Document - India: Parliamentarians must repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts
10 December 2009
AI Index: ASA 20/022/2009
India: Parliamentarians must repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts
Indian Parliamentarians voting on a government introduced bill to amend the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) must repeal the law instead, Amnesty International said on the occasion of Human Rights Day.
The AFSPA has been in force in various parts of north-east India for over five decades. A virtually identical law – the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990 – covers the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Both laws provide soldiers operating in government designated ‘disturbed areas’, the authority to use lethal force against any person contravening laws or orders “prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons” as well as to destroy property, enter and search premises without warrant and arrest in the interest of ‘maintenance of public order’. Soldiers are also protected from any legal proceedings unless it is sanctioned by the central government. This rarely happens in practice.
As a result, these laws have provided impunity for perpetrators of grave human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, rape and torture. Amnesty International and other human rights organisations have previously found patterns of widespread violations in areas where these laws are in force.i
Amnesty International has also observed that the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts have allowed violations of non-derogable human rights, under international human rights law, as provided in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which India is a state party. Among these rights are the right to life and freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In response to India’s most recent report on compliance with the ICCPR, the UN Human Rights Committee in July 1997 also raised concerns at the continued reliance on special powers under the AFSPA.
In November 2004, following large-scale public protests in the north-eastern state of Manipur, the central government appointed a five-member committee led by a former Judge of the Supreme Court BP Jeevan Reddy to review the AFSPA. The committee’s report in June 2005 found the act “too sketchy, too bald and quite inadequate” and observed that it had become “a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high-handedness”. The Committee therefore recommended repeal of the AFSPA. Other panels including the Administrative Reforms Committee and the Prime Minister’s Working Group on Confidence-Building Measures in Jammu and Kashmir have also subsequently called for the repeal of the laws.
The Jeevan Reddy Commission however further recommended that the substantive provisions of AFPSA be transferred to existing legislation – the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. Several human rights groups condemned this as a ‘sleight of hand’. Amnesty International has also previously stated its opposition to any incorporation of AFSPA provisions into other legislation,iias the amended legislation would not comply withthe ICCPR nor take into account detailed standards including the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, the UN Principles for the Prevention of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions and the UN Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances.
Amnesty International reiterates its call for the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990.
Although initially enacted specifically for Assam and Manipur in 1958, subsequent amendments extended the AFSPA to the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. The Armed Forces (Punjab and Chandigarh) Special Powers Act, 1983 and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990 were also subsequently enacted. Although no parts of Punjab and Mizoram are now designated as ‘disturbed’, much of Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Jammu and Kashmir are designated ‘disturbed areas’, along with smaller parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Tripura.
i India: Briefing on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, AI Index: ASA 20/025/2005
ii India Briefing: The Armed Forces Special Powers Act Review Committee takes one step forward and two backwards, AI Index: ASA 20/031/2006
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