NEW DELHI - Pressing upon the government of India to repeal the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives sweeping powers to the armed forces, to avoid further violation of fundamental freedoms of people living in Jammu and Kashmir and northeast, experts today said that the law was ‘colonial in nature and a ‘symbol of abuse’.
“AFSPA has become a tool of state abuse, oppression and discrimination in the conflict regions across India. The law grants military massive powers of arrests without warrants, shoot to kill and do anything whatever the forces want to do. This culture of impunity need to stop immediately,” South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, Meenakshi Ganguly told Kashmir Observer.
“The government of India has been involved in the culture of abuse and impunity for nearly sixty years now. They (government) need to really repeal the bad law as soon as possible for avoiding further abuses and protect the rights of civil population of such states,” she said, adding “Only those laws that are accepted in the civilized society need to be implemented and there need to be laws under which the police and other state forces treat civilians with dignity.”
She said that the AFSPA has not only led to human rights violations, but it has allowed members of the armed forces to perpetrate abuses with impunity.
“Army has been shielded by clauses in the AFSPA that prohibit prosecutions from being initiated without permission from the central government. And we hardly have any example of any army officer being prosecuted for the abuse in such states. So we believe the permission is rarely granted in this regard,” she added.
Enacted on August 18, 1958 as a short-term measure to allow deployment of the army against an armed separatist movement in India’s northeastern Naga Hills, the AFSPA has been invoked for decades together now.
The HRW South Asia head said that It (AFSPA) has since been used throughout the northeast, particularly in Assam, Nagaland, Tripura and Manipur. A variant of the law was also used in Punjab during a separatist movement in the 1980s and 90s, and has been in force in Jammu and Kashmir since 1990.
“The word, AFSPA is a most hated word in these areas and it needs an immediate death,” she said, adding “In case of Kashmir, we should give credit to the chief Minister, Omar Abdullah for being vocal against the draconian law.”
Observers on Kashmir also said that the government of India’s responsibility to protect civilians from attacks by militants is no excuse for an abusive law like the AFSPA.
The director, Centre for North Eastern Studies, JMI, said that, “The armed forces are given so exhaustive powers under AFSPA that it is even impossible for the government to actually repeal it.”
“The recommendations by the Jeevan Reddy committee are eating dust and the government doesn’t seem to be serious in addressing the issue,” he added.
The chairperson of the National commission on minorities and the former Chief Information Commissioner, Wajahat Habibullah termed the AFSPA as “colonial, undemocratic Act that is without face”
“AFSPA is an undemocratic and uncivilized law that still prevails in the parts of India and gives ultimate impunity to the army to decide and shoot the civil population on mere suspecting terms,” Habibullah told participants at the three-week training Programme in "Conflict Analysis and Peace-Building".
The workshop has been organized by Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution (NMCPCR), Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, in collaboration with the Rotary Education Foundation.
Habibullah said that the in the current societal structures, such laws made government irrelevant for the civil population. He said during the colonial rule in India even civil services were used to oppress people but the amendments and changes in its structure made it a primary goal for any educated youth in India.
“Now this undemocratic law should either be amended or repealed from the places like Jammu and Kashmir and northeast to give people a sigh of relief,” he said.
The AFSPA has not only led to human rights violations, but it has allowed members of the armed forces to perpetrate abuses with impunity. They have been shielded by clauses in the AFSPA that prohibit prosecutions from being initiated without permission from the central government. Such permission is rarely granted.
It may be recalled here, the Indian civil society has long protested against the controversial AFSPA. The Supreme Court has issued guidelines to prevent human rights violations. However, these are routinely ignored. Since 2000, Irom Sharmila, an activist in Manipur, has been on hunger strike demanding repeal of the act. The government has responded by keeping her in judicial custody, force-fed through a nasal tube, and has ignored numerous appeals for repeal of the Act from the activists in Jammu and Kashmir.