Supreme Court, AFSPA and Extra-judicial killings

Based on an Editorial piece in The Hindu on July 17, 2017 - "The past catches up"

The context
  • The Supreme Court has recently ordered an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation into more than 80 cases of suspected extra-judicial killings in Manipur.
  • These cases involved either suspected fake encounters or the use of excessive or retaliatory force.
The crux of what the Supreme Court has said
  • Upholding the rule of law: The Supreme Court has reiterated the principle of accountability. This is an essential part of the rule of law.
  • Elapse of time makes no difference: The court has rightly rejected the plea that the cases are too old to be investigated now. It has taken the view that the killing of a person who was possibly innocent cannot be overlooked owing to mere lapse of time.
  • Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, or AFSPA does not offer blanket immunity: In 2016, the SC had ruled that:
    • the armed forces cannot escape investigation for excesses even in places where they enjoy special powers, and
    • the legal protection provided by the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, or AFSPA, will have to yield to the principles of human rights.
  • Scant regard for the NHRC: The SC has observed that the National Human Rights Commission has been reduced to a “toothless tiger”. It is grossly understaffed despite its increasing workload, and many State governments show little respect for its guidelines and instructions. The court’s has issued a directive that the Centre needs to take note of the NHRC’s concerns and remedy.
AFSPA has contributed to the climate of impunity
  • The court’s order underlines that AFSPA has contributed to the climate of impunity in States where it is in force.
  • The situation under AFSPA is hostile to the concept of human rights. In many of these cases of rights violation there was no inquiry at all.
  • In some instances, the First Information Report was against the victim and not against the alleged perpetrators.
Government apathy
  • Even after the 2016 ruling on petitions demanding an inquiry into 1,528 deaths in counter-insurgency operations in Manipur, the Government argued against the court ordering an investigation into some specific instances.
  • The court has however stood firm in its assessment and ordered an inquiry.
  • The Government in general resisted repeal or dilution of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, or AFSPA. It says that such extraordinary provisions are necessary to deal with insurgency prevailing in many parts of the country.
Conclusion
  • The SC has rightly ruled that extra-judicial killings cannot be overlooked owing to lapse of time.
  • Justice will be served if there is successful prosecution in at least some cases.