Tuesday, 5 July, 2022
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Army’s human rights dept must be autonomous. Else, its head will just warm the chair in HQ

Indian Army's creation of a human rights cell alone won't fix the systemic collapse of checks and balances that result in indiscipline and extreme violations.

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On 31 December 2020, the Indian Army appointed Major General Gautam Chauhan as the first head of its newly created human rights Additional Directorate General. Chauhan will function as Additional Director General under the Vice Chief of Army Staff. The Army has a stellar record in upholding human rights, and with this appointment, it is reiterating its commitment to bring in transparency and a more focussed approach towards investigating cases of human rights violation.

An Indian Police Service (IPS) officer of SSP/SP rank will also serve on deputation with the additional directorate.

In a related development, on 1 January 2021, the Army set up a feedback and grievance helpline number – 9484101010 – in the Kashmir Valley under the 15 Corps. It is presumed that it will allow people to report cases of human rights violation.

The detailed charter, organisation and functions of the Additional Directorate General (Human Rights) have not yet been spelt out. This will be the real challenge because the existing system of investigation and disciplinary action with respect to human rights violations suffers from serious flaws that have put a question mark over its credibility.

Also read: Neo-nationalism defends Army’s rogue actions, but clean human rights record is key

The existing system 

Any army that adopts a laissez faire approach towards human rights violation in counter insurgencies does so at its own peril and invariably comes to grief. The defeat of US and Pakistan militaries in Vietnam and East Pakistan are classic examples.

The Indian Army doctrinally, and based on its 65 years of experience of fighting insurgencies in the northeast, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, is committed to upholding human rights and conducting people-friendly operations against the terrorists. Even while conducting counter-terrorist operations, it adheres to the law of the land and international conventions. It understands that in an insurgency, the people are the centre of gravity. Nothing alienates them more than human rights violations, which bring the Army down to the level of terrorists. What, then, is the problem? Why is there a question mark on the stellar reputation of the Army with respect to upholding human rights.

The Army has elaborate rules, regulations and laws, supported by command guidance to deal with human rights violations. It is the relative failure to enforce these and the systemic collapse of checks and balances that result in indiscipline and extreme violations.

This is due to a convoluted sense of nationalism since 2014, safeguarding honour/reputation or notching it up through successes/awards, and for the sake of “soldiers’ morale”. The desire to protect unit/regiment/formation/personal reputation leads to cover-up/condoning of violations. Conversely, the zeal to notch up the same through successes and decorations leads to rogue actions. With respect to  Jammu and Kashmir, due to religious factor,  neo nationalism makes no distinction between terrorists and protesting masses. This thinking seems to have creeped into the Army. Rogue actions have been lauded and awarded. The pattern is predictable to a fault — denial, obfuscation, delay, opacity of investigations and shelter of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Internal corrective mechanisms have been diluted to the point of becoming dysfunctional.

The killing of three innocent labourers in Shopian on 18 July by Captain Bhupinder Singh, 62 Rashtriya Rifles (RR), is a case in point. This was a  straight up rogue action, which his superior commanders failed to distinguish, something that is hard to believe. Each operation is analysed in detail at higher headquarters (HQ) right up to HQ Northern Command. Given their vast experience, commanders can easily assess if any wrongdoing has taken place. The inference has horrendous implications – the hierarchy has become complicit by design or due to incompetence. Yet, only Captain Bhupender Singh is being charged along with two civilians. In my view, disciplinary/administrative action is warranted against Commanding Officer 62 RR, Commander 12 Sector RR, and General Officer Commanding Victor Force.

It is pertinent to mention that very rarely does the army unilaterally order investigations into alleged violations. Most cases have been exposed by the media or through police investigations. Even in such cases, investigations are carried out “in house” on the orders of the Force HQ or at times by the Corps HQ.

And so, the credibility of the investigation is suspect. If that is not enough, the conduct of the court martial is very shoddy due to an inefficient Judge Advocate General’s Corps branch and a sympathetic court comprising “brother officers”. The verdict of the court martial even in high-profile cases fails to withstand the scrutiny of the Armed Forces Tribunal and the Supreme Court. Even the Supreme Court was misinformed to order the Court Martial (which was time barred under the Army Act 1950) of accused in Dangari fake encounter to facilitate their future acquittal.

Also read: How an Army captain ‘staged’ killing of 3 Rajouri youth in controversial Shopian encounter

Additional Director General (HR) must be made autonomous

Keeping in view the complex shortcomings of the existing system of investigations and prosecution in cases of human rights violation, Additional Director General (HR) must head an autonomous organisation with similarly empowered representatives up to Corps and Force level. If this does not happen, the post will merely become an adjunct of the system whose holder will merely warm the chair in Army HQ.

The investigators under Maj. Gen. Gautam Chauhan must be qualified to carry out legally sustainable investigations and prosecution. He must have the powers to order independent investigations. The armed forces also need to overhaul the Judge Advocate General’s Branch, which uses its expertise these days more for internal squabbles than for enforcement of military law.

