Justice Arun Mishra, the chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), on Friday said it would be wrong to generalise that human rights get violated due to imposition of AFSPA in some of the northeastern states. He also pointed out that the NHRC cannot examine or hold a debate on the legality or constitutionality of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
"It cannot be generalised that human rights are violated due to imposition of AFSPA. The government should be reviewing the need for application or withdrawal of the Act," Justice Mishra told reporters, after the conclusion of a two-day camp here. He, however, asserted that the commission views custodial deaths or extra-judicial killings "very seriously" and all cases must be reported or it may take suo-moto cognisance.
The human rights body examines the merits of the cases and announces compensation for the family members of the victims, which is then complied with by the state governments, he said. Referring to the botched counter insurgency operation in Nagaland's Oting village which claimed 14 lives of civilians, Justice Mishra said the NHRC had taken up the case suo-moto and issued notices to authorities concerned as the state does not have a unit of the statutory agency.
"We have sought a report from the Union home ministry and the Special Investigation Team (SIT) that has been set up to probe the incident. It will, however, not be proper to comment on the merit of the case at this stage," he added. The recent mayhem in Nagaland has led to vociferous demands for withdrawal of the Act from the northeastern states. In the northeast, AFSPA is in force in Assam, Nagaland, Manipur (excluding the Imphal Municipal Council Area), and parts of Arunachal Pradesh. The law empowers security forces to conduct operations anywhere and arrest anyone without a warrant.
Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphu Rio and his Meghalaya counterpart Conrad Sangma, along with opposition parties, civil society groups and rights activists in the region, have also sought the repeal of AFSPA. Asked about the series of police encounters that have taken place in Assam since May this year, the NHRC chairperson said that there is "no place for fake encounters in a civilised society. It is barbaric and cannot be allowed. The law must take its own course".
"At the same time, we cannot allege that all encounters are fake. Some may be fake, but we take up each complaint and examine the merit of each case. There are three aspects that the NHRC looks into in such matters — compensation for the victim or his or her family, registration of criminal cases and initiation of departmental action against the accused," he explained. Altogether 32 people have been killed and at least 55 injured in police action since the BJP-led government assumed office in May this year.
To a question about the recent eviction of "illegal settlers" from government land, Justice Mishra said that the case is pending before the Gauhati High Court. "The matter is sub-judice and we will not interfere in the legal process. We are, however, concerned about the fate of displaced people and have directed the state government to ensure their rehabilitation," he added.