Rule of law, human rights must prevail

It is a matter of serious concern that over 350 serving army officers have approached the Supreme Court with the demand that the actions of security personnel in areas where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is in force should be beyond legal scrutiny. The court had last month pulled up the CBI for inaction in cases relating to 1,528 extra-judicial killings by the security forces in Manipur. It had called the CBI director to court and given directions for speedy investigation and filing of cases against errant personnel. The agency had told the court that it had filed charge-sheets in a few cases. The officers have now moved the court to stall the investigations and the filing of cases. The officers have challenged any legal action against them in such cases in Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir. 

The officers’ action is wrong and sets a bad precedent. The army is a disciplined force and the members of the force, individually or in a group, have no right to move court on an issue that concerns the position of the forces as an institution under the law. The officers’ action in approaching the court on such an issue should be treated as an act of indiscipline. The message being conveyed is that the army as an institution is unable to protect their interests. This is a violation of the rules of service in the armed forces. The demand also challenges past pronouncements and observations of the Supreme Court on AFSPA. The court has made it clear on many occasions that AFSPA does not give absolute immunity to the security forces and their actions in disturbed areas are open to legal and judicial scrutiny. 

The officers have argued that the ‘dilution’ of AFSPA would endanger national security and that they should not be exposed to police investigations and prosecution for exigencies during operations against insurgents. They have also said that action against them for performing their duties would lower their morale. This is a demand for unrestrained licence and unaccountable power. The Supreme Court has looked into all these arguments in the past before pronouncing its view on AFSPA and ordering investigations and action against errant personnel. AFSPA is a draconian law and the powers it gives to the forces are at odds with the democratic rights of citizens. It should actually be repealed. Whenever there are charges of arbitrary killings or atrocities by armed forces personnel, the right thing to do is to file FIRs and probe. The court’s past affirmations of the supremacy of the rule of law and the value of human rights is not for questioning by members of the armed forces. This should be made clear to them.

 

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Rule of law, human rights must prevail

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