Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh on Sunday said the people of his state and he himself wants the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), but only after Union government’s consent, as national security is their top priority.
Ahead of the Assembly election in the state, and following the killing of 14 civilians in Nagaland by army, there has been massive demand for the withdrawal of AFSPA. Besides, the state had seen numerous agitations including Irom Sharmila’s fast, which is the longest fast for any cause in the country.
“I believe AFSPA can be lifted gradually with the consent of the central government. But, we must remember there is no political stability in Myanmar and we share the border with that nation,” the chief minister told PTI.
Singh said no major unwanted incidents have been reported in the last five years and insurgency has come down by 90 per cent.
“Manipur government is also trying to have a meaningful dialogue with Manipuri insurgents living in Myanmar,” he added.
Talking about the prospects of the ruling BJP in the upcoming election, the first BJP chief minister asserted that the elections will show a massive change and that his party will double the number of its seats.
“We are working hard to get a two-third majority. We have no pre-poll alliance but post-poll alliance can be forged if required,” he said, while listing peace, development and harmonious co-existence as the BJP’s main poll promises this time.
The current BJP government in Manipur was formed in 2017 with just 21 seats compared to Congress’ 28, through a coalition with two local parties National People’s Party (NPP) and Naga People’s Front (NPF).
The elections for Manipur’s 60-member state Assembly will be held in two phases on February 27 and March 3.
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.”