Orientation of the State
The human rights movement in Manipur have reached a new milestone with the filing of the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) by the Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association, Manipur, and other fraternal organisations based in the state. In the hearings that began since November 2012, the Supreme Court of India has admitted that the situation in Manipur is crucial. According to the Court, there is failure of ‘constitutional measures’ which governs the democratic institutions of India and its delivery system in the state. Besides, the Court has admitted the existence of extra-judicial killings in the state. But the government switched over to denial mode and painted a different version in its counter affidavit stating that the situation in Manipur or other Northeast states are different as there is the phenomenon of insurgency. Shocked over the counter affidavit, the Court observed, “Is there a war going on in your state? Your men killing theirs and their men killing yours? Is this the orientation of the state?” Orientation of the State reflects a war-informed strategy which has been the usual mindset or orientation for the last many decades, which has resulted in gross human rights violations and loss of innocent lives. As of now, out of the alleged 1,528 extra-judicial killings in the last 30 years in Manipur, seven cases have been confirmed as fake encounters by the Inquiry Commission set up under the instruction of the Supreme Court. Yenning gathers, the once mighty and the untouchables (sic. trigger happy killers including the State police commandoes and other armed State actors) are having sleepless nights!
While credit needs to be given to the PIL filed by EEVFAM for the latest development, one needs to acknowledge the constant human rights movement in the state wherein every section of the society played vital role. One cannot fail to remember the contributions of the Meira Paibis, and singular sacrifice of Chitaranjan and ongoing fast of Irom Sharmila, to mention a few. At the more procedural level, starting from the early 1980s, different civil society organizations and NGOs in Manipur have submitted more than 20 representations to different UN System on the situation of human rights. All the UN Treaty Based Bodies such as ICCPR, ICESCR, CERD, CEDAW, CRC, etc. have observed their concerns. Besides, the Charter Based Bodies especially the Special Rapporteurs, Working Groups and Universal Periodic Review (UPR) have already recorded the human rights situations. So far, more than 13 (thirteen) Special Rapporteurs on different themes including Extrajudicial Execution, Summary and Arbitrary Execution and two working groups on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance have placed their observations on Manipur (for details see, “United Nations and Human Rights in Manipur”, New Delhi: Essential Publication, 2012). In short, such representations helped in internationalising the human rights issues of Manipur particularly AFSPA, and putting pressure on the Indian State to positively respond.
Considering all these developments, the Indian State understands that it can no longer ignore the situation anymore. However, it is still reluctant to address the core issue – the existence of armed conflict in the state. This became clearly evident when the State party observed that the number of incidents listed in the PIL is high. Moreover, it objected the setting up of Special Investigation Unit (SIU). State funded agencies such as the National Human Rights Commission and attempted to divert the issue of institutional crime committed in Manipur by sharing with the Supreme Court that
- Government is considering amendment of AFSPA
- SIU may not be a proper solution as the number of incidents is so high. What is required is proper guidelines and its effective implementation
The first explanation is always given when there is any movement or international community communicates about AFSPA to Government of India. Regarding guidelines, it may be recalled that similar guidelines were issued when the Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights challenged AFSPA in the Supreme Court in 1997. At that time, the Court instead of addressing the issue, upheld the constitutional mandate of AFSPA, and issued guidelines, after which it went to slumber mode even when the guidelines are violated in most of the cases in Manipur (see earlier edition of Yenning on Supreme Court Directives and Guidelines regarding AFSPA). Human rights continue to be violated, in fact increased over the last 13 (thirteen) years, not only on account of military engagements but precisely because of the constitutional mandate given to AFSPA by the Court. Demand for repeal of the Act emanated from all UN Treaty and Charter based bodies, Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee, Administrative Reform Commission and Ansari Report on J&K, etc but it has never been repealed. Moreover, since the issuance of Supreme Court guidelines, there were seven major military operations in the state, proving that the guidelines are mere paper provisions.
That the situation in Manipur is grave has already been shared by the Jeevan Reddy Committee while reviewing AFSPA. The NIA Special Court also observed that whatever is happening is Manipur is a fight for self-determination. Similarly, the Supreme Court in November 2012 observed, “Why should there not be a proper investigation? There is something more than what meets the eye. So many encounters took place. Situation is not normal. We are concerned about the failure of constitutional scheme.” But agencies of the Indian State such as NHRC, Manipur State Government, and the Home Ministry and Defence were against setting up of investigation units on account of its sheer number. Perhaps, such denial could mean that those eliminated over a period of time were with state impunity, and in fact “fake”. However, the Supreme Court prevailed and a Supreme Court appointed Commission consisting of three members was set up (Ajay Kumar Singh, Santosh Hedge and GM Lyngdoh) on January 4, 2013 to investigate the alleged fake encounters in Manipur.
Crime against Humanity
Manipur epitomises a tragic case of “crime against humanity” if the structural violence, thus, exposed by the PIL on extra-judicial killings, which has been acknowledged by the Supreme Court is anything to go by. Perhaps the fear of exposing this truth motivated the State parties to object setting of special investigation units into the alleged fake encounters.
As per International Criminal Court (ICC), “Crimes against humanity” include any of the following acts committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack: (i) murder; (ii) extermination; (iii) enslavement; (iv) deportation or forcible transfer of population; (v) imprisonment; (vi) torture; (vii) rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity; (ix) persecution against an identifiable group on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious or gender grounds; (x) enforced disappearance of persons; (xi) the crime of apartheid; (xii) other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering or serious bodily or mental injury.
If we go by the definition of the ICC, Manipur is a classic example of victim of crime against humanity. The case of Manipur can be identified with the cases of (i) murder or extra judicial Killing or fake encounter, (v) imprisonment (vi) torture (ix) Racial discrimination and (x) Enforced disappearance, which is yet to be investigated by the government.
Murder or extra judicial killings or fake encounters in Manipur has already been admitted by the Supreme in accordance with the PIL which numbers about 1,528 (including 92 children) in the last 30 years. Imprisonment is one instrument of the state to suppress the movement for human rights. Usually in the case of Manipur, human rights or civil society leaders and “suspects” are often arbitrarily arrested in the name of national security through the application of National security Act. Torture is very common. Any report on human rights violation published by NGOs or civil society organizations carries the stories of torture of innocent civilians. Racial discrimination is a common phenomenon in the state. Indian cities continue to be unsafe for the Northeastern people. The issue of enforced disappearance continue to haunt the State of Manipur. For example, a young student Sanamacha remain traceless after he was picked up by the Assam Rifles some 20 years ago. And then there are numerous more.
In addition, the Manipur State Human Rights Commission, who can take up any of the above issue without interference of the state, has been closed down for more than two years.
Learning from Others
It is high time the Indian State starts learning from the experiences of Rwanda and former Yugoslavia, where lakhs of people were structurally wiped out. An International Criminal Tribunal was created in the case of Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and later on the ICC. These institutions not only helped in dispensing justice but also break the structural violence committing crime against humanity prevalent in the two countries.
The situation in Manipur presents a relative easier task as the affidavits filed have already identified the victims and the institutions/personnel responsible for the crimes. 1,528 is indeed a big number. But we cannot simply count them as merely numbers but as human beings. Merely counting them as numbers and denying the departed justice is a crime in itself. Now it remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court of India will be able to give justice, punish the culprits, and remove crime against humanity. Finally, can the Supreme Court restore the ‘constitutional measures’ which governs the democratic institutions of India and its delivery system in the state of Manipur?
This article was published in The Sangai Express on Sunday, April 7, 2013