Government Should Heed Own Commission and Repeal Laws Fostering Impunity
September 16, 2008
Soldiers and police are protected by laws granting immunity and officials unwilling to hold them accountable for serious crimes.
Meenakshi Ganguly, senior researcher on South Asia at Human Rights Watch

(New Delhi) - The Indian government should fully prosecute army, paramilitary, and police personnel responsible for killings and torture in the northeastern state of Manipur, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.

Human rights violations by Indian security forces have fueled the armed opposition in Manipur. Armed groups have carried out torture, killings, indiscriminately used bombs and land mines, engaged in forced recruitment, and conducted widespread extortion.

The 79-page report, “'These Fellows Must Be Eliminated': Relentless Violence and Impunity in Manipur,” documents the failure of justice in the state, where for 50 years the army, empowered and protected by the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), has committed numerous serious human rights violations.

“Soldiers and police are protected by laws granting immunity and officials unwilling to hold them accountable for serious crimes,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, senior researcher on South Asia at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “These laws perpetuate human rights abuses, which drive civilians to seek the protection of one or other armed group.”

The report details the failure of justice in the killing and possible rape of alleged militant Thangjam Manorama Devi by the paramilitary Assam Rifles in 2004. Repeated attempts to identify and punish those responsible for her death have been stalled by the army, which has received protection under the immunity provisions of the AFSPA.

The report documents specific cases of extrajudicial executions and torture by soldiers, paramilitaries, and police in Manipur since 2006, and the Indian government’s failure to curb the abuses. Torture of detainees, in particular severe beatings during interrogations of suspected militants and their supporters, remains common. Torture victims described to Human Rights Watch how they were arbitrarily arrested, beaten, and subjected to electric shocks and simulated drowning (waterboarding).

Extrajudicial killings often followed a consistent pattern in which the military or police took a person into custody, often in front of eyewitnesses, who was later declared to have been killed in an armed encounter with militants. Such faked “encounter killings” often occurred when security forces suspected someone to be a militant, but did not have enough evidence to ensure a conviction. On occasion, government officials or members of the armed forces would later admit to relatives that a person had been killed by “mistake.” This claim is never made officially, so in police records the victim remains identified as a militant, and avenues for redress remain closed.

“Security forces are bypassing the law and killing people on suspicion that they are militants instead of bringing them before a judge,” said Ganguly. “In the name of national security and armed forces morale, the state protects abusers and leaves Manipuris with no remedy to secure justice.”

Human Rights Watch called on Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to act on the findings of the committee he appointed to review the AFSPA in Manipur. Created after weeks of protests in Manipur following the killing of Manorama in 2004, the committee led by Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy recommended in 2005 that the AFSPA be repealed. The Indian government has failed to take action on the committee’s recommendation.

India has also ignored concerns and recommendations by United Nations human rights bodies calling for a review of the AFSPA. For example, in 1997 the UN Human Rights Committee said that the continued use of the AFSPA in Manipur was tantamount to using emergency powers and recommended that the application of these powers be monitored to ensure compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In 2007, the Committee on the Elimination Racial Discrimination (CERD) called for India to repeal the AFSPA and to replace it “by a more humane Act” in accordance with the recommendation contained in the leaked Jeevan Reddy committee report. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in February 2007 urged India to provide information on the steps being taken to abolish or reform the AFSPA.

“The Indian government has not only ignored the pleas of ordinary Manipuris and UN human rights bodies to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, but has even ignored the findings of its own committee,” said Ganguly. “This reflects the sort of callousness that breeds anger, hate and further violence.”

In addition to repeal of the AFSPA, Human Rights Watch recommended that:

  • The government of India and the state government of Manipur should investigate and prosecute government officials, including members of the armed forces, police, and paramilitary responsible for human rights violations;
  • The government of India should arrest and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law all those found responsible for the 2004 killing of Thangjam Manorama Devi;
  • Armed groups in Manipur should publicly denounce abuses committed by any militant group and ensure that there is appropriate accountability for such abuses; and,
  • Armed groups should immediately stop the abduction and recruitment of children into their forces.

    Excerpts from selected cases in “These Fellows Must Be Eliminated”

    In 2004, elderly Manipuri women staged an unprecedented protest over Manorama’s killing by stripping off their clothes and raising a banner calling for the army to come rape them, too. One of the women, L. Gyaneshori, told Human Rights Watch:

    “Manorama’s killing broke our hearts. We mothers were weeping, ‘Now our daughters can be raped. They can be subjected to such cruelty. Every girl is at risk.’ We shed our clothes and stood before the army. We said, ‘We mothers have come. Drink our blood. Eat our flesh. Maybe this way you can spare our daughters.’ But nothing has been done to punish those soldiers. The women of Manipur were disrobed by AFSPA. We are still naked.”

    Mohammad Abdul Hakim described the killing of his 15-year-old son, Razak Khan, on September 13, 2007 by a joint team of police and members of the 32nd Assam Rifles. Security forces had first come to their house asking for a man called Khajing, an alleged militant. Khan was asked to accompany the soldiers to a neighboring house. There, according to Hakim, his son was killed:

    “We were beaten and told to collect in the courtyard. Soldiers went inside to search the house. Suddenly, I heard my son’s voice shouting, ‘I am not Khajing!’ One of the neighbors later told me that he saw the soldiers push my son to the ground. He was crying. They shot him as he lay on the ground. We only heard the gunshots and then my son stopped shouting.”

    Elangbam Sanayaima was detained by members of the 21st Assam Rifles on November 29, 2007, and accused being a member of the separatist United National Liberation Front (UNLF). He was taken to an Assam Rifles camp. According to Sanayaima:

    “At the camp, I was blindfolded and my hands were tied behind my back. Then they started interrogating me. They insisted over and over again that I was Sanayaima of UNLF. They asked me about my training and my colleagues. When I said that I was innocent, they beat me. Then they pushed my head back until I was almost upside down. They poured water into my nose and mouth until I could not breathe.”

  • More reporting on: