Repeal of AFSPA will strengthen spirit of Constitutional democracy: WGHR

Global Human Rights body issues statement in solidarity with Nagaland shooting victims

Image: PTI

The Working Group on Human Rights in India and the United Nations (WGHR) has issued a statement expressing “solidarity with the coal mine labourers and protestors killed and injured during the horrific incidents at Oting, Mon district, Nagaland”. 14 civilians were killed in three incidents on December 4 and 5, 2021.

In the first incident, personnel belonging to the 21 Para Security Forces opened fire upon a convoy of coal mine workers, all members of the Konyak tribe, killing six men and injuring two. According to one of the survivors, the security forces opened fire without warning or verifying their identities. The incident took place on the road connecting Tiru and Oting villages in Mon district. Shortly afterwards, villagers who had formed a search party to look for the missing miners reached the spot, they found the security forces “hiding the bodies” of the dead in an alleged bid to whisk them away to their base camp across the border in Assam. This has also been corroborated by a joint report of the Nagaland Director General of Police (DGP) and the Commissioner. When these villagers protested, security forces opened fire again, killing seven more people.

The following day, after funeral proceedings for the miners at the Mon helipad, were cancelled suddenly, repotedly without any prior intimation, another group of protesters ransacked Assam Rifles camp 27. One more civilian was killed during this incident, thus taking the total tally of civilian deaths to 14. These deaths have enraged the entire region that has been under provisions of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

It is the AFSPA, that is blamed for the impunity with which the army operates in the region. The AFSPA has been in effect in the North East since 1958, while Nagaland became an Indian state in 1963 and has thus remained under AFSPA for close to sixty years. AFSPA allows security forces to conduct operations anywhere and arrest anyone without a warrant. This power has allegedly been misused by security forces to torture locals with several allegations of gendered crimes also mode from time to time.

The WGHR draws attention to this very aspect of the law and says, “This is not the first time that gross human rights violations have been committed under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 (AFSPA) that grants legal immunity for all acts to armed forces when enforced. As long as impunity prevails over justice, this, tragically, may not be the last time.” It further says, “The repeal of AFSPA has been a long-standing demand of civilians, survivors, families of victims, human rights movements and activists around India, particularly those that have borne the brunt of this law in the North-East of India.”

Showcasing how AFSPA has repeatedly drawn flak from international agencies, it says, “AFSPA also continues to attract significant criticism from UN human rights mechanisms. The UN Human Rights Committee stated in 1997 that exercising power under AFSPA amounts to exercising emergency powers without resorting to the procedure laid down under section 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).”

The WGHR also lists the following instances when the human rights body has pointed out the need to closely examine and discard the draconian Act:

  • The Special Rapporteur on Summary, Arbitrary and Extrajudicial Execution, in his analysis of the situation after his official visit to India in 2012, stated that the powers conferred on the armed forces of the Union under AFSPA go beyond permissible limits. He said that the right to life, which appears to be suspended under AFSPA, is a non-derogable right even in situations of emergency.

  • The Committee on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in 2007 described AFSPA as racist and had urged the Government of India to repeal it within a year.

  • The Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 2014, also recommended the repeal of AFSPA, calling for sexual violence committed against women by armed forces to be brought under the purview of ordinary criminal law.

Noting India’s hesitancy to repeal AFSPA despite these instances, the WGHR says, “In the last three cycles of India’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), several governments recommended the repeal, review or revision of AFSPA. These recommendations also addressed the accountability of security personnel, the regulation concerning detentions as well as victims’ right to appeal in accordance with international standards. The Government of India, however, has consistently not accepted, but only noted, these recommendations.” Pointing to possible future action, it says, “Similar recommendations are likely to be repeated in the 4th UPR cycle which will begin in October 2022. India will be one of the first countries to be reviewed.”

The entire statement may be read here: 


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