Security forces held to account

The life sentence recommended by the General Court Martial to five Army personnel of the 4 Rajputana Rifles — a Colonel who was the commanding officer of his unit, a Captain and three soldiers — for staging a fake encounter in Kashmir has come not a day too soon. The five were found guilty of killing three innocent men on April 30, 2010 and passing them off as Pakistani militants to collect cash rewards for the “encounter”. Massive protests engulfed the Valley after the killings, leading to the four-month long “stone-pelting agitation” in which 120 more Kashmiris, mostly teenagers and youth, were killed in street confrontations with police and the paramilitary. After a police investigation, 11 persons, including a Colonel and two Majors, were charge sheeted in a criminal court at Sopore. The Army successfully stalled the proceedings before a trial court and opted for a Court of Inquiry, which too arrived at the same conclusion as the police. It was on the basis of the CoI report, which was not made public, that the Army ordered the court martial in December 2013. The proceedings began in January and ended in September, when the court reserved orders. After the Pathribal experience, in which the military court closed the case against the accused Army personnel citing absence of evidence, the court martial in the Macchil case ordered just a few days later, did not inspire much hope that justice would be done. But the punishment is certainly exemplary and will hopefully serve as a deterrent against wrongdoing. The sentence will take effect when it is confirmed by the Northern Corps Commander, Lt. Gen. G.S. Hooda. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah even called it a “watershed” moment for Jammu and Kashmir.

At a time when the Valley is once again seething at the killing of two young boys at the hands of soldiers, the conviction and the sentencing shore up the image of the Army as an institution that can hold its men accountable through internal processes. The Army would build more trust with the people of Kashmir if it also reopened the Pathribal fake encounter case in which a Brigadier, a Lieutenant Colonel, two Majors, and a Subedar of 7 Rashtriya Rifles were the accused. The justice done in the Macchil case is certain to be held up as an example of why there is no need to do away with the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act or the immunity clauses in it. But the Army cannot portray itself as a fully accountable institution so long as it takes shelter under the non-accountability provisions of AFSPA, and puts itself outside the scrutiny of civilian courts. After all, it was only the pressure of a mass civilian protest and a police charge sheet pointing to clear evidence of crime that forced the Army’s hand and led to the initiation of action in the Macchil case. The Hindu

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