India: army, paramilitary, and police impunity in Manipur
O informe leva por título “These Fellows Must Be Eliminated”: Relentless Violence and Impunity in Manipur. Copio un extracto da súa introducción:
A woman is arrested at her home at night. The authorities provide her family a signed document acknowledging her arrest. The next morning, villagers find her bullet-ridden corpse some four kilometers away from her home. There are widespread protests following the woman’s death. Promises are made by the highest authorities of the country, and yet, after four years, justice remains undone. No one is punished for this crime.
This is the story of Thangjam Manorama Devi, a 32-year-old resident of India’s Manipur state. The paramilitary Assam Rifles suspected her of links to an underground separatist group and detained her on July 11, 2004. The soldiers raided her home in Bamon Kampu village a little after midnight, asking the family to wait outside while they questioned her. They then signed an “arrest memo,” an official acknowledgement of detention put in place to prevent “disappearances” and took her away. Her body was found outside a nearby village. She had been shot through the lower half of her body, raising suspicion that bullets had been used to hide evidence of rape.
Human rights violations by security forces engaged in counter-insurgency operations in Manipur state have occurred with depressing regularity over the last five decades. Separatist militants have also committed widespread human rights abuses. According to the police, nearly 3,000 civilians have died in the conflict since 1990. At least 1,300 militants and nearly 1,000 members of the security forces have also been killed. According to unofficial sources, at least 20,000 people may have died due to violence since the conflict began in the 1950s. But Manipur, a small state of two million people, is tucked away in the country’s remote northeastern region. Not much that happens there makes the national news—unless it is a particularly brutal attack by militants.
However, the security forces’ clear role in Manaroma’s killing captured widespread media attention. Protests erupted in Manipur, while domestic and international human rights groups demanded an immediate investigation and the prosecution of those responsible. Concerned that the government would fail to hold soldiers accountable for the killing, as had repeatedly been the case in the past, for several weeks Manipuris took to the streets. Students, lawyers, traders, mothers, journalists, and human rights activists marched every day, demanding justice. One man committed self-immolation in protest, several others attempted suicide.
The paramilitary Assam Rifles claimed that Manorama was shot dead while trying to escape. In later affidavits, the soldiers implicated said that she was helping the army locate another militant when she instead tried to escape. It is a difficult account to accept: an unarmed, handcuffed woman, wearing the tightly-bound Manipuri sarong that does not lend itself to big strides, supposedly managed to escape the custody of an armed escort. And if she did, it does not explain why the soldiers were unable to catch her and had to shoot to kill. There has also been no explanation why Manorama had not been handed over to police custody by the arresting officials of the Assam Rifles, as the law requires. Or why no female official had been brought in at the time of this night arrest, as is the rule.
Soldiers were able to arrest Manorama because they are empowered to do so under India’s Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), the 1958 emergency law under which the armed forces are deployed in internal conflicts and enjoy broad powers to arrest, search, and shoot to kill. This 50-year-old law also provides security forces immunity from prosecution and has thus protected members of the Assam Rifles —as well as soldiers in Jammu and Kashmir, and other states in India’s northeast— responsible for killings such as Manorama’s from being brought before a civilian judge to be prosecuted for murder and other offenses. […]
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