Posts Tagged ‘Arbitrary execution’

56 years of AFSPA: Legalising Rule O’ Flaw

October 3, 2014

The 56 years of AFSPA has a deep impact upon the society of north east India that has now learnt to internalise militarisation and has negotiated life of arbitrariness under RULE O’ FLAW.

56 years of AFSPA: Legalising Rule O’ Flaw

By Anjuman Ara Begum

‘It was on the 11 September 1958 that the President of India signed the Act, and the same day 9/11 is observed as the anti-terrorism day world over, the struggle against state terrorism started on the same day for the inalienable civil, political and cultural rights of the peoples of Northeast India with the imposition of AFSPA 56 years ago…’. this was the reaction of civil society members gathered on September 11, 2014 at Guwahati to ‘celebrate’ the 56 years of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA, in short). AFSPA became law on September 11, 1958 after receiving assent of the president of India. It was promised to be a temporary measure. 56 years on, the Act is still in force despite several calls for its repeal and is still held strong by the armed forces an excuse for legalising repression and impunity calling it a ‘holly book’. Participating in the same gathering renowned human rights activist of the region Babloo Loitongbam, ‘if this is temporary measure then what it the meaning of permanent?’, a thought that provokes human conscience to rethink about AFSPA.

RULE OF LAW, a universally celebrated and adopted concept to counter arbitrariness and unreasonableness in law and practice. The concept dominates the law making process of today’s civilised and democratic countries. Soon after adopting a written constitution in 1950 with implicit guarantee of RULE OF LAW, the state of India continue to resort to repressive policies as well as practices. Following the colonial footsteps, the AFSP bill was passed in the parliament in August, 1958 after a brief seven hours debate. It was in the same year of 1958, India signed Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Geneva Conventions of 1948, Convention against Racial Discrimination and several others. State of India continued to reaffirm its commitment towards the protection and promotion of international human rights standards despite resorting to repressive policies and practices like AFSPA domestically.

Soon after becoming a law, AFSPA started concretising it’s existence. It’s application continued to be extended as well as it’s abuses. Needless to say that the Act has ‘normalised’ routine declaration of disturbed area, encouraged the practice of extrajudicial execution and reinforced the culture of impunity. Let’s us consider these three aspects.

Firstly, the extension ‘disturbed area’ status for north eastern states since 1955 has now attained the status of a mere routine administrative exercise. What constitute ‘disturbances’ is still not codified in legal literature. Even the judiciary ignored this aspect. In Naga People Movement for Human Rights vs. Union of India, AIR 1998 SC 431, it was simply said that the country understands what constructs a ‘disturbed area’. It was further decreed that there is no requirement that the Central Government shall consult the State Government before making the declaration. In fact, there are instances where state’s resolution against such declaration has been ignored. It is reported that Nagaland state assembly passed resolutions against the extension on four occasions and each time these resolutions have been ignored by the centre government. Tripura, a state often claimed as an example of successful counter insurgency measures still remained ‘disturbed’. Tripura hardly had any major armed encounter in recent years. Such back door declarations of emergency situation continued simultaneously when Government of India claimed internationally that there is no situation of armed conflict in the country.

Declaration of ‘disturbed area’ also means additional budget allocations. In a corrupt country like India, this aspect is important in the context of recurring extension of ‘disturbed area’ status. Parliament of India’s record suggests that the Government has been providing financial assistance. During the period of the year 2011- 2012 financial assistance was provided unde

Advertisements

Government must heed Manipur panel’s findings and end impunity for fake encounters

July 25, 2013

Government must heed Manipur panel’s findings and end impunity for fake encounters

24 July 2013

Amnesty International India
Bangalore at (080) 49388000
email: contact@amnesty.org.in

An independent panel set up by India’s Supreme Court to investigate six alleged extrajudicial executions in the northeastern state of Manipur has found damning evidence of impunity and abuse of special powers by security forces, resulting in widespread human rights violations.

The panel found that all seven deaths in the six cases they investigated were extrajudicial executions, and not deaths resulting from “encounters” where security forces claimed they had fired in self-defence against members of armed groups.

The panel also said that the continued operation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) in Manipur has made “a mockery of the law,” and that security forces have been “transgressing the legal bounds for their counter-insurgency operations in the state of Manipur.”

The Supreme Court appointed the panel in January 2013 in response to a public interest litigation filed by a Manipur-based victims’ group and a local human rights organisation seeking investigation into 1,528 alleged extrajudicial executions committed in the state between 1979 and 2012.

The three-member panel,headed by retired Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde, was tasked to determine whether a sample of six cases raised by the petitioners were “fake encounters,” staged to cover up extrajudicial executions. The panel was also directed to analyze the functioning of the state police and security forces in Manipur.

The panel submitted its report to the Court on 4 April. The petitioners received a copy of the report on 15 July.

In its report, the panel said that none of the seven people killed in the cases it examined had any formal criminal charges against them. It stated that security forces appeared to have assumed that the seven individuals had to be eliminated and acted accordingly.

In one case, the panel noted that the victim suffered 16 bullet injuries shot at close range, indicating a clear disproportionate use of force. It said that the medical evidence in the case indicated that the security forces’ intentions were to kill the suspect, not disable and arrest. The panel said, “The incident in question is not an encounter, but an operation by the security forces wherein death of the victims was caused knowingly.”

In another case involving the killing of a 12 year-old boy, security personnel told the panel that they had fired in self-defence. The post-mortem report stated that the victim suffered four bullet injuries, all of which were potentially fat al, while none of the security forces were injured.

The panel concluded, “It is extremely difficult to believe that nearly 20 trained security personnel equipped with sophisticated weapons…could not have overpowered/disabled the victim.” It concluded that “the incident in which the deceased…was killed was not an encounter nor was he killed in exercise of the right of self-defence.”

The report also identified serious investigative lapses committed by investigators and persistent abuse of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). It called for all deaths resulting from encounters to be investigated by senior police officials, and for the Manipur Criminal Investigation Department to be “suitably strengthened” within six months to carry out such duties effectively. It also called for the cases to be monitored regularly by a committee chaired by the head of the state human rights commission, and tried by a special court.

Crucially, the panel pointed to the AFSPA as a key contributor to rights violations by security forces.

The report stated, “The continuous use of the AFSPA for decades in Manipur has evidently had little or no effect on the situation. On the other hand, the six cases, which have been shown to be not real encounters, are egregious examples of the AFSPA’s gross abuse.”

The panel echoed a statement made by the Jeevan Reddy Commission, another government committee formed to review the AFSPA in 2005, which said that the law had become “a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high-handedness.”

The panel’s report recorded how security forces in Manipur were disregarding procedural safeguards set out in Supreme Court rulings and Army directives to ensure that AFSPA powers were used with exceptional caution and with the minimum force necessary.

Moreover, the panel found no information to back the central government’s assertions to the Supreme Court that the use of AFSPA powers was being closely monitored. Rather, after repeated requests, they were told that there was no official record of basic information essential to such monitoring such as the number of civilians killed or injured by the police, army or other special forces in Manipur.

However, the panel stopped short of calling for the AFSPA’s repeal, and instead recommended that the law cease to operate in more parts of Manipur progressively.

Soldiers operating in areas where the AFSPA is in place cannot be prosecuted without the permission of the central government. Applications seeking permission to prosecute are almost always rejected, and sometimes remain pending for years. The panel recommended that the central government be given three months to respond to requests for prosecution, failing which it would be presumed to have granted permission to prosecute.

Amnesty International India welcomes the findings of the Supreme Court-appointed panel, but urges authorities to go beyond its recommendations and repeal the AFSPA in Manipur and elsewhere. The AFSPA has provided impunity for perpetrators of grave human rights violations for decades. Its continued operation in any form will allow human rights violations to continue.

