Demanding the repeal of draconian AFSPA, hundreds of Nagas from different walks of life on Monday joined a two-day walkathon from state’s commercial hub Dimapur to state capital Kohima, a distance of more than 75 kilometers.
Participants also seek justice for 14 civilians killed by security forces in Mon district in December last year.
The walkathon protest is organised by the Global Naga Forum through a sustained social media campaign.
This is a protest to reassert “our dignity as human beings,” Rukewezo Wetsah, one of the coordinators of the walkathon told PTI news agency.
“Not paying heed to the demand of the people in the aftermath of the Mon incident, the Centre on December 30 extended AFSPA for six more months. The public has come together to express their displeasure against the Centre’s decision,” he added.
Two weeks ago, the Union government declared the entire Nagaland as a “disturbed area” and extended Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act for another six months. This comes days after the Nagaland Legislative Assembly convened a special one-day session on 20 December to deliberate on AFSPA and the house had unanimously resolved to demand its repeal.
According to Naga People’s Front (NPF), the extension is a manifestation of the utter disregard the Union government has for the voices of small states, particularly in northeast India.
These developments come a month after the cold-blood murder of 13 civilians by the Indian Army in Nagaland.
The AFSPA gives armed forces deployed in internal conflicts broad powers to use lethal force and provides soldiers with effective immunity from prosecution.
Following the killings, the chief ministers of Nagaland and neighboring Meghalaya state, both allied to the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Union government, called for the repeal of AFSPA, as did opposition politicians, human rights activists, and affected residents.
The AFSPA, enacted in 1958 as a short-term measure to allow deployment of the army to counter an armed separatist movement in the Naga Hills, has now been in force for over 60 years. In addition to Nagaland, it is currently used in Manipur, Assam, and parts of Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.
The AFSPA gives the armed forces wide powers to shoot to kill, make arrests on flimsy pretexts, conduct warrantless searches, and demolish structures in the name of “aiding civil power,” Human Rights Watch said.
The powers that the law extends to the armed forces come into force once an area subject to the act has been declared “disturbed” by the Union or state government. This declaration is not subject to judicial review.
Several reports of human rights groups found that equipped with these special powers, soldiers have raped, tortured, forcibly disappeared, and killed people without fear of being held accountable in these regions.
The act violates international human rights law protections, including the right to life, the right to be protected from arbitrary arrest and detention, and the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. It also denies the victims and their families the right to a remedy.
Several government-appointed commissions in India have recommended repealing the law. Several United Nations human rights bodies have also called for the repeal of the law. A 2019 report on Jammu and Kashmir by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that the AFSPA “remains a key obstacle to accountability.”