Manipur encounters probe, historic

Manipur encounters probe, historic

The Supreme Court’s order for a probe by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the CBI into 98 alleged fake encounter killings in Manipur in the last one decade is a landmark ruling that strengthens the rule of law and human rights. The killings were done by the army, the Assam Rifles and the Manipur Police in the insurgency-hit state. The order was passed on a petition by the Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association which said that 1,528 illegal killings were done by the security forces in the state between 2000 and 2012. The working of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has also come into the picture as the security forces have claimed immunity under it whenever they were charged with such excesses. The court, however, ruled last year that the AFSPA does not give the forces the right to violate human rights and to evade investigation.

The views expressed by the court and its grounds for rejecting the contentions made by the government and the army against a probe are educative. The government said that most of the killings were old and the victims’ families had been compensated. But the court observed that the passage of time is no excuse because the government cannot take advantage of its own inaction. Payment of compensation cannot override the law of the land because then all heinous crimes would be settled with money. The court was told that all judicial and other enquiries which held the forces guilty were biased in favour of the victims or the citizens because of local pressure. The government also argued that members of the armed forces cannot be prosecuted for conducting anti-insurgency operations and that they cannot fight militants with their hands tied.

The court did well to reject all these arguments and to maintain that security operations even in disturbed areas should not violate laws and human rights. It was noted that in most cases of killings, no enquiry was held. No FIR was filed against security personnel in any of the 98 deaths to be probed, and cases were registered against the deceased. The SIT has to complete its investigation before the end of this year. It may not be an easy job. Collection of evidence and finding witnesses will be difficult. But the conduct of the investigation is important because it will send out the message that nobody is above the law and that crimes have no expiry dates. There is no room for unaccountable conduct in a constitutional society. The investigation should lead to prosecution of the guilty and ensure justice for the victims and their kin.
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