In Manipur, impunity is endemic and authorities take little to no action to investigate and prosecute allegations of rights violations by security forces. A special investigation team comprising senior police officers from outside the state should be formed to conduct prompt and full investigations into all 1,528 cases of alleged extrajudicial executions brought before the Supreme Court by local groups.

Where sufficient admissible evidence is found, suspects – including those with command responsibility – should be prosecuted in fair and speedy trials meeting international standards in a civilian court, regardless of the time that has lapsed since the crime occurred. The families of the victims should receive adequate reparation, including compensation.

Amnesty International India urges both state and central authorities to heed the panel’s recommendations to bolster the Manipur police and Criminal Investigation Department in six months time in order to conduct thorough, impartial and effective investigations into all future cases of alleged extrajudicial executions in Manipur.

Authorities must apply procedures laid down by India’s National Human Rights Commission in cases of deaths caused in the course of police, army or other security personnel action, and follow the UN Principles and Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions.

The Government of India must also act on the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and set up a credible commission of inquiry intoextrajudicial executions throughout India.

Background

Impunity in cases of extrajudicial killings is a matter of grave concern in Manipur and some other parts of India. In his comments after visiting India in 2012, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Christ of Heyns observed that “Impunity for extrajudicial executions is the central problem. This gives perpetrators a free rein, and leaves victims in a situation where they either are left helpless, or have to retaliate.”

The National Human Rights Commission has itself on occasion said “extrajudicial executions have become virtually a part of state policy.”

The AFSPA, which has been in force in parts of Northeastern India since 1958, and a virtually identical law (The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990) in force in Jammu and Kashmir since 1990, provide sweeping powers to soldiers, including the power to use lethal force against any person contravening laws or orders, and to prevent the assembly of five or more persons.

The law has provided impunity for perpetrators of grave human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, rape, torture and other ill-treatment, and excessive use of force.

The AFSPA falls far short of international standards, including provisions of treaties to which India is a state party, and is inconsistent with India’s international legal obligations to respect and protect the rights to life, liberty and security of person, to freedom from torture and other ill-treatment, and to an effective remedy.

Several UN bodies and experts, including the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, have stated that the AFSPA must be repealed.

A number of Indian bodies, including the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, the Jeevan Reddy Committee to review the AFSPA and the Prime Minister’s Working Group on Confidence-Building Measures in Jammu and Kashmir, have also urged the repeal of the law. The Justice Verma Committee, set up to review laws against sexual assault, said in January 2013 that the AFSPA legitimized impunity for sexual violence.


* This Press Release was sent by Durga Nandini ( Amnesty International India) who can be contacted at Durga(dot)Nandini(at)amnesty(dot)org(dot)in
This PR was posted on July 24, 2013 .

NHRC seeks report on extra-judicial killings in Manipur

June 6, 2012

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued notices to the secretary, ministry of home affairs of the government of India, district magistrate and district superintendent of police of Ukhrul district of North East Indian state Manipur asking for a report on the alleged torture and the extrajudicial killing of three indigenous Meitei people in a staged encounter by the personnel belonging to 23rd Assam Rifles (AR) under the command of Major Hanuman near Maphou Dam, Nongdam village of Ukhrul.

After registering a case on a complaint filed by the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee based on the information received from Manipur based human rights organization Centre for Organisation Research & Education (CORE), the NHRC issued the notice.

The information provided by the CORE reveals that on 8 May 2012, Major Hanuman (then Captain) of 23rd Assam Rifles, a aramilitary force of the central government of India, approached and requested Mr Laishram Shyamkishore, 70 years old village elder of Tunukhong Awang Leikai, Imphal East District, Manipur, to persuade his son, Mr Laishram Nobin (alias Khuman) and his son’s friends to surrender themselves and live in peace. Shyamkishore considered the possibility and secretly made arrangements for his son to surrender himself before the state authorities. It was reported that, at the instruction and arrangement of Maj. Hanuman, Shyamkishore accompanied his son to the meeting place where Nobin was supposed to surrender himself. This meeting did not materialise.

On 9 May 2012 at 7.30am, Shyamkishore, his son and two friends met Maj. Hanuman at Hidalok, which was approximately half a kilometer away from the bus stop at Loupheng village near Maphou Dam under Litan Police Station. They were wearing track suits (civilian clothing). Shyamkishore witnessed the three men hand over an M-16 rifle, one Lethode gun, 50 live rounds of ammunition and three Lethode bombs as a symbol of formal surrender to the 23rd AR. Maj. Hanuman expressed happiness at their peaceful surrender and asked Shyamkishore to return home in peace and Shyamkishore returned home that same morning.

On 10 May 2012, local dailies reported that three underground suspects had been shot to death in an encounter with 23rd AR personnel. The conflict was stated to have lasted an hour and to have been near Chadong Tangkhul village under Litan Police Station around 11am. The 23rd AR personnel were reported to have found the three dead bodies in the aftermath of the encounter. The force also recovered an M-16 with a grenade launcher, magazine and 55 live rounds, one 9mm carbine, magazine with three live rounds, one Lethode gun with three rounds and one fire case, one carry bag and one ammunition pouch. The 23rd AR also issued a statement claiming the deceased had been active in and around Maphou Dam, engaging in extortion and deliberately interfering with the construction of the Dam. The three bodies were handed over to the Litan Police Station.

According to the information, Shyamkishore became suspicious and anxious when he received news of the “encounter”. He immediately went to the Regional Institute of Medical Science (RIMS) Imphal morgue and was shocked to discover the bodies of his son and the two other men he had convinced to surrender to the 23rd AR the previous day. He was further surprised to find that the bodies were not in the dress the three men had been in just the previous morning. Instead of the track suits (civilian clothing), the three men were fitted out in camouflage fatigues. An examination of the bodies further revealed evidence of severe torture. Mr Irengbam Roshan’s body had been badly mutilated; his genitals had been crudely removed. One of Mr Ningthoujam Ingocha’s eyeballs had also been gouged out.

Manipur

North east Indian state of Manipur

The CORE further stated that “Shyamkishore believed he was doing the right thing for the sake of the community, for justice and peace and for his son’s future when he reasoned with the three men to turn themselves in. He probably prevailed on them to do so out of their trust in and respect for Shyamkishore. The three men were ready to submit themselves to the law, to surrender also their weapons and to be held in custody; this also required respect for and immense faith in the judicial system. What was so particularly perverse was that Shyamkishore was instead unknowingly made complicit in his own son’s torture and murder, and the murder of his son’s friends. This utter betrayal by the very people who should be moral exemplars to civil society should trouble and grieve the Central Government over and beyond the dubious methods employed by the AR personnel, because the motivation, means and ends of law enforcement have been polluted by impunity and fear of such.”

After registering the complaint as case No. 66/14/13/2012-PF, the NHRC considered the matter on 24 May 2012 and passed an order saying “Transmit the complaint to Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt. of India and DM and SP, Ukhrul district, Imphal calling for an action taken report within two weeks.”

 

6 June 2012

Guwahati, Assam

UN envoy asks India to repeal AFSPA and other draconian laws

March 30, 2012

Press Statement – Country Mission to India Christof Heyns, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions 19 – 30 March 2012

 

At the invitation of the Government of India, I conducted an official visit to this country from 19 to 30 March 2012. I travelled toNew Delhi, as well as to five States, namely: Gujarat; Kerala;Jammu and Kashmir, where I had meetings in the cities ofJammuandSrinagar;Assam; andWest Bengal.

I am grateful to the Government of India for extending an invitation to my mandate. I am further particularly thankful to the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Mr. Patrice Coeur-Bizot, and his team, for having facilitated the preparation and conduct of my mission.

