New Delhi: Even as it mulls over the future of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the northeast, the Union home ministry has released data revealing human rights violations under the controversial Act are the highest in Jammu and Kashmir, followed by Assam. The documents which have been made public through a Right to Information (RTI) query filed by Venkatesh Naik, a human rights activist, show that Jammu and Kashmir tops the list of human rights violations committed under the AFSPA, with 92 complaints against the Indian Army and paramilitary forces in 2016. Assam comes in second with 58 complaints, Manipur third at 21, while Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh follow next at five and six complaints, respectively.
Of the 186 complaints received, 74 were against the Indian Army. Death in army encounters saw 24 complaints. Death in army firings saw 16 complaints, while there were 21 cases of alleged fake encounters and 10 cases of rape and abduction.
The home ministry has made it clear that all security personnel deployed in conflict zones governed by AFSPA have to abide by a strict code of conduct.
“For preventing human rights violations under the AFSPA, guidelines have been issued for the armed forces. Violation of these guidelines by members of the Armed Forces makes them liable for prosecution under the Army Act and the respective Acts of the CAPFs (central armed police forces)," a home ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
An army officer who did not wish to be identified said the human rights cells of the Army and the CAPFs closely monitored alleged human rights violations.
Experts and former army officials, however, stated that in conflict regions such as Jammu and Kashmir—given the recent onslaught of stone-pelting on the forces—“human rights violations" took on a very different meaning.
“If a soldier rapes a woman, he deserves a punishment that’s severe. There is no other punishment. But for situations where civilians are throwing stones at the soldiers or hindering security operations, the soldiers have to defend themselves because civilians there who pelt stones at forces don’t care for the lives of a soldier," said Gaurav Arya, defence expert and former Indian Army officer.
An expert on the issues of the northeast, however, stated that the matter was totally different in the region—with Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur and Nagaland under AFSPA, the armed forces enjoyed impunity despite gross violations.
The expert said that a majority of the “encounters" carried out in the northeast were staged.
“There is a huge mafia nexus in the region, especially Assam that identifies people who can’t leave a trail and whose disappearance will not be reported. They are then sold to the security forces, passed off as ‘militants’ and killed in ‘encounters’," said Kishalay Bhattacharjee, author and expert on northeast India. On 14 July, in a breakthrough judgment, the Supreme Court for the first time took cognizance of 1,528 cases of fake encounters under AFSPA in Manipur, ordering a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into 97 of them.
Ordinarily, if there are human rights violations, the complainant can approach the police station, which conducts an immediate inquiry into the allegation and then lodges a first information report (FIR). The security forces too conduct parallel semi judicial processes. At the same time, the CBI can also be ordered by a higher court to investigate or re-investigate such allegations.
Ajai Sreevatsan contributed to the story.