The Hindu 05 Sep 2010 by Siddharth Varadarajan
Students of various organisations hold placards during a protest demonstration, demanding withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from northeast and Kashmir, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on August 21, 2010. File Photo: S. Subramanium
Change the blanket ban on trials without official sanction to one where the government has the power to bar prosecution in individual cases provided it satisfies the courts that its reasons for doing so are valid.
The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act has come in for widespread criticism in Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur and other parts of the northeast because of the human rights abuses that have come to be associated with its operation. So strong is the sentiment against AFSPA in Kashmir that in recent months Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah have all spoken of the need to re-examine the law. The Army, on the other hand, says this is unnecessary.
The Army Chief, General V.K. Singh, has gone so far as to say that the demand for the dilution of AFSPA is being made for “narrow political gains.” On his part, Lt. Gen. B.S. Jaswal, GOC-in-C, Northern Command, has compared the Act to scripture. “I would like to say that the provisions of AFSPA are very pious to me and I think to the entire Indian Army. We have religious books, there are certain guidelines which are given there, but all the members of the religion do not follow it, they break it also … does it imply that you remove the religious book …?”
On paper, AFSPA is a deceptively simple law. First passed in 1958, it comes into play when the government declares a particular part of the northeast (or Jammu and Kashmir under a parallel 1990 law) a “disturbed area.” Within that area, an officer of the armed forces has the power to “fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law or order for the time being in force in the disturbed area prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons or the carrying of weapons or of things capable of being used as weapons or of fire-arms, ammunition or explosive substances.”
Even though activists have made this the focus of their criticism, giving soldiers the “right to kill” is not, in my opinion, AFSPA's principal flaw. After all, if a ‘law and order' situation has arisen which compels the government to deploy the Army, soldiers have to be allowed to use deadly force. Even a private citizen has the right to kill someone in self-defence, though the final word on the legality of her or his action belongs to the courts. Similarly, a civilised society expects that the use of deadly force by the Army must at all times be lawful, necessary and proportionate. Here, the Act suffers from two infirmities: the requirement of prior sanction for prosecution contained in Section 6 often comes in the way when questions arise about the lawfulness of particular actions. Second, AFSPA does not distinguish between a peaceful gathering of five or more persons (even if held in contravention of Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code) and a violent mob. Firing upon the latter may sometimes be justified by necessity; shooting into a peaceful assembly would surely fail any test of reasonableness. ...Read more click here
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