During this country visit, I had the opportunity to meet with Secretaries from the Ministry of External Affairs, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Ministry of Law and Justice, officials from the Ministry of Defence and other Ministries at Union level. At State level, I met the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, State Chief Secretaries and other Secretaries; Commissioners, Directors General and other relevant officers of the Police; and other senior officials. I also visited the Supreme Court, the National Human Rights Commission and the Assam Human Rights Commission. In addition, I held meetings with the United Nations agencies, as well as a wide range of domestic and international non-governmental organisations, lawyers, witnesses, and victims and their families.

My mission focussed in particular on the right to life in the context of the use of force by the police and the armed forces, and on the possible impact on the right to life of cultural practices.

My provisional conclusions are as follows:

A) General comments

India, often described as the world’s largest democracy, has a Constitution that guarantees a wide range of human rights, and is a living document, supported by broad public endorsement and enforced by a strong Supreme Court, whose human rights jurisprudence is respected worldwide. The right to life (article 21 of the Constitution) in particular has been given an extensive interpretation by the courts.

There is a robust press, and a vibrant and engaged human rights civil society.Indiahas ratified a number of international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

At the same timeIndiafaces many challenges to the realisation of human rights, including movements aimed at separation or greater local autonomy, Maoist or Naxalite, insurgency, organised crime, and communal organisations opposed to secularism, plurality and equality.Indiaaccommodates a huge diversity in terms of religion, languages and culture, largely in a remarkably peaceful way.  The state structure is federal in nature.

The challenge to protect, promote and respect the right to life is undeniably a real one. It is of concern however that despite constitutional guarantees and a robust human rights jurisprudence, extrajudicial killings is a matter of serious concern inIndia. However, it is important to emphasise the solution to these issues largely lies within the system itself.

While data available on extrajudicial executions inIndiais not easy to obtain, in some parts, particularly in conflict areas where political dialogue has been initiated by the government, or where there has been a concerted shift to move away from such occurrences, the last couple of years appear to have seen a drop in respect of unlawful killings. This momentum – and the general commitment to human rights in the country – should now be captured to obliterate the unacceptable levels of deadly violence that remain, and assume higher moral ground.

While I will make some concrete proposals about changes to be affected, I will also propose a process to be followed to address this issue.

Indiahas not hosted many Human Rights Council special procedures. In 2011 it extended an open invitation to special procedures, and to its credit it admitted, for the first visit under this open invitation, the mandate on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, a mandate covering an area in which it faces well-documented challenges. This reflects a commendable willingness to engage with the issue of unlawful killings in a constructive manner – giving further credence to the view that there may at the moment be a window of opportunity to take significant and decisive steps forward on this issue.

B) Concerns

I have the following concerns about unlawful killings, both in terms of prevention and accountability:

  1. Use of force by State actors

a) Police

There are complaints of use of excessive force by the police against unarmed demonstrators and protestors, with scant adherence to the principles of proportionality and necessity.

Disproportionate use of force during demonstrations has resulted in over 100 deaths, in 2010 inJammu and Kashmir, while elsewhere, such as inNew Delhi, many demonstrations occur without bloodshed. I have been told by the police of a few states that they have recently started using less lethal weapons and other more modern methods of crowd control.

Salutary guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in the D.K.Basu judgment on arrest, detention and interrogation, many of which have been incorporated through amendments in the Code of Criminal Procedure, are not sufficiently complied with.

Significantly, problems concerning excessive and arbitrary use of force by the police are further aggravated by statutory immunities that restrict accountability.  Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code requires prior sanction from the concerned government before cognizance can be taken of any offence by a public servant for criminal prosecution.

A practice of what is called ‘fake encounters’ has developed in parts of the country. Where this occurs, suspected criminals or those labelled as terrorists or insurgents, and in some cases people on whose head there is a prize, are shot dead by the police, and a scene of a shootout is staged. Those killed are then portrayed as the aggressors who had first opened fire and the police escape legal sanction. According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) 2 965 cases of ‘encounters’ have been reported between 1993 and 2010, though there is possibly under-reporting.

While the use of ‘encounters’ to eliminate criminals has decreased since the 1990s, it is nevertheless being deployed to target others.

A seminal case from Andhra Pradesh is currently pending before the Supreme Court wherein the High court had held that in situations where deaths occur at the hands of police in cases of alleged returning fire, a first information report (FIR) must be registered, the case investigated and the claim of self-defence by the police proven in a trial before the court.

In a positive development, the Supreme Court and the NHRC have issued guidelines on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and on encounters.

b) Custodial deaths

There have been a large number of cases recorded on deaths that have occurred in police as well as judicial custody, often in the context of torture.  I have been assured by Government representatives that the process of passing the legislation on torture as proposed by the Select Committee of the Upper House is well under way, which will allow the ratification of the Convention Against Torture. Needless to say this proposed legislation must be compliant with CAT and must include the mandatory provisions of training of police, prison cadre and other forces as well as orientation of the judiciary.

c) Armed Forces

The Armed Forces are deployed in so-called ‘disturbed areas’ in the North East and inJammu and Kashmir.

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (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. ^

AFSPA – continuously in force since 1958 (different states have their own versions as well) in the North East and since 1990 inJammu and Kashmir– has become a symbol of excessive state power. I have heard extensive evidence of action taken under this law that resulted in innocent lives being lost, inJammu and Kashmirand inAssam, where witnesses from neighbouring states also assembled. This law was described to me as ‘hated’ and a member of a state human rights commission called it ‘draconian’.

A law such as AFSPA has no role to play in a democracy and should be scrapped. The repeal of this law will not only bring domestic law more in line with international standards, but also send out a powerful message that instead of a military approach the government is committed to respect for the right to life of all people of the country.

The government-appointed Jeevan Reddy Committee and the Administrative Reform Commission have both called for its repeal; as have political leaders of states where the Act applies. The NHRC told me during our meeting that they are in favour of its repeal and that they have commented in their submission to the 2012 UPR that AFSPA often leads to the violation of human rights. It is therefore difficult to understand how the Supreme Court, which has been so progressive in other areas, also concerning the right to life, could have ruled in 1997 that AFSPA did not violate the Constitution – although they tried, seemingly with little success, to mitigate its impact by issuing guidelines on how it is to be implemented.

AFSPA clearly violates International Law.  A number of UN treaty bodies have pronounced it to be in violation of International Law, namely HRC (1997), CEDAW (2007), CERD (2007) and CESCR (2008). My predecessor has also called for its repeal.

The widespread deployment of the military creates an environment in which the exception becomes the rule, and the use of lethal force is seen as the primary response to conflict with a concomitant permissive approach in respect of the use of lethal force. This is also difficult to reconcile in the long run withIndia’s insistence that it is not engaged in armed conflict.

Accountability is circumvented by invoking AFSPA’s requirement of obtaining prior sanction from the Central government before any civil prosecutions can be initiated against armed forces personnel. The information received through Right to Information applications, shows that this immunity provision effectively blocks any prosecution of members of the armed forces. The Centre has for example never granted sanction for civil prosecution of a member of the armed forces inJammu and Kashmir.

d) Death penalty

Indian law continues to provide for the death penalty, and in around 100 cases per year this sentence is imposed. However, once imposed, there seems to be little appetite to execute. The last execution was in 2004, although another execution has just been stayed at the last minute during the writing of this report.

It is a matter of concern that the death penalty may be imposed for a (seemingly growing) number of crimes that cannot be regarded as ‘the most serious crimes’ referred to in article 6 of the ICCPR  as internationally understood, namely crimes involving intentional killing. For example, the death penalty may be imposed for kidnapping for ransom under Sec. 364A IPC and has also been proposed in the Prevention of Torture Bill and for drug-related offences. I intend to follow up on the concerns expressed that the categories of capital crimes are being expanded.

