Military personnel examining a site where a soldier and three others were killed in a bomb explosion in Lokchao on Trans Asian Highway 12 in Manipur, past May. India's Supreme Court last week ordered a government probe into excessive force used by the army in the region. (Photo by IANS)
A Catholic bishop and human rights groups in India have welcomed a Supreme Court order for a federal investigation into allegations that thousands of people were killed by security forces in the northeastern state of Manipur.
India's top court July 14 directed the government to engage the country's Central Bureau of Investigation agency to probe allegations that army, paramilitary forces and police killed without trial 1,528 people in the state between 2000 and 2012.
The court's decision came while hearing a petition seeking an investigation and compensation.
"We welcome the decision and hope the probe will be impartial, devoid of political goals, and bring justice to the victims," said Bishop Dominic Lumon of Imphal, whose diocese covers the whole state.
The entire northeastern region consisting of seven Indian states, bordering China, Bangladesh and Myanmar remains heavily militarized because of insurgency. Some five decades ago the federal government passed the Armed Forces Special Power Act to check insurgency in Assam and Manipur.
The law was later extended to another seven states as the insurgency spread with the government describing the situation in the region as "war-like."
Rights groups say the law gives sweeping powers to armed forces in their efforts to crush insurgency and results in unchecked violence that includes night raids, rapes and killings without trial or provocation.
The Asian Human Rights Commission estimates there is at least one security personnel for every 20 citizens in Manipur.
However, communist leader D. Raja told ucanews.com, "It reflects poorly on the country and the government that it is unable to use constitutional provisions to bring a war-like situation under control."
In April this year, a government lawyer told the court that the government required additional powers.
"There can't be a judicial inquiry into every military operation. The alleged extra-judicial killing cases in Manipur are not cases of massacre, but rather cases of military operations," the government lawyer told the court on behalf of the federal government.
He also said all the killings should not be solely attributed to the army as many were killed in the violence between factions of insurgents.
However, human rights groups have demanded a repeal of the draconian law saying it leads to excessive rights violations.
"Fighting militant groups requires difficult decisions by the government, but they cannot come at the cost of rights to life and liberty," Meenakshi Ganguly, Human Rights Watch's South Asia Director, said in a statement.
"To restore public confidence and prevent such abuses in the future, the Indian government should promptly repeal" the act, Ganguly said.
Human rights activists in the northeast also welcomed the apex court's ruling. L. Babloo of Human Rights Alert in Manipur says security forces and anti-terror commandos "abuse" the law and often victims' bodies are found with their hands tied, multiple bullet injuries and marks of merciless beating."
"Hence the Supreme Court initiative should go a long way to setting things right," Babloo said.