Special powers act, human rights shield for forces’

Human rights activists term the Armed Force (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) as ‘draconian’, but the Assam Rifles Wednesday said the legislation is one of its ‘human rights shields’.

‘Human right groups never speak for the violence committed against security forces. For the men in uniform, the AFSPA is one of the acts that gives human rights protection,’ Lt. Gen. Karan Singh Yadava, chief of Assam Rifles, said on the sidelines of the Assam Rifle’s 175th anniversary celebrations.

The Assam Rifles, which is guarding the treacherous India-Myanmar border and also conducting counter-insurgency operations, says parts of Meghalaya continue to remain ‘disturbed’, but the situation within the state is under control.

‘The situation is not normal due to disturbances, however it is under control,’ Gen. Yadava said, giving a clear hint that the act is here to stay.

The AFSPA, which is now enforced in large parts of Manipur, Tripura, Assam and Nagaland and some parts of other northeastern states like Meghalaya, gives the armed forces authority to kill or detain terror suspects in insurgency-prone areas.

He, however, admitted that there are occasional aberrations during the counter-insurgency operations, but the Assam Rifles do have an effective corrective mechanism in place.

Asked on AFSPA’s withdrawal, Gen. Yadava said: ‘It’s for the central and the state governments to decide whether to repeal the act or let it continue.’

Meghalaya Governor R.S. Mooshahary, who favoured the repeal of AFSPA in the region, said that prolonged use of the AFSPA has alienated the civil society.

‘We cannot contain insurgency related violence by alienating the citizens; we can do so more effectively by involving them,’ said Mooshahary, former National Security Guards chief.

Irom Sharmila Chanu, a human rights activist, has been on indefinite strike for nearly a decade in Manipur, demanding the withdrawal of the APSPA from the state.

Several human rights groups, including the powerful North East Students’ Organisation (NESO), has also been demanding withdrawal of the AFSPA from the northeastern region.

‘Instead of solving the militancy problem in the northeast, the act is complicating the situation. It has resulted in a war between the people and the members of the armed forces,’ said NESO vice-chairman Lalmuanpula Punte.

In view of the outcry against the AFSPA, the central government had appointed a five-member committee headed by Supreme Court Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy a few years ago to examine whether the act was required or not.

After visiting all affected states, the committee submitted its report to the central government in October 2006. The Union government has not yet made the findings public.

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