The Oting Massacre: India Commits War Crimes during Ceasefire - Eastern Mirror
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The Oting Massacre: India Commits War Crimes during Ceasefire

By EMN Updated: Jan 03, 2022 8:26 pm

The United Nations defines a war crime as a serious breach of international law committed against civilians or “enemy combatants” during an international or domestic armed conflict. According to the Geneva Convention, a war crime involves “wilful[sic] killing, torture or inhuman treatment . . . wilfully[sic] causing great suffering . . . carried out unlawfully and wantonly.” The Geneva Convention, which forms the core elements of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), was ratified by all 196 states, including India. And India knows full well that there are consequences for war crimes for both government forces and non-state armed militias.

The protection of innocent civilians lies at the foundation of IHL, which regulates the conduct of war, and breaching this law is considered a war crime. In other words, international law prohibits the arbitrary deprivation of life, which includes extrajudicial killings.

The rules of war are universal.

Currently, there is a ceasefire, not war, in Nagaland between India and the Naga Armed Faction groups. In the Oting incident, no combating forces were involved; the victims were not battlefield casualties. It is the Indian Armed Forces who maliciously acted against the peace-loving civilians and attempted to cover up their crimes. A tragedy of tragedies!

India operates multipronged strategies in its approach to counter insurgency. The use of brute force is hailed as their Armed Forces’ “grand strategy” in their fight against insurgency. Nagas are not insurgents trying to overthrow the Indian government; Nagas are fighting to regain their sovereignty from India’s illegal occupation of their land.

The Ceasefire Agreements hold contending parties equally responsible. The two signatories in the Indo-Naga War Ceasefire Agreements are India and the Naga Freedom Fighters. It is India that flagrantly broke its mandated rules in the recent massacre of the innocent civilians of the Oting village in the Mon district on December 4–5, 2021. This atrocious act demonstrated India’s willingness to violate its agreements unilaterally, torpedo the existing Ceasefire Agreements, and manipulate them for its own purpose.

The Oting massacre indicates that killing innocent lives is insignificant for India as long as evidence can be cleverly suppressed in a concerted effort from the top down. Ahmed Shah, the Home Minister, intentionally misled Parliament in the Oting massacre. Of course, Oting is not the only incident of India’s secretive and manipulative strategies; a long history of such cover-ups goes back to the day India took over control of the Naga country, following the partition of the subcontinent. Since the beginning of the Indo-Naga War—decades before the controversial creation of Nagaland as a state within India—innocent civilians have borne the brunt of the war, which continues to this day. Nagas are reliving the past. 

For the Nagas, there is no such thing as a safe place as long as India controls them. One would assume, for example, that Sainik Schools, admitting boys starting in class (grade) VI, established and managed under the Ministry of Defence, would be the safest place; however, the opposite is true. My youngest brother had just arrived to attend Sainik School in Imphal, Manipur. Within days of his arrival, and while getting familiarized with the new system and environment, his principal, an army major, killed him in full view of his fellow schoolmates for no other reason than a lack of proper communication. He was only 12 years old; the ominous year was 1972.

Although the Indo-Naga Political Settlement issue falls outside the insurgency framework, India opted to justify the Oting massacre because the Indian Army has “deliberately adopted” the use of brute force strategy. The Oting victims were unarmed, unprovoked, and undefended. This is a serious crime against innocent citizens.

I know the Konyak people fairly well. I served as Extension Officer posted in Wakching in 1966. My stay was brief, lasting about a year; I left upon being promoted. Nevertheless, even within that short stay, I had the opportunity to visit many villages and came to know them just as I know my tribe. The Konyaks are extremely hardworking people who live a simple yet contented communal life. But what defines them more than anything else is that the Konyaks are trustworthy, honest, kind-hearted, and loving people. They will never deceive.

Impunity destroys the social fabric of societies and perpetuates mistrust among communities or towards the State, consequently undermining a lasting peace. How can the Oting people in particular, and Nagas in general, feel justice has been served when those responsible for carrying out these despicable crimes are not held accountable—particularly when top government officials, such as the home minister, made attempts to cover up the crime? Is it the way to bring justice and promote sustainable peace?

The Oting incident did not result from misunderstanding of or ambiguity within the decades-old Indo-Naga Ceasefire stipulations. By all accounts, it was intentional, a calculated, cold-blooded act. India’s use of force against unarmed, unprovoked civilians is an invitation to an escalation of conflict.

The images portray the heinous crimes committed by the Indian Security Forces. The outpouring of support from the various corners of Nagaland and the Northeast towards the victims, their loved ones, and the Konyaks in general sends a clear message to the Indians that the Nagas are united. No quick fixes will prevent further tragedies. That Nagas’ determination to regain their freedom is sealed with blood; it is a matter of time until the next generation will pick up where left off and continue the fight until independence is achieved.

The recent Oting massacre presents a window to the past of India’s pet power, popularly known as the Armed Forces Special Powers Acts (AFSPA) of 1959, which allows armed forces the use of unlimited power against innocent civilians at their discretion with or without any validity, popularly and rightly labelled as the draconian law. The AFSPA must be repealed.

Repealing the AFSPA is only the first step; however, it will not solve the problem, as India has used the National Security Act (NSA), another draconian law, in other parts of the country to suppress insurgencies. The current Indo-Naga Political Settlement is key to solving the many problems Nagas are experiencing.

Dr. Vikuosa Nienu

By EMN Updated: Jan 03, 2022 8:26:04 pm