The phrase ‘rarest of the rare cases’ (taken from Bachan Singh v State of Punjab) is often used to describe the Indian approach to the death penalty. However, this may create the wrong impression, since the list of crimes for which this sentence may be imposed is still much wider than the one provided for under international law. Even if the death penalty is not implemented, those who had been sentenced to death remain on death row for extraordinarily long periods, while, as one interlocutor put it, ‘they remain hanging there’.

My attention was drawn to the case of Ravji alias Ram Chandra v. State of Rajasthan (1996) 2 SCC 175, where the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence and held that circumstances pertaining to the criminal need not be considered, in spite of earlier authority to the contrary. Subsequently, in seven cases, the Supreme Court invoked the precedent of Ravji Rao’s case to foreclose inquiry into the circumstances pertaining to the prisoner. A total of 14 prisoners were sentenced to death by the Supreme Court on the basis of flawed legal reasoning. Out of these 14 prisoners, two – including Ravji – have been executed.

2) Use of force by non-state actors

a) Terrorists, criminals and others

Deadly violence has been used by Maoists, insurgents, and terrorists. The callous nature in which lives, often of innocent civilians, are taken by these non-state actors needs to be condemned strongly. The state has a right to defend itself against such aggression, provided it abides by the international standards in this regard. The state however cannot adopt unlawful or unconstitutional means or create a vigilante force to counter such violence.

b) Communal violence

I have heard evidence regarding a number of instances where inter-community violence has occurred, resulting in large-scale loss of life. In particular I have met with a large number of people who lost relatives during theGujaratkillings of Muslims in 2002 and the Kandhamal killings of Christians in 2007/8, during which between 1200 – 2500 people and between 50 and 100 people, respectively, were reportedly killed. It is a matter of regret that theGujaratauthorities at the last minute cancelled the meetings we had scheduled during the mission.

In these cases grave allegations of direct state involvement in the killings has been made; moreover in all cases the state has the responsibility to protect citizens against such violence.

The phenomenon of mass and targeted communal violence clearly poses a significant threat to the right to life, also because it sets into motion a cycle of violence that stretches over the years. One of the problems here is that the role of the police and other agencies of the state in these situations could involve bias against minorities. I will further examine this issue.

A number of people have proposed the introduction of the doctrine of some form of ‘command responsibility’ and ‘superior responsibility’, in domestic law, to hold culpable persons in positions of political, civil and administrative power and authority, complicit in the communal violence. I will also examine this matter further.

c)  Traditional practices affecting women

‘Honour’ killings occur where a woman is killed by her family or community because she has exercised her right to choose a partner, particularly when the partner belongs to a different community, caste or religion. This crime is reportedly on the ascendance.  It is currently dealt with as murder under the Indian Penal Code.  There have been suggestions that this be dealt with under a separate piece of legislation so as to highlight the unique nature of such killings.

Dowry deaths occur where a husband or his relatives are dissatisfied by the amount of dowry brought by the wife, and cause her death.  Special legal provisions have been enacted to punish this crime in the Indian Evidence Act. The unnatural death of a wife within seven years of marriage, under suspicious circumstances, including burning or other bodily injuries, and where she is known to have been harassed and treated cruelly  by her husband or his relatives on account of dowry,  creates a presumption that a dowry death has been committed by the husband or his relatives.

The branding of elderly and single women as witches, while largely associated with tribal areas is no longer confined to these regions. Property reasons often underlie these killings.

This is a difficult area for any state to address. While accountability and punishment is important in the context of the above gender-based killings, it is not clear that increasing the punishment, however severe, will lead to prevention. Ensuring certainty of conviction and some form of consequence to establish the norm seems to be more important. This is often difficult for a host of reasons, including the fact that there is general social sanction for the crime, and the police often do not address these killings as crimes. The values at stake are often viewed as more important than life itself. A change in the values themselves is therefore required, a task for which an institution such as the NHRC should be eminently suited.

3) Systemic challenges

a) Justice delayed is justice denied

The complaint is widely raised that the wheels of justice, when they turn, often do so too slowly. Legal proceedings drift for years, while the alleged perpetrators are out on bail and back in the community. The Nanavati Commission of Inquiry inGujarathas now taken 10 years without any concrete results. This is exacerbated by the symbolic importance of the events that are being investigated, and inevitably the conclusion will be drawn that this is not a matter of priority. Similarly, the Supreme Court in 2006 issued a directive for the establishment of Police Complaints Authorities, but in many cases this has not been done.

b) Perpetrators receive awards

Many of the people I interviewed whose family members had been killed, pointed out that the alleged perpetrators, belonging to the police or the armed forces, have been awarded out of turn promotions, or have in other ways been rewarded.

c) Compensation instead of prosecution

While in some cases of custodial death and death due to excessive use of force compensation is paid by the state, criminal investigation and prosecution against the perpetrators is rarely initiated. Consequently few if any are punished for violating the right to life. This is also a manifestation of a military as opposed to a rights based approach. It blunts the deterrent effect of the law and encourages impunity.

d) Burden on the victim

The burden of initiating civil, criminal or writ proceedings in cases of custodial deaths or ‘encounter’ killings, for compensation or securing accountability and punishment, is placed on the victim’s family. Their marginalised and vulnerable status cripples their ability to secure accountability for the violation of the right to life.

e) Form over substance  

Standards such as the Supreme Court and NHRC guidelines mentioned above are often not followed in practice. On most occasions, where the alleged accused are men in uniform, belonging to the police or the armed forces, registration of First Information Reports (FIR) is refused, further deterring access to justice. In case of ‘encounter’ killings, the police lodge the FIR under Sec. 301 IPC, for attempt to murder, naming the deceased as the accused and close the case. Families are also unable to access and secure autopsy reports. Laws and policies are mostly in place, but they are not implemented.

f) Statutory immunities and good faith clause

The statutory provisions of requirement of prior sanction, for a Court to take cognizance of offences committed by public servants, including the police and armed forces, while discharging official duty, coupled with the presumption of good faith for acts done, effectively renders them immune from criminal prosecution.

g) Marginalised groups

Groups such as the dalits and the adivasis are particularly vulnerable, also in respect of the right to life. The increased targeting of ‘right to information’ activists and human rights defenders by land, forest and mining interest groups has also been reported to me.

h) Witness and victim protection

The lack of a systematic witness and victim protection system places them at risk, and leads to impunity.

4. The role of the human rights institutions

The National Human Rights Commission has a proud record and has a critical role to play in the protection of the right to life, especially with reference to ensuring strict compliance with its Guidelines on Encounter Killings.

The NHRC presently seems, from my interaction with them, to be taking a largely legalistic and deferential approach. During our discussions the approach on a number of points was that there are laws in place to deal with matters, and nothing more is required.

The state human rights institutions inspire little confidence. The Manipur Human Rights Commission was for all practical purposes closed after it challenged abuse of power by the police. A member of another state commission told me the commission was ‘subordinate’ to the government – there was not even pretence of independence. In West-Bengal, NGOs showed me how the number of cases they refer to the Commission has dropped to zero for 2012, because it serves no purpose.

The fact that lodging a complaint with a state commission blocks access to the NHRC raises the question whether their presence helps or hinders complainants.

C) Conclusions

There is reason for serious concern about extrajudicial executions. The National Human Rights Commission has on occasion said ‘extrajudicial executions have become virtually a part of state policy’. The position may have improved in some respects, but has not been resolved, and the legacy of the past is bound to continue into the future.

