Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) as a threat to Human Rights

Ques. “Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is not merely a concern about human rights violation but also inconsistent with the structure and spirit of our democracy”. Comment

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), is an Act of the Parliament of India with just six sections granting special powers to the armed forces in what the act terms as “disturbed areas”. Although the usefulness of the act has been universally acknowledged in particular for stabilizing the Kashmir valley and maintaining peace, the Act has received criticism from several sections for alleged concerns about human rights violations in the regions of its enforcement, where arbitrary killings, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and enforced disappearances have alleged to have happened.

Reasons of being a concern about human right violations & inconsistence with the spirit of democracy:

  • AFSPA confers special powers on the armed forces to respond at will in “disturbed areas” in order to maintain law and order. A military officer can fire upon an unlawful assembly of five or more people if the need arises or even for illegal possession of fire arms. The military is free to use force, even causing death to those suspected of possible violence. These special powers are being witnessed and threat to human life.
  • No arrest and search warrants are required for any operation as in the provisions of the law. Under the blanket powers it confers on soldiers, there is always the fear of its misuse.
  • The act has been consistently in news for indiscriminate shooting by security forces leaving several locals dead.
  • The act also encourages lazy, inefficient soldiering in counter-insurgency situations and actually proves to be counterproductive because it makes the security forces look like occupation armies and not people-friendly, which is what is required in counter-insurgency.
  • With AFSPA around, military or paramilitary units do not feel the need for restraint or fire control. That leads to a sharp drop in professionalism and actually dehumanises and corrupts the Army and paramilitary forces.

One has to remember that counter-insurgency, which is an operation directed against one’s own citizens, is not against a foreign enemy. So, the primary focus of a counter-insurgency operation should be WHAM (winning hearts and minds), and not liquidation or elimination.

Repeal of AFSPA should be seen as the first step in an effort to create a smarter and more effective counter-insurgency capability that draws more on information technology, psychological operations, political persuasion and conflict resolution rather than on overkill and mindless indiscretion. The government will have to evolve a counter-insurgency doctrine which will not only seek to keep the Army out of the “internal security” matrix to the extent possible and deploy other specifically trained and highly skilled forces that observe the principle of “minimum force,” but also not insist on an AFSPA-type legislation as a prerequisite for their deployment and demonstrate a respect for human rights and accountability in keeping with the letter and spirit of the Constitution.

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