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Insights into Editorial: A monumental mistake fomented by impunity

 

Context:

There are no words to express the outrage and grief over the killing of 14 civilians in Mon district of Nagaland, home of the Konyak Nagas.

The death of 13 civilians by Armed Forces in Nagaland has brought back the debate on AFSPA and controversies surrounding it.

They lost their lives in firing by para commandos of the Indian Army based in Jorhat.

According to information available, this was intended as an ambush on what Army intelligence had indicated was a group of insurgents moving in the area.

This intelligence, or the fact that the Army commandos would be responding to it, was not communicated to either the local police or the Assam Rifles based in the area.

 

About Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA):

AFSPA gives armed forces the power to maintain public order in “disturbed areas”.

They have the authority to prohibit a gathering of five or more persons in an area, can use force or even open fire after giving due warning if they feel a person is in contravention of the law.

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Bill was passed by both the Houses of Parliament and it was approved by the President on September 11, 1958. It became known as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958.

The Act came into force in the context of increasing violence in the North-eastern States decades ago, which the State governments found difficult to control.

If reasonable suspicion exists, the army can also arrest a person without a warrant; enter or search premises without a warrant; and ban the possession of firearms.

 

Controversy on the application of AFSPA Act:

AFSPA Act provides the security personnel with absolute powers without being accounted for. This leads to various atrocities and human rights violation by the security agencies.

AFSPA violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the Convention against Torture( India is a signatory, but it has not ratified it).

 

Recent Mis-happenings due to AFSPA:

  1. The truth is that long decades of violent insurrections and draconian counterinsurgency laws, in particular the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) 1958, have ensured a climate of impunity among those fighting insurgency.
  2. In neighboring Manipur, this became evident even in a pocket where AFSPA had been removed after public agitation following another atrocious rape and murder of a woman insurgent suspect in 2004.
  3. Fake encounter killings soared in the area in the years that followed. The intuitive understanding of those tasked with counterinsurgency duty has come to be that action towards this cause will have little or no legal consequence.
  4. What happened at Mon is new evidence of this. It too reeked of the attitude that in these wild lawless territories, mistakes, even if they spell immense losses to civilian life, are part of the game.

 

Promoting the Culture of ‘surgical strikes’:

It was in this sense, a continuance of the culture of ‘surgical strikes’ hyped up after the Pulwama incident in Jammu and Kashmir, and in the context of the North-east, the ambush by a combined group of militants led by the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) in Chandel district of Manipur in 2015. The NSCN-K then was not as fragmented into factions as it is now.

 

Options that were missed by the Para Commandos:

  1. The important question is, even if there was intelligence available about the movement of insurgents, why was this tactic resorted to?
  2. Why was no attempt made to have the targeted men who were in a single pickup truck, surrender to be captured alive, even if these men were insurgents and armed?
  3. There should not have been much difficulty to block off the truck making its way along a winding narrow hill road, put the men in it in a hopeless position and force them to surrender.
  4. The intent obviously was to destroy and eliminate as would be done to hated enemies.
  5. But, as it turned out tragically, the victims were all innocent unarmed villagers; six of them were killed on the spot.
  6. More casualties resulted after outraged Konyak villagers attacked the ambushers first and then an Assam Rifles post later. One army trooper was also killed in the violence.

 

Need to address problem from the roots:

The Naga Hills, a district of Assam, was upgraded to a Nagaland state in 1963.

  1. On November 11, 1975, the government got a section of NNC leaders to sign the Shillong Accord, under which this section of NNC agreed to give up arms.
  2. A group of about 140 members led by Thuingaleng Muivah, who were at that time in China, refused to accept the Shillong Accord, and formed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in 1980.
  3. In 1988, the NSCN split into NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K) after a violent clash. While the NNC began to fade away, the NSCN (IM) came to be seen as the “mother of all insurgencies” in the region.
  4. NSCN (IM) seeks a Greater Nagalim comprising “all contiguous Naga-inhabited areas”, along with Nagaland. That included several districts of Assam, Arunachal and Manipur, as also a large tract of Myanmar.
  5. In all cases, the separations were broadly between the Indian and the Myanmar Nagas; the Indian Naga factions end up entering the ongoing ceasefire making observers suspect the influence of the Indian intelligence to be behind these splits.
  6. This is understandable too, for India could not have entered into any truce with Myanmar nationals.
  7. The last of these splits, in 2018, followed this pattern. After Khaplang’s death in 2017, the leadership mantle of the NSCN-K passed on to Khango Konyak, an Indian Naga.
  8. Then, in a bloodless coup in 2018, Khango Konyak was impeached and Yung Aung took over leadership. The former returned to India and entered the ongoing ceasefire.

 

Conclusion: Recommendations at various instances to correct the AFSPA ACT:

BP Jeevan Reddy committee examining it in relation to the Northeast in 2005, and the Veerappa Moily report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission of 2007, recommended that the Act be repealed.

The reports of the Justice Verma Committee (2013) and the Justice Hegde Commission (2013) supported need to address the abuses committed under the AFSPA and end the effective impunity enjoyed by security forces.

Supreme Court appointed Hegde Commission (2013) found that all seven deaths in the six cases it investigated were extrajudicial executions, and also said that the AFSPA was widely abused by security forces in Manipur.

The Army should put in public domain details of all court-martials held with respect to human rights violations.

It must sincerely carry out fresh investigations into all alleged cases of human rights violations in Nagaland, Manipur and elsewhere.

Government should try to resolve the long running insurgency in North-eastern states through dialogue with insurgent groups.