To a large extent the required structures to decrease extrajudicial executions are already in place. The steps to be taken have also by and large been identified within the system. What is required is a concerted and systematic effort by the state, civil society and all others concerned to eradicate its occurrence. In this process some of the best practices that are already followed in the country should be used as models for reform elsewhere. I have been impressed, for example, by the measures taken inKeralaStateto make the police force more responsive to the needs of the public.

Impunity for extrajudicial executions is the central problem. This gives perpetrators a free reign, and leaves victims in a situation where they either are left helpless, or have to retaliate. The obstacles to accountability that are in place – in particular the need for prior sanction of prosecutions – should be removed.

Women and minorities – religious minorities, as well as dalits and adivasis – as well as human rights defenders, including right to information activists, are especially at risk, and their protection deserves special measures.

Almost everyone interviewed said that the courts, and the Supreme Court in particular, play a central role in the fight against unlawful killings. The same applies to the role of the media. I was also struck by the level of expertise and responsibility in civil society.

It is evident that the killings of people take place in the context of other abuses, such as torture and enforced disappearances. Preventing these other abuses can under some circumstances prevent the taking of life.

It is clear that in general the underlying causes of some of the violence need to be addressed, including the levels of development of those who are currently using force to oppose state policies. Andhra Pradesh was mentioned to me as an example in this regard.

There is a strong need for victims to speak about their experiences. A large number of the almost 200 victims who made presentations to me emphasised the need to know the truth, and to ‘clear the names’ of their loved ones who had been killed in ‘fake encounters’. However, a credible national process will have far greater legitimacy in this regard than an international one. Some form of – internal – transformative justice is called for. InJammu and Kashmirthe Chief Minister called for a truth and reconciliation commission. It must be underscored that justice for the victims, accountability and punishment of the perpetrators, that is a real end to impunity for extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and torture, are essential elements of any such process.

A public commitment to the eradication of the phenomenon of unlawful killings is needed. In this context it could be valuable to highlight to the public and to those in the structures of the State the historical and global role the country has played in promoting non-violence worldwide, including non-violent demonstrations, and the fact that extrajudicial executions is its opposite. A Commission of Inquiry, drawing on some of the outstanding jurists and other figures that the country has produced, can play this role.

There should be a special focus on the areas of the country where specific forms of unlawful killings take place. In some instances some form of transitional justice may be required, to ensure justice to the victims, break the cycle of violence, and to symbolize a new beginning.

Specific and targeted attention should be given to the following issues: challenging the general culture of impunity; addressing the practice of ‘fake encounters’, to ensure that it is rooted out; and ensuring that swift and decisive action, with concrete outcomes, is taken when there are mass targeted killings. The Commission has to be required to complete its work within a reasonably short period of time, also to demonstrate that a new approach is being followed. In this respect it will be useful to look at possible lessons to be learned from the recent appointment of a judge to investigate extrajudicial executions inGujarat, which at this stage appears to be a positive development.

D) Provisional recommendations

1. A credible Commission of Inquiry that inspires the confidence of the people, into extrajudicial executions inIndiashould be appointed by the Government which also serves a transitional justice role. The Commission should investigate allegations concerning past violations, propose where relevant measures to deal with those, and work out a plan of action for the future to eradicate practices of extrajudicial executions. The Commission must submit recommendations on legal reform, and the reform of state structures, security apparatus and processes that encourage impunity.

Without waiting for the Commission, the following steps should be taken as a matter of priority:

2. Ratification of the following international instruments should take place without further delay: Convention Against Torture; OP-CAT; and the Convention on Enforced Disappearances. Ratification of the following instruments should be considered: The two Optional Protocols to the ICCPR; Optional Protocol to CEDAW; Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court; and the two Optional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions.

3. Repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 and theJammuandKashmirArmed Forces Special Powers Act, 1990. To tie this to the announcement of the Commission mentioned above will send a powerful signal about the State’s commitment to a new dispensation.

4. Repeal the following laws or bring them otherwise into conformity with the applicable international standards, including the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and the Basic Principles on Extrajudicial Executions: Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act; Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Areas Act, 2005; Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure Act; provisions of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967; and the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005;

5. Enact the Prevention of Torture Bill, along the lines of the amendments proposed by the Select Committee of the Upper House of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) ensuring its compliance with CAT.

6. There should be regular review and monitoring of the status of implementation of the directives of the Supreme Court and the NHRC guidelines on arrest, custodial violence, encounter killings and custodial death. In particular, the establishment of the independent Police Complaints Authorities by the States should now be made a priority.

7. To counter impunity for extrajudicial executions, where the police cause the death of a person in an ‘encounter’, there must be mandatory registration of FIR under Sec.302 IPC against the police and there must be an independent investigation of the same. Whether the police acted in self-defence or committed culpable homicide is to be decided by the competent court.

8. Families of victims should have full and easy access to autopsy reports, death certificates and other relevant documentation to allow them to proceed with their lives.

9. The practice of inviting UN special procedures should be continued, especially in areas where international concern has been expressed, such as torture, counter-terrorism measures, and minority rights.

10. Increased sensitizations and orientation programmes in respect of gender-based killings, ‘honour’ killings, dowry deaths and witch killings should be undertaken, both for the police, judiciary and public especially in the areas of the country that most affected.

11. An effective witness and victim protection programme should be established.

12. The National Human Rights Commission should be given the mandate to investigate the actions of the Armed Forces, and there should not be a year cut-off date on the cases they can consider. The Commission should develop a strategy to enhance its contribution towards protecting the right to life which goes beyond mere references to laws and procedures, and focuses on actual impact. The NHRC should undertake a review of compliance with its guidelines on ‘encounter’ killings, and whether their guidelines work in practice. They should also issue guidelines on inquests and autopsies. The independence and working of state human rights commissions should be reviewed.

13. Place a moratorium on the death penalty in accordance with General Assembly resolution 65/206.

URL http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12029&LangID=E

Submission of BHRPC to the UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions

March 28, 2012

The few representative cases submitted here clearly show the abysmal state of lawlessness which people live in.  Life here is virtually “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” (as was claimed by Thomas Hobbes in his The Leviathan) for some people, particularly those who belong to the vulnerable groups such as minority communities, working class.

The alleged perpetrators in some of the cases belong to the armed forces ofIndiawhether regular military or para-military operating invariably under the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958. The Act empowers members of the armed forces to use lethal force against civilians even to the causing of death on mere suspicion that they may act in breach of any law or any order along with the power to enter into any doweling places by breaking their entrance and search and seize anything without warrant and arrest any person without warrant and keep the arrestees in custody for unspecified times without charge in the valley along with the rest of Assam and parts of some other North East Indian states and Jammu and Kashmir. The AFSPA also places the army above the law, constitution and judiciary for acts claimed to be done under the Act by barring institution of prosecution, suits or any judicial procedure in any court inIndia.

Some other cases of extra-judicial execution noted above were perpetrated by the state police who operate under a state version of the AFSPA titled the Assam Disturbed Areas Act, 1955. Along with these special security laws with draconian provisions and laws like the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, the regular law that governs the policing in Assam is the Assam Police Act, 2007, which was enacted apparently to comply with the requirements of the directives issued by the Supreme Court of India in Prakash Singh and Others vs. Union of India (also known as the police reform case), in essence conform more with the colonial-era Police Act of 1861. The colonial police law was not aimed to provide democratic policing. It meant to create a repressive force subservient to ruling class and devoid of any accountability to the law and people.

After decades of public pressure, lack of political will and continued poor policing, a police reform process is finally underway inIndiaas the apex court stepped in. On 22 September 2006, the Supreme Court delivered a historic judgment in Prakash Singh and Others vs. Union of India and Others instructing central and state governments to comply with a set of seven directives laying down practical mechanisms to kick-start reform.

