With the Supreme Court directing the CBI to conduct a probe into encounter killings in Manipur, the stage might be set for similar investigations into cases of alleged Army excesses in other regions under AFSPA.
In a first, the Central Bureau of Investigation will probe about a 100 alleged fake encounter killings involving the armed forces in Manipur, the Supreme Court ordered on Monday. The state has been under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act since 1980.
The significance of the ruling lies in its potential to give a fillip to the demands of fixing responsibility on forces for use of excessive forces in other AFSPA regions. This is the first time that a CBI probe has been directed in an AFSPA region for alleged crimes committed by the army.
In 2012, when the CBI had sought to press charges against the Rashtriya Rifles in Jammu and Kashmir, the army invoked immunity under the AFSPA, and subsequently gave itself a clean chit in 2014.
7 personnel of the Rashtriya Rifles were charged in a fake encounter, where 5 people were killed in Pathribal in Jammu and Kashmir. An army commission of inquiry said that there was not enough evidence to make a prima facie case against the personnel.
Justices Madan Lokur and U.U. Lalit have directed the CBI director to form a team within two weeks, and submit a status report in six months.
The 100 odd killings to be probed are those investigated by Commissions of Inquiry, Judicial Inquiry teams, the Gauhati High Court, and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Notably, the Thangjam Manorama case, L.D. Rengtuiwan and N. Sanjita Devi cases have been left out.
Encounter killings in Manipur have been in court scrutiny since 2012 after the Extra Judicial Executions Victim’s Association moved the top court. Last year, in a scathing indictment of the government in dealing with complaints of extra judicial killings, the court said it would review 1,528 such cases.
The court had reiterated that any allegation of use of excessive force or retaliatory force by uniformed personnel, which results in the death of any person, necessitates a thorough inquiry into the incident . The court also mandated that a first information report must be filed in these cases.
Friday’s order deals with the first batch of the 1,528 cases, which are at various stages of investigation. The court has allowed the CBI to use evidence already gathered in the cases in accordance with the law.
These cases involve the army, the Assam Rifles and the Manipur police. While appearing for the armed forces, the then attorney general, Mukul Rohatgi, had argued that “these incidents are of considerable vintage, and at this point of time it may not be appropriate to re-open the issues for investigation.”
The court disagreed with the argument. It said that merely because the state has not taken any action, and has allowed time to go by, it cannot take advantage of the delay to scuttle an inquiry.
The court also discussed the role of the National Human Rights Commission, and referred to it as the “toothless tiger”. It expressed its disappointment over the failure of the NHRC to bring out its annual reports. The latest annual report brought out by the autonomous body is of the year 2012-2013.
The NHRC had made a representation before the court arguing there is inadequate cooperation by the state government in their investigation.
“Unless the communications and guidelines laid down by the NHRC (which have been prepared after wide ranging and detailed consultations) are adhered to, the respect and dignity due to the dead, and the human rights of all us will remain only on paper,” the court said.
A file picture of Assam Rifles’ troops.