In wake of the killing of 14 civilians by security forces in Nagaland, it appeared that the Centre felt the need to tread cautiously with respect to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). However, just days after announcing that it has formed a panel to look into the possibility of scrapping AFSPA in Nagaland, the Centre has extended the tenure of Act which will now be effective for six more months.
On December 30, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued a Gazette notification saying, “The whole state of Nagaland is in such a disturbed and dangerous condition that the use of armed forces in aid of civil power is necessary.” AFSPA will remain in effect in the region for six more months.
The notification may be viewed here:
The AFSPA Panel
The decision to form a five-member panel to examine possibility of AFSPA withdrawal was taken after a meeting between Union Home Minister Amit Shah and leaders from the North East such as Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, Deputy Chief Minister Y Patton, Naga People’s Front Legislature Party leader TR Zeliang, and Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on December 23 in New Delhi.
The panel will be headed by additional secretary (Northeast) in the MHA and also include Nagaland’s chief secretary and director-general of police, the inspector-general of Assam Rifles (North) and a CRPF representative. It will make recommendations about removing the “disturbed area” tag from Nagaland and submit its report within 45 days.
But already there are voices of disapproval regarding the panel’s composition. The Konyak Civil Society Organisation based in Mon district where the massacre took place questioned the absence of people from the affected area in the panel.
AFSPA in Nagaland
The controversial Act gives security personnel a virtual carte blanche to commit excesses for the purpose of fighting insurgency. Horror stories of human rights abuses that have taken place during the six decades the draconian Act has been effective in the region are aplenty, but the Oting massacre finally pushed the Centre to act.
The incident took place on December 4 when coal mine workers belonging to the Konyak tribe were on their way home from work, travelling on the road that connects Thiru to Oting in Mon district of Nagaland, less than a hundred kilometers from the international border with Myanmar. Personnel of the 21 Para Special Forces opened fire on their vehicle, allegedly without even verifying their identity. Six miners were killed and two injured in the incident. Shortly afterwards a search party from the village of the miners came looking for them and as per a joint report of Nagaland’s Director General of Police (DGP) and Commissioner, “On reaching the spot, they found the pick-up truck and the special forces personnel trying to hide the dead bodies of the six villagers by wrapping and loading them in another pick-up truck (Tata Mobile) apparently with the intention of taking the dead bodies to their base camp.” When the villagers tried to stop them, the security forces once again opened fire on them and killed seven more people.
The Army later sheepishly issued a non-apology claiming the forces were acting on a tip that insurgents were travelling in the area with a cache of arms. But that neither explains why it did not bother verifying the identity of people they shot, nor why they were trying to whisk away the bodies of the dead. The following day, angry protesters attacked a camp of the Assam Rifles after bodies of the dead were not brought to the Mon helipad where a funeral had been planned by the villagers. One more civilian was killed in this protest taking the toll of civilian deaths to 14.
Since then, the Nagaland government has unanimously adopted a resolution to rid their state of AFSPA, and push for the repeal of the Act. “This House must sound the desire of the people. The desire of the people is to repeal this undemocratic and draconian law,” said Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio when the resolution was adopted on December 20.