The directives were aimed to ensure functional autonomy of the police and their accountability to the law. For ensuring functional autonomy the Supreme Court directed 1. to establish a State Security Commission to i. ensure that the state government does not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the police; lay down broad policy guidelines aimed at promoting efficient, effective, responsive and accountable policing, in accordance with the law; give directions for the performance of the preventive tasks and service oriented functions of the police; evaluate the performance of the state police and prepare a report on police performance to be placed before the state legislature.

2. The second directive was aimed at ensuring fair selection of Director General of Police (DGP) and guarantee of his tenure.

3. Security of tenure is similarly important for other police officers on operational duties in the field. In order to help them withstand undue political interference, have time to properly understand the needs of their jurisdictions and do justice to their jobs, the Supreme Court provides for a minimum tenure of two years for the following categories of officers:           – Inspector General of Police (in charge of a Zone)

– Deputy Inspector General of Police (in charge of a Range)

– Superintendent of Police (in charge of a District)

– Station House Officer (in charge of a Police Station)

4. To counter the prevailing practice of subjective appointments, transfers and promotions, the Supreme Court provides for the creation of a Police Establishment Board. In effect, the Board brings these crucial service related matters largely under police control. Notably, a trend in international best practice is that government has a role in appointing and managing senior police leadership, but service related matters of other ranks remain internal matters. Experience inIndiashows that this statutory demarcation is absolutely required in order to decrease corruption and undue patronage, given the prevailing illegitimate political interference in decisions regarding police appointments, transfers and promotions.

5. the Supreme Court directed the Central Government to establish a National Security Commission for Central Police Organisations and Central Cara-Military Forces.

For ensuring accountability the Supreme Court directed the governments to set up:

6. Police Complaints Authority and

7. To separate investigation and law and order function of police.

The Commonwealth Initiative for Human Rights (CHRI), a regional human rights organization which was also one of the interveners in the Prakash Shingh case, after an analysis of the newly enacted Assam Police Act says that the Act only partially complies with the directives:

State Security Commission was established but the composition is not as per the Supreme Court directive. The Act has also weakened the mandate of the commission and has made its recommendation non-binding.

The second directive regarding selection process of the DGP and guarantee of his tenure not complied.

Directive regarding guarantee of tenure of the police officers on the field are also not complied. Only one year of tenure is guaranteed to the Superintendent of Police in charge of a district and Officer-in-Charge of a police station with vague grounds for premature removal.

Police Establishment Board was set up but the mandate was not adhered to. DGP has also been given the power to transfer any officer up to the rank of Inspector “as deemed appropriate to meet any contingency”, contrary to the directive.

The Central Government did not establish National Security Commission in utter contempt of the judgment.

The Assam Police Act, 2007 establishes Police Accountability Commission to enquire into public complaints supported by sworn statement against the police personnel for serious misconduct and perform such other functions. But the Chairperson and members of the Commission are appointed directly by the government. This can, at best, be called partial compliance.

Half hearted attempts can also be seen regarding separation of investigation from law and order function of the police. Special Crime Investigation Unit has been set up in urban police stations but there is no specific section on separation of between law and order and crime investigation.

This deliberate attempt to bypass the Supreme Court directives prompted the petitioner in the case formerAssamdirector-general of police Prakash Singh to describe the Assam Police Act, 2007, as a fraud on the people of the state. He was speaking at a seminar  jointly organised by the commission and the Assam State Legal Services Authority at theAssamAdministrativeStaffCollege, Guwahati. According to him, the government had violated the letter and spirit of the apex court guidelines by passing the act without conforming to these guidelines.

The Act needs drastic amendment to be brought in conformity with the Supreme Court guidelines and to be compatible with International Human Rights Standards. More importantly the role of the police needs to be redefined “taking into account the emerging challenges of policing and security of the State, the imperatives of good governance, and respect for human rights”.

The cases cited also highlight another huge challenge to the civil and political rights inAssamwhich is non-adherence and non-implementation of laws and other instruments that are meant to protect such rights. The Supreme Court guidelines in DK Basu case, and NHRPC guidelines regarding arrest, custodial deaths have the potential to drastically reduce the number of extra-judicial executions if implemented properly. The DK Basu guidelines are only implemented in papers. In rural police stations the guidelines are not even hung in a language eligible to the public at a conspicuous place.

It may be noted that in many of the cases mentioned no magisterial inquiry was conducted in contravention of the statutory mandate of section 176 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. In the cases where such inquiries are conducted the magistrates employed were not judicial ones as is mandate of the law. Although even the executive magistrates when found in their inquiries the guilt of the accused police personnel established beyond doubt, neither prosecution has been started nor has any compensation been provided to the kin of the deceased. Apart from legal immunity provided by security legislations such as the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958, the Assam Disturbed Areas Act, 1955 there is a regime of de facto impunity guaranteed to the violators which is responsible for the increase of the cases of extrajudicial killings.

To continue reading please click here

BHRPC submits cases of extra-judicial executions in Barak valley to the Special Rapporteur

March 28, 2012

Guwahati, 28 March: “Ours is a case of doing works of police by the army and using the regular state police by ruling politicians as their personal army” said Waliullah Ahmed Laskar during his oral presentation at the North Eastern regional briefing to the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions held today here at Ashoka Brahmaputra hotel. Mr. Laskar, director of law and legal affairs of the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) added, “although there are no terrorist activities and any home grown insurgent groups in Barak valley that can pose a threat to the national integrity and security the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958 is in force in the valley along with the rest of Assam and parts of some other North East Indian states and Jammu and Kashmir. The Act empowers the army personnel to use lethal force against civilians even to the causing of death on mere suspicion that they may act in breach of any law or any order along with the power to enter into any doweling places by breaking their entrance and search and seize anything without warrant and arrest any person without warrant and keep the arrestees in custody for unspecified times without charge. The AFSPA also places the army above the law, constitution and judiciary for acts claimed to be done under the Act by barring institution of prosecution, suits or any judicial procedure in any court inIndia.” He further added that the state police also operate under a similar draconian law called the Assam Disturbed Areas Act, 1955 and showed how the Assam Police Act, 2007 is a fraud on the people as well as on the Supreme Court of India in so far as it claims to conform with requirements of directives issued by the supreme court in Prakash Singh and others Vs. Union of India and others.

He also submitted a report to the special rapporteur professor Christof Heyns, who is on a fact-finding mission inIndiafrom 19 March to 30 March, containing cases of extra-judicial or arbitrary killing of innocent people both by the state police and armed forces of the central government. Cases that were submitted include 1. killing of one Islamul Hoque Choudhury (of Sonai, Cachar) by police because he became to threat to them as he witnessed how they tortured another person to death, 2 extra-judicial killing of Hashmat Ali (Kalain, Cachar) by police after being bribed by another person to teach him a lesson, 3. death of Motahir Ali (Kalain, Cachar) caused by torture in police custody as his family could not pay the amount of bribe demanded by the police for his release, 4. death of Mr. Moyfor Raja (Katlicherra, Hailakandi) in police custody due to torture, 5. fake encounter killing of Jamir Uddin (Katlicherra, Hailakandi) by central reserve police force personnel, 6. death of Iskandar Ali (Dholai, Cachar) caused by indiscriminate firing of  CRF personnel at a market place, 7. killing of a car driver by police apparently for speeding and 8. extra-judicial execution of Iqbal Hussain Laskar (Algapur, Hailakandi) by army after they picked him up and some other cases.

