Nagaland civilian killings trigger fresh demand for AFSPA repeal

Under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, security forces can use open fire after giving a warning if they feel a person is in contravention of the law

People raise black flags in Kisama of Nagaland to condemn the civilian killings in Mon. Credit: PTI Photo

The killing of 13 civilians by the Army in Nagaland's Mon district not just invited anger from across the militancy-hit state but also triggered fresh demand to repeal the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), 1958, which gives the security forces "sweeping power" in the areas declared "disturbed" in the Northeast.

As the news of the killings spread Sunday, organisations representing several Naga tribes raised black flags and put up posters condemning the incident and demanding that the AFSPA be withdrawn immediately to prevent similar incidents.

"Northeast India has become a killing field since the AFSPA was first imposed in 1958 as security forces are given 'licence to kill' and provided impunity. AFSPA is a former British colonial martial law imposed in the region. There cannot be a martial law in a democratic country and hence AFSPA must be immediately repealed. The killings at Mon also brings back the trauma of many such massacres by security forces in the region such as Heirangoithong Massacre in 1984, Malom Massacre in 2000, RIMS Massacre in Manipur and in some other places," Binalakshmi Nepram, a human rights activist based in Manipur told DH Sunday.

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"In 2014, BJP in Manipur assured about withdrawal of AFSPA and this was not honoured after they come to power. It is high time that AFSPA is repealed and withdrawn from the entire Northeast, to have a truth and reconciliation commission and also include Indigenous women in the 17 ongoing peace talks with various groups to establish sustainable and lasting peace," she said.

The AFSPA is now in force in the entirety of Nagaland, Assam, Manipur (barring municipal areas in Imphal district) and some parts of Arunachal Pradesh. The act was withdrawn from Meghalaya a few years ago after the law and order situation in the state improved. Under the act, the security forces can use force or even open fire after giving a warning if they feel the person is in contravention of the law. They can also search a house or arrest a person without a warrant.

But army officials often stress that some special power is required to control "unwanted situation" created by militant groups in the Northeast, which operates allegedly with the aid of "external forces."