armed forces of misusing their privileges against the civilians. However, it is quite convenient to blame the security forces for wreaking towns and killing civilians under mere suspicion. People often ignore that if the armed forces are unsuccessful in eliminating the insurgent threats, it could adversely affect the economy and could lead to more civilian killings and a severely restrictive environment by the terrorist or insurgent groups. Soon after the Taliban started exercising control over Afghanistan, civilian killings and abuses have increased dramatically, according to a report by the United Nations.
“The army, in its security assessment, sees a rise in terrorist violence in the coming years, given the availability of trained and willing terrorist cadres in Pakistan, who are more over likely to increasingly turn their attention towards India after the de-induction of US-led forces in Afghanistan,” stated by Vivek Chadha in Armed Forces Special Powers Act The Debate.
But, is it fair to say that AFSPA gives the military the ‘license to kill’?
It can be argued that this act is imperative to control terrorist insurgent activities and maintain law and order in such disturbed areas. However with state governments and civilians protesting for the repeal of AFSPA, it could demoralise the military and even provoke the insurgents to undertake unlawful activities.
“The AFSPA is an enabling provision and Act passed by the Parliament. It assists the Armed Forces in dealing with special situations and provides protection to the soldiers who are operating under difficult and sensitive circumstances,” stated the Chief of the Army Staff, in an interview.
In states like Nagaland where AFSPA has been in force for several decades and have been getting extended in 2017 and 2021, revocation of the act will only worsen the situation in the state. “Political compulsions will not allow its re-introduction even in the worst circumstances,” added Chadha.
“It is possible to state with some conviction that in 99 percent, possibly 99.9 per cent, or maybe even 99.99 per cent cases, our forces take every precaution to ensure that there is no loss of life to innocent civilians or collateral damage to property,” defended Lt Gen Satish Nambiar.
However, many civilian killings and violence by the armed forces go unnoticed as the court does not intervene in the decision of the government in declaring a state ‘disturbed area’. For instance, over 1500 people have died in army encounters in Manipur since 1979. There are also instances of women abuses by the army in North-East India. It can be implied that although the act comes handy for the armed forces in disturbed areas, there is a desperate need for reformation in the AFSPA.
Along with giving special authority to the security forces in disturbed areas, there should also be provisions for accountability of the consequences for the military. The Supreme court had set up a list of Dos and Don’ts in the act. For instance, all the investigations are made more time bound and cases of human right violations are put up in the fast-track courts. While committees have also been set up to investigate the accusations and complaints. It has also been made mandatory to maintain a detailed report on the operations.
The Santosh Hegde Committee set up in 2013 to investigate the killings of over 1500 civilians in military encounters in Manipur since 1979. They were of the belief that “if greater power was given then greater would be the restraint and stricter would be the mechanism to prevent its misuse or abuse.”
Although AFSPA has been extended for another six months in Nagaland, both the central and the state government should work towards making sure that the human rights and the nation are protected. But also, “It was wrong to generalise that human rights get violated due to the imposition of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in some of the northeastern states,” stated Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission.
Vivek Chadha. (2013). Armed Forces Special Powers Act The Debate. Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.
Staff, T. W. (2021, December 17). “Wrong to Generalise Human Rights Are Violated Due to AFSPA”: NHRC Chief. The Wire. https://thewire.in/government/wrong-to-generalise-human-rights-are-violated-due-to-afspa-nhrc-chief
Sabharwal, L. G. M. (2014, July 26). Operational Importance of AFSPA. Indian Defence Review. http://www.indiandefencereview.com/the-armed-forces-special-powers-act-a-perspective/
Report details grave violations against children in Afghanistan. (2021, August 19). UN News. https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/08/1097902