Last but not the least, the Army must introspect and reform its leadership. It is a cause of serious worry if the commanders lack the moral courage to adhere to and enforce rules, regulations and law. The very need to create a human rights Additional Directorate General reflects poorly on the leadership standards prevailing in the Army.

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.

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  1. Very well written article.

    To those objecting sarcastically (Pankaj , Krishnan Bala), I’ll just repeat what the general wrote: “Any army that adopts a laissez faire approach towards human rights violation in counter insurgencies does so at its own peril and invariably comes to grief. The defeat of US and Pakistan militaries in Vietnam and East Pakistan are classic examples.” Remember we didn’t win in 1971 – we *deserved* to win because of the Bangladeshi blood the West Pakistans spilt.

    To that I’d add this: God views all human life identically. If blood is spilt without justice, then God himself will reject us. Your views will not count that day.

    I am glad the army has taken such a step, and I wish Major General Gautam Chauhan the best in his role. May he and his superiors heed the words of Gen. Panag.

  2. ‘…denial, obfuscation, delay, opacity of investigations and shelter of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Internal corrective mechanisms have been diluted to the point of becoming dysfunctional.’ Oh, for a moment I thought that you were writing on our judiciary! Now that I have realised that it is not so, here is what applies to our judiciary:…denial, obfuscation, delay, opacity of procedures and shelter of the Contempt of Court Act. And no corrective mechanisms have made it totally dysfunctional, excpet for exonerating criminals with power and pelf. And that is where the whole problem of human rights violations start.

  3. Hmm! Learned General wants autonomy to HR department in the armed forces where chain of command and discipline are important. Anyway, when hundreds or thousands of Kashmiri Muslims actively support terrorists by accommodating them or by pelting stones to facilitate their escape, how does the soldier on the ground distinguish between terrorists and the local population? Learned General should have explained that.

  4. Army which have fought and won so many wars, have been handling proxies internal and external, terrorist and terrorist supporters and still has never interfered in political discussion. Short of supply infrastructure and hundreds other problems. THIS IS THE ONLY TOPIC YOU CAN THINK OF SHAME ON YOU

  5. What is the role of an IPS officer . This role can be easily done by any army officer. Is he another Doval BiRa mole

  6. Sit down calmly, discuss in peace, the pros and cons aided by some local over ground operatives and then try to woo the terrorists as they mercilessly pull the trigger of AK-47 or just lob a grenade on the troops the moment they sight them within range.
    Why go for an army action but just apprehend them and they would oblige as a lamb and later you can rehabilate them tendering subsidy in some hilly resort.
    Panag must get an award for his intellect. He had received enough awards already for his military strategy while in service.

  7. The position should be filled with a retired supreme court justice of impeccable integrity. Not by IAS or IPS BABUS who always seek and think of their careers.

  8. Why should it stop at GOC Victor Force!! Why not up to supreme commander be implicated!! The knee-jerk reaction due to few odd incidents needs to be curbed. Deliberate culpable offences needs to be dealt strictly while ensuring no witch hunting/ scapegoats for decisions taken in National interest

  9. The tendency of adding layers upon layers of Checks n Balances on functioning of Army needs to be shed.

    Only shows mistrust of own fraternity! Don’t you think enough legal provisions do not already exist to tackle these aspects? Why add more shackles to burden our men on ground?

    Only to create one additional Dte/Vacancies to affect few more promotions? Were the “NEEDS” established First before deciding upon creating new Dte? OR the “NEEDS” are planned to be established after Dte is created?

    Points to ponder.

  10. Happy to note that such improvements are taking place in the armed forces. Way back in 1960s 70s, there were no such developments, while we served.
    But they are required. The present CODS is not inspiring such confidence for protecting the the underlings in the Army.

  11. Let us have everything autonomous, and elections for everything, why worry about the LS ? Instead of encouraging people to trust the elected governments we are heading for doubting everything, the EC, SC, FORCES even the Vaccine. Autonomy creates power centers which will keep fighting the turf wars.
    The entire distortion over the past 70 years has the lust for money amongst Politicians, Babus both in and out of uniform.

    • Why have you left out the judiciary? The most failed organ of our Constitution. Look at the millions of cases pending in our courts and the delays in getting a final verdict, justice be damned. There are more undertrials who would have gone even scot free long ago had there been prompt judicial decisions in their cases. And all our judges and their stooges, advocates, can harp is on a lie- the judge to population ratio. I do not know what population has to do with the number of judges. It is only the number of cases that matter. And here are some statistics to ponder:
      CASES FILED IN ONE YEAR (1999):INDIA : 13.6 Million (1,36,68,073); USA: 93.81 Million
      DOCKET’S PER JUDGE: INDIA : 987 per Judge; USA: 3235 per Judge

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