After years of violence in Manipur, a chance for justice
Hundreds of men have been killed in the northeastern state over unfounded suspicions of being insurgents
Protesters demonstrate for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which they say sanctions the killing of innocents
The grief bubbles up like water from a spring. One woman gasps as she remembers being told her son had been involved in an accident, only to discover he was in fact shot dead in the street, his body riddled with bullets. A father can barely describe how he watched police kick his 12-year-old boy to the ground and shoot him in the back.
A teenager feels unable to confide to his college friends that his brother, a talented athlete, was accused of being a militant and killed by police, even though there was no evidence to support such claims.
For decades, the people of India’s northeastern state of Manipur have lost loved ones to the intertwined violence of a separatist militancy and a massive counter-insurgency operation launched by the government.
Activists say hundreds have been killed by the security forces in extra-judicial executions, yet no one has ever been held accountable.
But the wheels of change may be turning. Earlier this year, a inquiry established by India’s highest court found that in six cases – a sample of more than 1,500 incidents identified by activists between 1979 and 2010 – the security forces killed without justification and acted with “impunity”.
On Tuesday, those activists will return to the Supreme Court in Delhi to seek the prosecution of those responsible for the killings. Relatives of the six men killed have flown from Manipur to take a seat in the court’s viewing gallery.
“We are hoping that the truth will triumph,” said Khumbongmayum Lata Devi, whose son Orsonjit, 19, was shot dead in 2010. “The state government has suppressed the truth for so long.”
The state of Manipur has been rocked by violence for more than 50 years, the result of attacks carried out by myriad militant separatist groups and the government’s resulting counter-insurgency operations.
Tens of thousands of police, soldiers and paramilitaries have been dispatched to the state, which borders Burma.
Activists say the declaration of Manipur as a “disturbed area” and the enforcement of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, a piece of legislation which gives broad sway to troops involved in operations in such areas, means that security forces often act without accountability. The same operational situation exists in the northern state of Kashmir.
“There should be a special criminal team to look into these cases... the families should be adequately compensated and the legal hurdles facing the victims’ relatives – such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act – should be dropped,” said Babloo Loitongbam, of Human Rights Alert, a campaign group based in Imphal, the state capital of Manipur.
In evidence to the panel’s members, police claimed the six young men were members of various militant groups that extort money and attack police posts and that they were killed in shoot-outs, or “encounters”, with the security forces.
But the inquiry, headed by a former Supreme Court judge, Nitte Santosh Hegde, found that none of the men had criminal records and there was no convincing evidence they were members of banned organizations.
In each case, it concluded the victims were killed neither in a genuine shoot-out nor in the “exercise of the right to self-defense”.
Source: The Independent
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