Manipur groups protest anti-terror law

August 19th, 2008 - 2:13 pm ICT by IANS  

Imphal, Aug 19 (IANS) Rights groups in India’s restive northeastern state of Manipur have renewed their pledge to launch a movement for repealing a controversial anti-terror law enacted 50 years ago that gives sweeping powers to the security forces deployed in the region.The demand for scrapping the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) currently enforced in four of the seven northeastern states of Assam, Manipur, Tripura, and Nagaland comes 50 years after the law came into force Aug 18, 1958 to quell insurgency in the region.

The 1958 act provides unlimited powers to the security forces to shoot on sight and arrest anybody without a warrant.

Human Rights Watch, a leading international rights group in a report from New York, ‘Getting Away With Murder: 50 years of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act’, describes how the AFSPA has become a tool of state abuse, oppression, and discrimination.

“The law grants the military wide powers to arrest without warrant, shoot-to-kill, and destroy property in so-called disturbed areas. It also protects military personnel responsible for serious crimes from prosecution, creating a pervasive culture of impunity,” the report said.

Local rights leaders also describe the act as ‘draconian’ and want it repealed. “The AFSPA was enacted by parliament with a view to quelling the Naga insurgency in 1958. But after that there were so many insurgencies in the northeast and despite the act in force in all the insurgency-hit states, yet militancy is thriving. In other words, the AFSPA had miserably failed,” said Babloo Loitongbam, a rights leader here.

Manipur was in turmoil in 2004 after a 35-year-old woman was allegedly raped and killed by security forces while in custody. Authorities said the woman, an alleged militant, was shot dead while she tried to flee from custody.

The custodial death triggered a wave of violence and protests, one agitator died after setting himself on fire and a group of women drew international attention to the cause by demonstrating naked outside a military camp.

“I am not going to withdraw my fast until this black act is repealed in its totality from Manipur,” Irom Sharmila, a young Manipuri woman rights activist staging a fast for the last 10 years said. Sharmila is in a hospital here.

“If timely action is not taken to repeal the act, the northeast would be in turmoil,” warned P. Singh, a rights activist from Manipur.

New Delhi maintains the anti-terror law was required in Manipur where more than 19-odd rebel armies operate with demands from secession to greater autonomy and the right to self-determination.

More than 10,000 people have lost their lives to insurgency in Manipur during the past two decades.

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