The United Nations has asked India to repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, saying it had no role to play in a democracy.
“The AFSPA in effect allows the state to override rights in the disturbed areas in a much [more] intrusive way than would be the case under a state of emergency, since the right to life is in effect suspended, and this is done without the safeguards applicable to states of emergency,” Christof Heyns, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions told reporters here at the end of his fact-finding mission.
“The repeal of this law will not only bring domestic law more in line with international standards, but also send out a powerful message that instead of a military approach the government is committed to respect for the right to life of all people of the country,” he said.
The AFSPA — in force since 1957 in the North-East and since 1990 in Jammu and Kashmir — has become a symbol of excessive State power.
“I have heard extensive evidence of action taken under this law that resulted in innocent lives being lost, in Jammu and Kashmir and in Assam, where witnesses from neighbouring States also assembled. This law was described to me as ‘hated' and a member of a State Human Rights Commission called it ‘draconian,'” Mr. Heyns said.
While Mr. Heyns visited Jammu and Kashmir, he was not allowed to visit Manipur but met the people from there in Assam. In Gujarat, the authorities at the last minute cancelled the scheduled meetings.
On the Gujarat violence, he said he had heard evidence regarding a number of instances where inter-community violence had occurred, resulted in large scale loss of life.
“In particular, I have met with people who lost relatives during the Gujarat killings of Muslims in 2002 and Kandhamal killings of Christians in 2007-08,” he said, while adding that deadly violence had been used by Maoists, insurgents and terrorists. “The state has a right to defend itself against such aggression, provided it abides by the international standards. The state, however, cannot adopt unlawful or unconstitutional means or create vigilante force to counter such violence,” Mr. Heyns explained.
Among other kinds of extrajudicial killings highlighted by the UN Special Rapporteur were excessive use of force by police including fake encounters, custodial deaths and traditional practices affecting women such as honour killings, and dowry deaths.
Women, minorities at risk
“Women and minorities — religious minorities, as well as Dalits and Adivasis — as well as human rights defenders, including Right to Information activists, are especially at risk, and their protection deserves special measures.”
Suggesting that a credible Commission of Inquiry into extrajudicial executions be appointed by the government, Mr. Heyns said the panel should investigate allegations concerning past violations, propose relevant measures to deal with these, and work out a plan of action to eradicate practices of extrajudicial executions. He has also recommended a moratorium on the death penalty.