Towards Justice

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THE police has accused an army officer and two associates of planting weapons on the bodies of three labourers who were killed by Army in September at Amshipora, Shopian and passed off as militants. Captain Bhoopendra Singh who is now in military detention, has been charged with murder, conspiracy and other offences. Similarly the two civilian “sources”, who were with him at the time, are in police custody.

A police statement issued late on Sunday said the officer and two others “planted illegally acquired weapons and material on their dead bodies after stripping them of their identities and tagged them as hardcore terrorists in possession of war-like stores.”

This is a rare case in which police has directly blamed the Army for the killing of civilians in an encounter. To be fair to Army, even it has blamed its own personnel in this incident. Earlier the Army had claimed to have killed three unidentified militants in the said encounter. But once their pictures were published in newspapers and circulated on social media, three families in Rajouri claimed they were their children and insisted they had had no terror links. According to the families, the trio had gone to Shopian to work as labourers. The Army was quick to order a high-level Court of Inquiry (CoI) into the encounter.

But nobody in Kashmir, even in their wildest imagination, believed that the Army would indict its own soldiers. This is why when it happened, it came as a pleasant surprise to people. Army has chosen to voluntarily dispense justice in a case where its personnel have in the words of Army itself “exceeded” the powers vested under the AFSPA. The Army has already confirmed that the three youth killed in an encounter at Amshipora were civilians from Rajouri in Jammu. The finding followed an internal probe into the incident.

As the Amshipora case has once again showed, what matters is the accountability of the personnel responsible for gross excesses, not the revocation of the AFSPA per se. Best the way out is the willingness among the security agencies to act fairly and speedily in case of rights violations. This is the only pragmatic solution under the circumstances. One can also ask what is stopping the centre from making necessary modifications in the law that makes the security personnel who commit human rights violations accountable for their actions. Such actions cannot be left entirely to the discretion of the Army. There has to be an inbuilt legal mechanism to punish the erring personnel irrespective of the institutional discretion of the security forces.

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