The BHRPC urged the special rapporteur to recommend to the authorities inIndiato 1. to repeal the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958; 2. to repeal the Assam Disturbed Areas Act, 1955; 3. to make the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 compatible with international human rights standards by amending the Act; 4. to bring the Assam Police Act, 2007 in conformity with the directives of the Supreme Court of India through amendment; 5. to amend the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 to extend the jurisdiction of both the state and national human rights commissions to conduct independent inquiries into cases of alleged human rights violations by the armed forces and to lengthen the limitation period of one year to five years; 6. to constitute an independent commission headed by a retired chief justice of a high court or the supreme eligible to be appointed as the chief justice of India with adequate numbers of members from the civil society to conduct time-bound inquiries into all allegations of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions leading to the initiation of prosecution and provision of adequate reparation; 7. to constitute special courts to conduct trial of all cases of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions under direct monitoring of the Supreme Court of India; and others.

At the meet presided over by Justice W A Shishak, former chief justice of the Chhattisgarh high court, Mr Babloo Loitongbam of Human Rights Alert (Manipur), Ms. Bubumoni Goswami, chairperson of the Manabadhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS, Assam), Ms Rosanna Lyngdoh of the Impulse NGO Network (Mehgalaya), Taring Mama of the Association for Civil Rights (Arunachal Pradesh), Neingulo Krome of the Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (Nagaland), Anthony Debbarma of the Borok Peoples Human Rights Organisation (Tripura) and others also made both oral and written submissions.

The special rapporteur who is accompanied by the UN human rights officer Irina Tabirta and other staff said in his concluding remark that he was thankful to the government of India for extending invitation to his mandate to the country and he assured the participants that he would take up the issues raised here with the government of India and is going to have a press conference in Delhi on 30 March where he would share his preliminary recommendations. He is expected to submit his report on the situation of extra-judicial execution inIndiato the UN human rights council and the General Assembly of the UN at the end of this year.  (Submission of BHRPC to the SR on Summary Execution)

Neharul Ahmed Mazumder

Secretary General,

Barak Human Rights Protection Committee

AFSPA: A blotch on democracy in India

August 20, 2011

The Asian Human Rights Commission, REDRESS Trust UK, and Human Rights Alert, Manipur, India jointly authored and published a report on the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958 titled: The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 in Manipur and other States of the Northeast of India: Sanctioning repression in violation of India’s human rights obligations on 18 August, 2011.

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 in Manipur and other States of the Northeast of India: Sanctioning repression in violation of India’s human rights obligations

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 in Manipur and other States of the Northeast of India: Sanctioning repression in violation of India’s human rights obligations

In a statement jointly issued issued on 18 August, 2011 by AHRC, REDRESS and HRA it is claimed that a draconian legislation like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 and the concept of democracy do not go together. While democracy nurture values of justice, equality and fraternity, laws like the AFSPA are synonymous with injustice, discrimination and hatred. A report that analyses the legislation’s complete incompatibility with India’s domestic and international human rights obligations is released today in India, Hong Kong and London. Human Rights Alert, a human rights organisation working in Manipur, India; REDRESS Trust, a human rights group based in London, UK; and the AHRC, a regional human rights body based in Hong Kong have jointly authored the report.

It is also stated that the report while analysing the Act draws extensively upon international and domestic human rights jurisprudence, that India is mandated to follow. The report exposes the visibly different standards even the Supreme Court of India has adopted while deciding the constitutionality and thus the compatibility of the law with India’s international and domestic human rights obligations. Despite repeated calls to repeal the law immediately by government-sponsored Committees that have studied the law, the Government of India is yet to take any steps in that direction. International human rights bodies like the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on Racial Discrimination have expressed concern about the law and its implementation in India, suggesting that the law should be repealed.

The law has attracted, repeatedly, wide-ranging criticisms from jurists, human rights activists, and even politicians within India and abroad. Organisations like the AHRC and Human Rights Alert have documented more than two hundred cases, over the past eight years, where the state agencies operating under the statutory impunity provided by the Act has committed serious human rights violations in states like Manipur. Most of these cases has been reported by the AHRC through its Urgent Appeals Programme and brought to the attention of authorities in India and within the United Nations. Yet, so far not a single military or police officer has been prosecuted for the human rights abuses they have committed under the cover of impunity provided by this law.

The report also places emphasis upon the unique form of protest by Ms. Irom Chanu Sharmila, through her decade-long hunger strike, which has been largely ignored by the national media in India.

The report could be downloaded here.

For comments on the report you may contact:
1. Mr. Babloo Loitongbom
Human Rights Alert
Manipur, India
Tel: + 91 385 2448159

2. Mr. Serge Golubok
REDRESS
London, UK
Tel: + 44 20 7793 1777

3. Mr. Bijo Francis
AHRC
Hong Kong
Tel: + 852 2698 6339

BHRPC denounces firing on demonstration in Guwahati

June 23, 2011

Barak human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) condemns police firing on the peaceful demonstration of landless settlers in various forest areas on the periphery of the city of Guwahati on 22 June, 2011. The killing of nine year old child Ruhul Amin is a brutal act of violation of fundamental right to life alongwith two other protestors without any rhyme or reason. The apparent scenes of violence and damage of public property by the agitators soon after the unprovoked lathi-charge on women, infirm and children protestors only demonstrates the anguish of the protestors. The circumstances and situation of stone pelting, car burning, lathi-charge, tear gas shots and causing bullet injuries on protestors needs to be investigated in an impartial manner. Any attempt to call the peaceful protest as ‘unruly’ and ‘violent’ undermines the democratic rights of forest dwellers to make them heard in the Government.

BHRPC denounces the attempt of the government of Assam in evicting people from forest land as Forest Rights Act, 2008 does not allow such an eviction drive. Going by the said act, right to live in forest land by the forest dwellers is an inalienable right. The plan of the Assam government to hand over the forest land after eviction to a set of police and guards makes a mockery of the Forest rights act. The plan of the forest minister to settle Forest Protection Guards and Police in forest land , as reported in a section of the Press, is, least to say, an open violation of the rights of the indigenous people and forest dwellers.  The project of plantation by eviction shows thorough mindless and careless policy of pleasing multinationals who now invest privately in forest land.

BHRPC believes the pronouncements of the forest minister to the press are to create a larger sore in the already injured and the killed masses of protestors, which, the least to say, is inhuman. This is also a form of structural violence on the landless forest dwellers and on their legal rights. BHRPC, therefore, demands adequate compensation to the already damaged properties of the landless people living in the Lalmati area of Guwahati and demands penal action on the errant police authorities who resorted to firing. BHRPC strongly believes that the incident of firing and killing could have been avoided if timely intervention could have been made by the Government, who chose to ignore the voice of the landless and the poor. BHRPC also expresses solidarity and concern with the democratic movement of the landless. BHRPC demands adequate medical care for all the injured protestors as well as for the police personnel. BHRPC further demands that the deceased be given adequate compensation on humanitarian grounds. Any delay and inaction due to bureaucratic indifference on these aspects of human disaster would only vitiate the social and political environment of the state. BHRPC only hopes that the Government accepts its moral responsibility for the entire calamity and chalks out appropriate measures to grant the landless pattas on forest land.

Killed, Buried and Vanished: Custodial death of Islamul Hoque Choudhury

April 20, 2011

He barely manages to walk. His physical structure is so weak and fragile that it may collapse at any moment. A cultivator having a small plot of land and part time wage labourer, he crossed 75 years of his life and so far succeeded to provide his family members the minimum requirements for keeping them alive. He is a successful fighter so far fight for livelihood is concerned as per the standard applicable in this part of the planet. But on the other front he is a soldier who lost many battles. He could not save his 23 year old son who was killed in a staged encounter on 20 May, 2000 at Panichowki under Sonai police station in the district of Cachar of the Indian state of Assam. Then he started another kind of fight, of which he has no training and knowledge, the fight for justice for his slain son. His body may be slander and fragile but his determination and belief in the justice system is rock hard. For more than 8 years he has been fighting single handed without any apparent result and is still optimistic.

