SANCTIONING REPRESSION IN VIOLATION OF INDIA'S HUMAN RIGHTS OBLIGATIONS

Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 in Manipur and other States of Northeast India

A special report by Asian Human Rights Commission, REDRESS and Human Rights Alert
(E-pao.net) published on Aug 24 2011


The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (hereinafter "the Act" or "AFSP Act") has been in force in several parts of India, including the State of Manipur in the northeast of the country, for more than fifty years. The vaguely formulated provisions of the Act grant extraordinary powers to the Indian armed forces in the so-called "disturbed areas" where it is applicable. The Act has been at the heart of concerns about human rights violations in the region, such as arbitrary killings, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and enforced disappearances. Its continued application has led to numerous protests, notably the longstanding hunger strike by Ms. Irom Chanu Sharmila in Manipur.

This report aims to provide local, national and international human rights defenders and decision makers with a comprehensive analysis of the Act's compatibility with India's domestic and international human rights obligations. It focuses on Manipur since this is one of the states of north-eastern India with the longest history of the military abusing its powers under the Act and with a vibrant civil society indefatigably denouncing those violations. 

The human rights obligations analysed in the present Report concern, first of all, those flowing from the Constitutional mandates of India, and international law sources, with particular emphasis on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (hereinafter "the Covenant" or "ICCPR"). The Covenant, to which India acceded in 1979, recognises a number of fundamental human rights, including the right to life, the right not to be tortured or ill-treated, the right to liberty and security, fair-trial rights, the right to privacy, and the right to freedom of assembly.

This Report examines the legality of the Act, with reference to its practical application, with a view to providing lawmakers with the information needed to consider the future of the Act, including its repeal. It also provides a tool for victims of violations and their lawyers who litigate cases relating to the Act, and to national or international human rights bodies or courts considering its lawfulness.

The history of the Act is marked by longstanding concerns over its compatibility with, and its impact on human rights. Yet, no comprehensive up to date analysis of its conformity with applicable international human rights standards is available. The guardian of the Covenant – the ICCPR's Human Rights Committee (hereinafter "the Committee") – examined India's last periodic report in 1997. It expressed a number of concerns but abstained from pronouncing itself on the overall compatibility of the Act with the ICCPR as the Act's provisions were at that time subject to a challenge before the Supreme Court of India. However, in its judgement of 1997, the Supreme Court did not address the Act's compatibility with international human rights law, ignoring a specific request of the Committee. Since then, India has not submitted any further periodic reports, thereby effectively depriving the Committee of the opportunity to reconsider the matter.

Meanwhile, in November 2004, following unprecedented public protest in Manipur, the Government of India set up a special committee chaired by a retired Justice of the Supreme Court with the mandate to review the Act. The Committee filed its report in 2005. Although it has never been officially published, this report was leaked informally, and its text is now in the public domain. Having carefully considered the various views, opinions and suggestions put forward by the representatives of organisations and individuals who appeared before it as well as the representations made by the concerned governmental departments, including the security agencies, the Committee was of the firm and unanimous view that the Act "should be repealed". The Committee emphasised that it found it impossible to recommend that the Act remains in force, with or without amendments. It did not, however, examine whether and to what degree the Act is compatible with India's obligations under international human rights law. The recommendations contained in the Committee's report were never carried out or even publicly commented upon by the Indian Government.

The present Report finds that the AFSP Act is, both on its face and in its practical application, incompatible with India's obligations under international human rights law, in particular, the ICCPR. REDRESS, AHRC and HRA call on India to consider these findings urgently and to give effect to the rights recognised in the Covenant, as required by the ICCPR and India's Constitution. This would require a repeal of the Act, which has been discredited as a symbol of arbitrary law-enforcement, and has significantly contributed to the perpetuation of a state of exceptionalism that fosters human rights violations.

Read the full report on PDF - 362 KB

REDRESS
87 Vauxhall Walk
SE11 5HJ
London, UNITED KINGDOM
Tel: +44 (0)20 7793 1777
Fax: +44 (0)20 7793 1719
www.redress.org

Asian Human Rights Commission
Unit 701A, Westley Square
48 Hoi Yuen Road, Kwun Tong, KLN
Hong Kong, CHINA
Tel: +(852) 2698 6339
Fax: +(852) 2698 6367
http://www.humanrights.asia

Human Rights Alert
Kwakeithel Thiyam Leikai
Imphal, 795001
Manipur, INDIA
Tel: +(91) 385 2448159

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