Saturday, 25 July 2015
End Abuses by the Indian Military, New York Times
Since 1958, India’s Armed Forces Special Powers Act, or Afspa, has fostered a culture of impunity among India’s armed forces that has led to repeated, documented human rights abuses against Indian civilians in designated “disturbed areas.” In the wake of fresh calls to repeal the law, it’s time for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to do what prior governments have not: stand up to India’s military, which has long resisted any modification of the act — and move to have Afspa repealed.
The law was enacted to fight a separatist insurgency in Nagaland and was later applied to restive areas in several states in the northeast. In 1990, a version of the act was applied to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Rather than help quell revolt, Afspa has hardened resentments against a military that has too often abused the extraordinary powers conferred by the act.
The act, which can be activated by the federal government or the states, gives soldiers wide powers to kill, arrest, search and detain. It also grants them civil immunity from prosecution and punishment. India’s army, which is empowered to try soldiers in military courts for crimes against civilians, has rarely done so. The result is a shocking incidence of rapes, murders, torture, summary detention and disappearances of civilians in areas where the law applies.
This month, Amnesty International published a damning report on abuses in Jammu and Kashmir, and called again for an end to the law. Indian legal authorities and human rights groups, as well as international groups and the United Nations, have urged repeal. In 2005, following the rape and murder of a woman in Manipur, a government-appointed committee said the law should be amended or replaced “in consonance with the obligations of the government towards protection of Human Rights.” In 2008, Human Rights Watch published a major report on Afspa calling for repeal. In 2012, the United Nations said the act “clearly violates international law.” The year after, a former chief justice of India, J.S. Verma, chairman of a committee charged with reviewing Indian law after the brutal rape of a student in New Delhi, said there was an “imminent need” to assess continued use of the law.
The government of Prime Minister Modi should not wait to act. In May, the state of Tripura, with the federal government’s approval, repealed Afspa, saying it was no longer necessary. The Peoples Democratic Party, which governs Jammu and Kashmir in alliance with the national governing Bharatiya Janata Party, is calling for repeal there. India’s home minister, Rajnath Singh, said this month he hoped a time would come when Afspa “should not be needed anywhere in the country.” That time is now.