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Court orders probe into multiple killings

Dissent grows over 'unrestrained' security forces

An army official checks documents in Manipur state An army official checks documents in Manipur state
  • Swati Deb, New Delhi
  • India
  • October 2, 2012
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The Supreme Court yesterday ordered an investigation into claims that security forces in Manipur state have killed more than 1,500 people, including women and children, since 1978.

India’s top court took action following the submission of a 410-page petition by lawyers representing two Manipur-based organizations rights organizations, which aims to establish a special investigative unit to probe the killings.

“It’s a frightening situation that should shock the conscience of the entire nation,” said Colin Gonsalves, a lawyer for the petitioners.

The petition is part of ongoing efforts to stem the violence in the northeast of India bordering Myanmar, a heavily militarized region wracked for decades by insurgencies.

The Asian Human Rights Commission estimates there is at least one security officer for every 20 civilians in Manipur.

The petition further cites case studies of innocent civilians killed by security forces and whose bodies showed signs of torture.

Federal and state officials have said they are aware of the court directive and intend to respond.

One state official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the Manipur government was addressing the issue, but a balance needed to be struck between protecting civilians and maintaining security in a highly sensitive area.

The dispute over security has focused on AFSPA, the controversial Armed Forces Special Power Act which critics say gives unfettered powers to state and federal security forces.

The government says the legislation, enacted in 1958, is necessary to counter secessionist movements in the region. The Defense Ministry earlier this year called it a “vital tool for operations.”

Activists have long sought the repeal of the act – most notably Irom Sharmila, who has staged a 12-year hunger strike and continues to be force-fed by authorities. Anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare and his team have also joined in opposition to the law.

Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, said earlier this year that the AFSPA was undemocratic and should be repealed.

“A law such as AFSPA has no role to play in a democracy and should be scrapped,” he said in a speech to civil society groups in Guwahati on March 28.

“The repeal of this law will not only bring domestic law more in line with international standards, but also send out a powerful message that instead of a military approach, the government is committed to respect for the right to life of all people of the country.”

Related reports

Church supports call for repeal of law blamed for custodial deaths in Manipur
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