The Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights in Manipur and the UN (CSCHR), a coalition of twenty-three (23) indigenous peoples’ human rights organizations of Manipur in India’s North East region, is extremely concerned with the deepening political instability in Manipur and particularly with the situation of open armed conflict on the eastern flank of Manipur, in Chandel District bordering with Myanmar’s Sagaing Division. It has been widely reported that after the 4th June lethal apparently pre-planned ambush of a convoy of the 6th Dogra Regiment of the Indian Army near Paraolon Village by unidentified cadres of an armed opposition group or organisation that left at least 18 army personnel dead and many more injured, General Dalbir Singh Suhag, chief of the Army and top commanding generals of the Eastern Command gathered in Imphal the next day to initiate activities to “sanitise the area completely”.
CSCHR is a coalition that upholds the principles and statutes of humanitarian and human rights law that are established worldwide, to which members of the United Nations Organisation (UNO) including India are state parties. The coalition does not believe in armed conflict and militaristic solutions aimed at objective of peace and development as a final solution to intractable and sensitive political situations. In this context, and in solidarity with many civil society organisations that have voiced their disapproval in strongest terms, CSCHR does not support or condone in any way, the escalations of armed violence and confrontations between government and non-state armed forces in Manipur and the North East Region of India.
We strongly disapprove of the de facto “state of siege” that exists in Chandel district today, which is beyond the “Rule of Law” and the gaze of the public through the media. We grieve for those who have lost precious lives unnecessarily, as no line of duty in this modern world should involve the grave risk of such violence and untimely death.
Considering that the State of Manipur, for several decades, has been continuously declared a “disturbed area”, with the imposition of the Armed Forces [Special Powers] Act of 1958 (AFSPA) to manage the law and order situation, this abrupt development augurs ill for the State and central governments’ views and policies pursued to maintain peace and tranquillity in Manipur. It is far from clear who is in control of the situation in the localities around the ambush site in Chandel District, with the 3 Corps GOC Lt. Gen. Bipin Rawat stating that a “people friendly” operation is being carried out to flush out the non-state opposition groups from Manipur completely. Surprisingly, the State government and the district administration seem to have no visible or vocal role in this sanitisation exercise, except for a tacit acquiescence.
With more dead bodies, some suspected to be civilians, being still found from the area, the perceptible lack of involvement or coordination between the central armed and paramilitary forces and the Chandel District administration is underlined by the Deputy Commissioner of Chandel having reportedly to seek “permission” in writing from the army for the families of missing persons to carry out search and identification procedures.
It is perplexing how the Chief Minister of Manipur, who is the chairman of the Unified Command structure of Manipur under the jurisdiction of AFSPA, does not consider he is accountable for the activities of the central armed and paramilitary forces in Chandel District. It is unacceptable that neither he nor the Deputy Chief Minister in charge of home affairs in the State have visited the district immediately after the incident to take stock of the situation, even though top generals of India have flown in from New Delhi! If it is also true, as widely reported that the Indian army unit, which suffered tragic fatalities and losses, had been violating Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), the Unified Command under the chairmanship of the CM of Manipur seems to have abdicated its role and functions totally.
There seems to be dual commands stand in this ongoing situation with the State and central governments both announcing having launched simultaneous inquiries. This non-transparent and dual situation, with the central authorities calling the shots, does not comply at all with a “people friendly” operation. If the statement by Lt. Gen. Bipin Rawat is to have any credence whatsoever, the Chandel District administration, the Manipur police including women police officers must lead the search operations with the cooperation of central security forces. The media must be allowed into the area unhindered as there are no more fire fights or active hostilities as reported.
It is incumbent on the state to ensure that humanitarian laws, especially Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions as the minimum standard, and human rights are respected in all aspects of the present operation. Humanitarian law is particularly critical because of the involvement of the Indian Army undertaking war-like operations in civilian, especially tribal areas of Manipur. Utmost due diligence is expected from the high command under which the central military and paramilitary forces are presently undertaking this operation. In this context, and in cognizance of the Supreme Court of India’s rulings on such matters as counterinsurgency operations, CSCHR views with contempt that civil administration officials do not form a central part of the current operations being conducted in the indigenous tribal peoples populated Chandel, as ordered by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
We concur with the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s views that “modern Constitutionalism posits that no wielder of power should be allowed to claim the right to perpetrate state’s violence against any one, much less its own citizens, unchecked by law, and notions of innate human dignity of every individual;” and that the state in a democracy, is not justified in resorting to illegal means to deal with such movements, in violation of the Constitution, statutory laws and the ‘Rule of Law’, as this would lead to ever increasing levels of escalating violence, in particular in the face of genuine discontent as reported by official committees of the government, reminding governments, law makers, civil and military officials and citizens.
The State Government and District administration, having declared a curfew in Chandel, must clarify the exact geographical extent of the search operation. The Director General Police of Manipur must update the public and media daily on the activities and developments in the area of the operation. Civilian populations displaced and affected in any way by the search operation must have immediate access to humanitarian and legal aid, psychosocial support and adequate shelter including food, sanitation and safe drinking water though a procedure of direct assessment conducted jointly by competent officers and representatives of the District administration and non-government organisations.
The unforgettable tragedy that befell Oinam in Senapati District of Manipur in 1987, when the civilian population was put under a state of violent siege, terrorised, tortured, killed and subjected to the most inhuman abuses must never be repeated. The State Government has a crucial responsibility to ensure that the civilian population of Chandel District is accorded the fullest protection under the law; and it is unacceptable that the home minister Gaikhangam merely spouts the usual term “unfortunate” and has not described what the “maximum efforts” that the State government is making.
We welcome the news reported that the Indian army is being divested of counter-insurgency duties in the North East Region of India. With such a national policy level trend within the government of India, as reported, the AFSPA should now be seriously considered for repeal by parliament, as recommended repeatedly at the international and national levels. The governments of Manipur and India must leave no stone unturned to see that a peaceful and confidence building situation is in place for a just resolution to this tragic and prolonged armed conflict.
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