Terrorism and human rights can’t co-exist. Terrorists are the biggest violators of human rights. The State has to play by its ‘own rules’, but these very rules are broken by terrorists. The solution is to protect human rights while maintaining laws that allow the State to punish those — its own men or terrorists — who violate human rights.
Yes, there have been plenty of instances of security forces acting outside the provisions of special laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the North-East and in Jammu & Kashmir. Fake encounters and custodial killings immediately come to mind. But these are aberrations that should be dealt with sternly by the army.
The Indian Army's human rights concerns are reflected in the ‘Special Army Training Manual No. 29 Do’s and Don’ts’ while operating under the AFSPA. Human rights courses are run alongside orientation capsules during pre-induction training. Centrally regulated action against violations under a human rights cell in Army Headquarters is taken.
These checks and balances are not enough. Other measures need to be instituted. One, the judiciary must be made accountable by having an ombudsman to whom litigators can make appeals. Two, ordinary citizens should be made aware of their human rights and obligations, including those under special laws. This will significantly deter the abuse of authority by security forces. Three, provisions of basic human rights should be widely publicised through the media, public fora and institutional curricula and disseminated by village councils, tribal bodies, religious groups and student bodies.
By promoting human rights awareness and a knowledge of provisions entailed in the AFSPA and other such acts, abuse by security forces will become that much more difficult and rare. Even under the conditions of AFSPA, a citizen will be able to live a life of dignity, equality and liberty. The State, on its part, will also find it easier to marginalise the terrorists who thrive on alienation and popular discontent wrought by the abuse of special powers.
Rohit Singh is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (Claws), New Delhi. The views expressed by the author are personal