It is this optimism which made him the other day to call on me and share his grief. He also shared with me all the documents and information he could gather regarding the encounter of his son. This account is on the basis of these documents and information.

The elderly man is known as Haji Sarif Uddin Choudhury and is a resident of village Dhanehori under Sonai police station in the district of Cachar, Assam. Islamul Hoque Choudhury was his son who used to help his father in cultivation and wanted to start his own business howsoever small may be.

On 19 June 2000 Islamul Hoque Choudhury was at Banskandi bazaar and the neighbourhood area searching for the motor cycle of his brother which was lost the day before. He went there after receiving information that the cycle had been seen in this area. After a day long search he could see two men riding the lost cycle came to the bazaar. When he asked them where they found this cycle the bikers started to punch him. They also raised hue and cry shouting alarm of pick-pocket. People in the marked gathered, caught Islamul and searched him but found nothing except 20 rupees.

In the meantime some police men from Banskandi police out post came in a jeep and arrested him at 8pm. Another person named Ripon Laskar arrested by police was in the jeep. Later, an ezahar was filed in the Bnaskandi police out post under Lakhipur police station signed by Foizur Rahman and Salim of Banskandi. Both these complainants claimed in the ezahar that Islamul Hoque and Ripon Laskar were trying to kidnap them from Silghat ferry, a nearby river ferry and that the two arrested persons had links with the Peoples United Liberation Force (PULF), an extremist organisation allegedly based in Manipur.

According to Haji Sarif Uddin Choudhury, during the interrogation both the arrested persons were subjected to severe torture and Ripon Laskar succumbed to the resulting injuries in the night itself on the spot. Higher police officers were informed of the incident and it was decided that an encounter must be staged to avoid public wrath. For the purpose a team was formed headed by Mr. Hareswar Brahma, the Sub-Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) of Lakhipur Sub-Division, Mr. Choudhury claims.

In the dead of night some police personnel from Banskandi out post, Officer In-charge (O/C) of Lakhipur police station and the said SDPO went to Dhanehori taking with them Islamul Hoque and the body of Ripon Laskar in a jeep. There they purportedly searched the house of one Sukkur Uddin but nothing objectionable could be recovered from his house. Thereafter they rushed to Panichowki, a village in the foot of the Bhuvan Hills about 50 kilo metres away from Silchar, the district head quarter. On the way to Panichowki they met another police team belonging to Sonai police station, which were patrolling during night hours. The Lakhipur police team took Sonai police party with them and proceeded to Panichowki rest house, a house maintained and used by Forest Department, where they reached at about 3pm on 20 June 2000.

Some villagers of Panichowki state that on 20 June 2000 in the early morning a few gun fires were heard and when they came out of their houses at the sound they saw a police party in and around of Panichowki rest house. One of them, namely Karunamoy Das, by profession a pan-collector, (pan is a leaf used with betel nuts found in the hilly jungles) states that at the time of firing he was very near to the place of occurrence. He noticed the incident and as per his statement when police were beating the arrested person he was begging to the police for his life by requesting them to hand over to Jail instead of beating and torturing. But the police did not give any heed and lastly they shot him dead.

The next day both the dead bodies were sent to Sonai police station and after conducting post mortem examination at Silchar Medical College and Hospital (SMCH), Silchar the officer in the police station handed over the dead bodies to the relatives. The relatives of Islamul and his local people buried his body on 21 June 2000 observing religious rites.

The local media carried the police story for a few days with usual journalistic exaggerations that police arrested two high profile extremists belonging to PULF from Banskandi daily market at 8pm on 19 June 2000 and brought them to the police station for further interrogation. The I/C (In-Charge) of Banskandi out-post conveyed the information to the SDPO, Lakhipur who along with O/C, Lakhipur took part in the interrogation. On the basis of interrogation and with a view to unearthing further facts they along with arrested persons proceeded to Dhanehori and thereafter to Panichowki. At Dhanehori the police searched the house of one Sukkur Uddin on the basis of the information extracted from the arrested persons but they recovered nothing objectionable from his house. Thereafter they rushed to Panichowki for the same purpose along with another police team from Sonai police station. Both the police teams reached Panichowki rest house at about 3pm on 20 June 2000. The police party asked both the arrested persons to head them towards the hideouts of the PULF extremists. As they were passing through the premises of the Panichowki rest house all on a sudden firing from the nearby jungle began and both arrested persons who were leading them died due to cross firing. Police further add in their statements that had they not been trained up for self defence they would have been killed due to extremist’s firing. According to police the following two reasons were responsible for the death of two arrested persons:

1. They were leading the police party and naturally they were going in advance.

2. They lacked the training of self protection.

But the lone soldier of the cause of justice Haji Sarif Uddin Choudhury started his fight. He succeeded to compel the District Magistrate of Cachar to order a magisterial inquiry into the incident after 3 months on 19 September 2000. The report of the inquiry never saw the light of the day. Nevertheless, Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) a human rights organisation working in Assam, managed to get access to an unauthenticated copy of the report of the inquiry. Although there are many questions remained unanswered in the report the Magistrate found that ‘firing took place behind the rest house where both the accused succumbed to the injuries’. He also finds “reason to believe that there was no firing from jungle or extremist side and firing which took place at Panichowki in the early morning of 20-6-2k was only from police side.” The report goes on: “During the whole operation of the nights of 19-6-2k and 20-6-2k the Sr. Police Officer, i. e., SDPO, Lakhipur was present along with other police personnel who could have guided his party to avert from such killing.”

The Magistrate concludes: “I, therefore, find Sri Hareshwar Brahma, SDPO, Lakhipur to have committed guilt and excess during the operation.”

But no prosecution initiated against the SDPO and his team.

A complaint was also filed with the Assam Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and accordingly a case was registered vide. AHRC Case No. 3451 of 2001. The AHRC after about six years found that a prima facie case of human rights violations exists and observed that “it was not only a fake encounter but there was also gross negligence on the part of the police for not giving full protection to both the deceased persons” and awarded an interim compensation of rupees fifty thousand by its judgment and order dated 14-06-2006. But the judgment is mysteriously silent on the question of prosecution of the violators. Whereas under section 18 (a) (ii) the AHRC is empowered to recommend to the concerned government or authority to initiate proceedings for prosecution against the concerned person or persons where the inquiry discloses the commission of violation of human rights or negligence in the prevention of violation of human rights or abetment thereof by a public servant.

But the most mysterious is the strength of Haji Sarif Uddin Choudhury with which he declares “age or death can’t take me away before justice for my son is ensured by way of prosecution and due punishment to his murderers. Without prosecution of the accused a compensation of rupees fifty thousand is nothing but an insult to the soul of my son and the society.” Police kill people and a meager amount of money from the public fund is given. What type of justice is this?”, he asks.

“If you want to prevent the killing of your son by the police it must be ensured that the persons who already committed such offences must be brought to justice”, said Neharul Ahmed Mazumder, Secretary General of BHRPC. He also states that “a regime of de facto impunity is carefully maintained in North Eastern region including Assam for which it is almost impossible to get justice for the victims and prevent repetitions of such extra legal killings. We need to fight unitedly to break the regime.”

HRW Report: Impunity in Manipur

January 30, 2011

Human Rights Watch Report:

“These Fellows Must Be Eliminated”

Relentless Violence and Impunity in Manipur

September 29, 2008

This 79-page report 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. 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.

Download full report