Human Rights Watch (HRW) a global organisation that investigates and reports on abuses happening in all corners of the world, and engages in targeted advocacy to protect and defend such people, has drawn attention to India’s draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and demanded its immediate repeal in wake of the shocking killing of 14 civilians by the Army in Nagaland.
“Pledges by India’s home minister and the army to investigate the army’s horrific killing of 14 people will come to nothing unless those responsible are prosecuted,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at HRW, adding, “So long as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act protects soldiers from accountability, such atrocities will continue.”
HRW released a statement saying, “The AFSPA gives the armed forces wide powers to shoot to kill, make arrests on flimsy pretexts, conduct warrantless searches, and demolish structures in the name of “aiding civil power,” adding, “The powers that the law extends to the armed forces come into force once an area subject to the act has been declared “disturbed” by the central or state government. This declaration is not subject to judicial review.”
The statement goes on to showcase the blatant abuse of these powers by security forces, “Equipped with these special powers, soldiers have raped, tortured, forcibly disappeared, and killed people without fear of being held accountable. The act violates international human rights law protections, including the right to life, the right to be protected from arbitrary arrest and detention, and the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. It also denies the victims and their families the right to a remedy.”
Joining the chorus demanding the Act’s immediate repeal, Ganguly said, “AFSPA has long shielded the armed forces from responsibility for grave human rights abuses and denied justice to the families harmed,” adding, “The government should ensure an independent civilian investigation into the Nagaland killings and urgently repeal AFSPA to save many more lives.”
The complete HRW statement may be read here.
Brief background of the Nagaland killings
On December 4, 2021, members of the Indian Army’s 21 Para Special Forces gunned down 6 coal mine workers returning from work on a road between Tiru and Oting villages in Nagaland’s Mon district, just about 100 kilometers from India’s international border with Myanmar. The Army later said, it had “credible intelligence report” that a convoy of National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Khaplang faction or NSCN (K), a group designated as a terrorist organisation, was travelling through the area, and that the miners had been shot dead in a case of “mistaken identity”.
However, the feeble non-apology and flimsy excuse didn’t wash with anyone, given how the Army did not make any attempt to verify the identity of the people before firing upon them. Later, a joint report by the Nagaland Director General of Police as well as the Police Commissioner made other shocking revelations – that the Army personnel were trying to hide the bodies and whisk them away to their base camp in Assam when villagers who had formed a search party when the miner did not return home on time chanced upon them. This is when the Army opened fire on these villagers and killed seven more people, taking the toll of dead civilians to 13 that night. The following day, another civilian was killed when agitated villagers attacked a camp of the Assam Rifles after they were left waiting at the helipad for bodies of the deceased, when the funeral was postponed without informing the loved ones of the dead.