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Op-Ed

NPMHR Secretary General Neingulo Krome on AFSPA

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By EMN Updated: Nov 25, 2014 9:56 pm
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Dear Friends,
[dropcap]I[/dropcap] am not going into the details and provisions of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, since everybody is talking about it and the subject matter is well known to every literate person. That way we can precisely discuss the matter which is also not a new thing.
When I received the invitation with a request to be a Resource Person on Dialogue and Deliberation Program on AFSPA and read that the main objective of this initiative was to create awareness and knowledge of AFSPA, which according to the invitation letter “was enacted to suppress the growing secession movement across North East India”, I felt so shattered. This is to say that the Naga political movement was never a secessionist movement. How can we secede from something to which we were never part of? To secede means to break away, to separate or to pull out from something that we were part of. Therefore, even though Nagaland was created as the 16th state of India, the Naga National Political movement never joined the Union of India, for which there is still a very strong movement, with ceasefire and political negotiations going on at various levels and at various periods of time. The Government of India knows that very well for which they have also initiated peace talks with Naga National groups over the years and with different political movements in the North East and other parts of India. However, I do not intend to say whether the others are secessionists or not, but when Indian became an Independent country in 1947, all others willingly became states or union territories of India. The case of Nagaland was different and this was acknowledged by the Government of India through its official recognition of the “unique history and situation of the Nagas” in July 2002.Furthermore, people of the National movement have also terribly failed on its part in moulding and shaping the minds of today’s generation, who have come to think we are also secessionist. This is not your fault at all. This is because everybody has become too luxurious and too comfortable with the ceasefires. But this is not an isolated case of the Nagas. This happens in any conflict situation when ceasefires are prolonged for too long. And fearing this may happen to the Nagas too, some of us right from the early stages of the ceasefires have been making suggestion to the National groups to use the space of the ceasefire to create awareness on Naga political movement with the masses and particularly the younger generation. But all of us who belong to the generation prior to the ceasefires are equally to be blamed. Because all of us has failed to do our parts of the responsibilities and are only blaming each other just as I am doing today.
On the other hand, if you have been part of the Naga generation that have not only witnessed but have been victims as well to the onslaught of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, or even know what the entire Naga generation went through during the periods of the political conflicts, you may not want to blame the elders if they wanted or needed a little bit of respite after the coming of ceasefire at least for once in a lifetime to enjoy some normal life with family, friends and the society. The tragedy is, we have become almost addicted to that new found space or freedom to have “respite”. Nevertheless, I want to thank you, Youngs Club of Dimapur for waking us up.
In your invitation letter, you also stated; “this movement started because those states were discontented for being completely ignored by the Government”. This may be correct in the cases of some states or communities. However, going by the analysis of various international monitoring agencies, who have gone into the details of the motives behind the enactment of AFSPA, including those of the United Nations, it was clear that the Government of India made an “over-zealous effort to integrate the peoples of the North-East into their so-called national mainstream by using the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act”.
Another analysis says; “The Armed Forces Special Powers Act contravenes both Indian and International law standards. This was exemplified when India presented its second periodic report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 1991. Members of the UNHRC asked numerous questions about the validity of the AFSPA, questioning how the AFSPA could be deemed constitutional under Indian law and how it could be justified in light of Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Attorney General of India relied on the sole argument that the AFSPA is a necessary measure to prevent the secession of the North Eastern States. He said that a response to this agitation for secession in the North East had to be done on a “war footing”. He argued that the Indian Constitution, in Article 355, made it the duty of the Central Government to protect the states from internal disturbance and that there is no duty under international law to allow secession”.
During these proceedings, one of the Expert Member of the Commission on Human Rights from Costa Rica, Mr. Francisco Jose Aguilar Urbino said; “these laws greatly concern me because when we give a person powers, and for very subjective reasons, powers to be able to deny the lives of citizens that is far too much power, I think it is excessive, particularly when the person is immune and act with impunity because he or she will not be punished”. Another Expert Member from Nicaragua also stated; “…My dear friend (meaning His Excellency the Attorney General of India Ramaswamy) stated yesterday that there is no paradise in so far as human rights are concerned, but that is the utopia we seek, search for, that paradise even though we fall short in our accomplishments”.
In June 2005, the Jeevan Reddy Committee which was established by the Government of India in 2004, to review the various aspects of the AFSPA, after holding extensive consultation with government officials, members of the armed forces, civil societies and other individuals, submitted its report, recommending that the Government of India repeal the Act. The Committee concluded that the Act “for whatever reason, has become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high-handedness. It added that a procedure “established by Law” that claims to be fair, just and reasonable should not have become a symbol of oppression”. These views were further substantiated by UN bodies such as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the UN Special Rapporteur against Extra-Judicial Killings and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, who opined that only by repealing the Act can such violations be put to an end. Merely amending the Act is not enough.
In May 1998, the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) wrote an Ancestry of the AFSPA which says; On 15 August 1942, at the height of the Quit India Movement, the British Government stating that it was necessary to confer special powers on certain officers of His Majesty’s armed forces as an emergency had arisen, brought in the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Ordinance, 1942. This Ordinance conferred power on a commissioned officer not below the rank of a Captain in the army, to use force if necessary to the extent of causing death of a person who fails to halt when challenged by a sentry or who attempts to destroy property which the officer has been deputed to protect. The power to arrest a person was also given along with a duty to hand over the arrested person to the police. Immunity was also provided to army personnel acting under the Ordinance. This Ordinance extended to the whole of India.
Reflecting the policies of the erstwhile colonial rulers towards the North-eastern states, the Government of Independent India swiftly promulgated a series of legislations – the Assam Maintenance of Public Order (Autonomous districts) Act, 1953, Assam Disturbed Areas Act, 1955 – which concluded in the Armed Forces (Assam & Manipur) Special Powers Act in 1958. (At that time Nagaland was just a district under Assam). This latest Act (meaning the AFSPA, 1958) enhanced the powers given to army personnel under the 1942 Ordinance. A non-commissioned officer could now shoot to kill a person violating an order prohibiting an assembly of persons or the carrying of things capable of being used as weapons.
The subsequent division of states in the North-East led to amendments in 1972 and 1986 extending the Act to all the newly created states. The amendments additionally gave powers to the Central Government to apply the Act, a power which was earlier the sole prerogative of state Governors who will act on the advice of the state Governments.
When NPMHR took upon itself the task of fighting against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and filed Writ Petitions in the Supreme Court of India, challenging the Constitutional validity of the Act and many other heinous deeds of the Indian security forces that have destroyed and trampled the Naga people for more than one would like to remember, the question that comes to the mind is; “how does one reason with an illiterate soldier or a career oriented officer who has been educated of “his or her rights” to do anything against the civil population and with full impunity? The rest I leave it to your imaginations.
Thank you!
A Paper Presentation on Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, by Neingulo Krome, Secretary General, Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights in a Dialogue and Deliberation, organised by Youngs Club Dimapur, at Hotel Acacia Conference Hall on the 25th of November, 2014 at Dimpur.

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By EMN Updated: Nov 25, 2014 9:56:55 pm