Repeal & Rewrite AFSPA - because AFSPA has led to the near collapsed of Criminal Justice System and culture of impunity of unbridled violence in Northeast India.
The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958 (AFSPA) is one of the more draconian legislation that the Indian Parliament has passed in its 45 years of Parliamentary history. Under this Act, all security forces are given unrestricted and unaccounted power to carry out their operations, once an area is declared disturbed. Even a non-commissioned officer is granted the right to shoot to kill based on mere suspicion that it is necessary to do so in order to "maintain the public order".
The AFSPA gives the armed forces wide powers to shoot, arrest and search, all in the name of "aiding civil power." It was first applied to the North Eastern states of Assam and Manipur and was amended in 1972 to extend to all the seven states in the north- eastern region of India. They are Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland, also known as the "seven sisters". The enforcement of the AFSPA has resulted in innumerable incidents of arbitrary detention, torture, rape, and looting by security personnel. This legislation is sought to be justified by the Government of India, on the plea that it is required to stop the North East states from seceeding from the Indian Union. There is a strong movement for self-determination which precedes the formation of the Indian Union.
The AFSPA has not only led to human rights violations, but it has allowed members of the armed forces to perpetrate abuses with impunity. They have been shielded by clauses in the AFSPA that prohibit prosecutions from being initiated without permission from the central government. Such permission is rarely granted.
“Violations under the AFSPA have served as a recruiting agent for militant groups, In both Kashmir and the northeast, we have heard over and over again that abuses by troops, who are never punished for their crimes, have only shrunk the space for those supporting peaceful change.”
Indians have long protested against the AFSPA. The Supreme Court has issued guidelines to prevent human rights violations, but these are routinely ignored. Since 2000, Irom Sharmila, an activist in Manipur, has been on hunger strike demanding repeal of the act. The government has responded by keeping her in judicial custody, force-fed through a nasal tube, and has ignored numerous appeals for repeal from activists in Jammu and Kashmir.
Following widespread protests after the 2004 murder in custody of an alleged militant called Manorama Devi in Manipur, the Indian government set up a five-member committee to review the AFSPA. The review committee submitted its report on June 6, 2005, recommending repeal of the act. In April 2007, a working group on Jammu and Kashmir appointed by the prime minister also recommended that the act be revoked. However, the cabinet has not acted on these recommendations because of opposition from the armed forces.
If the AFSPA is not repealed, it must at a bare minimum comply with international law and Indian law standards. This means the powers to shoot to kill under section 4(a) must be unequivocally revoked. Arrests must be made with warrants and no force should be allowed in the search and seizure procedures. Section 5 should clearly state that persons arrested under the Act are to be handed over to the police within twenty-four hours. Section 6 should be completely repealed so that individuals who suffer abuses at the hands of the security forces may prosecute their abusers.
Moreover, the definition of key phrases, especially "disturbed area" must be clarified. The declaration that an area is disturbed should not be left to the subjective opinion of the Central or State Government. It should have an objective standard which is judicially reviewable. Moreover, the declaration that an area is disturbed should be for a specified amount of time, no longer than six months. Such a declaration should not persist without legislative review.