Fake encounter: justice, 24 years on

Representative image. PTI

The recent conviction of seven army personnel — a retired major general, two senior officers and two others— by an army court through court martial proceedings for a fake encounter in Assam in 1994 sends out mixed messages. Five innocent young men had been picked up by the army men from different locations in the state’s Tinsukia district, taken to a forest and shot dead. It was claimed that they were ULFA militants and killed in an encounter. The claim has been found to be wrong and concocted and the personnel have been sentenced to life. It is very rare that army personnel are found guilty of their illegal actions and excesses on the civilian population, especially in areas where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is in force. That it has happened is a welcome change. The negative message is that it has taken 24 years for a verdict to be pronounced in the case. 

Security forces in the country — both the police and the armed forces — are notorious for talking the law into their hands and killing people in staged and fake encounters. The human rights and constitutional rights of citizens are flagrantly violated, the due process of law never takes place and people are killed arbitrarily. Bringing the killers before the law and making them accountable for their crimes is very difficult and whenever that happens it can be considered a victory of justice and the rule of law. The Supreme Court has come down harshly on such cases. Only recently it ordered the CBI to investigate 1,528 such cases in Manipur. The killing of even a criminal without following the due process of law is wrong and illegal. But innocent people are killed in fake encounters by the police and the security forces. The arbitrary powers that the AFSPA gives to the forces are misused to kill people with impunity and claim immunity from prosecution. Fake encounters are closely linked with the AFSPA and that is why this draconian law should have no place in a democracy. 

The sentence by the army court is subject to appeal. There have been cases where convictions have been set aside by the appellate court. It should also be noted that many of Assam’s political leaders, including Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, had taken special interest in the case because the victims were AASU activists known to them. Still, the case dragged for 24 years. But most victims of fake encounters are unknown people with no links to influential and important persons. There is usually no justice for them and their families. The future of the Tinsukia case will therefore be watched with interest. 

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Fake encounter: justice, 24 years on

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