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Need for transitional justice is acute in India

23 December 2018
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New Delhi, Dec 23  In view of the widespread abuse of draconian provisions in the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in certain “disturbed” areas, there is an acute need for “transitional justice” in India, argues a professor at the O.P. Jindal Global University (JGU) in Sonipat, Haryana.

“Whether transitional justice should happen alongside AFSPA or only once AFSPA is repealed/withdrawn is an ongoing debate, but definitely the need for transitional justice is acute in the country,” Y.S.R. Murthy, Executive Director, Centre for Human Rights Studies, Jindal Global Law School (JGLS), told IANS in an email interview.

In a transitional justice framework — which complements criminal prosecutions through a series of non-judicial processes — the focus, while being on victims, is also on healing and reconciliation.

Earlier in December, The Centre for Human Rights Studies and the Centre for the Study of Knowledge Systems of JGLS organised a consultation on “Potential Transitional Justice Framework for Manipur”.

At the centre of the discussion was an investigation into as many as 1,528 alleged cases of extra-judicial killings in the troubled northeastern state.

The Supreme Court in 2017 set up a Special Investigation Team comprising CBI officers and ordered registration of FIRs and investigation into the alleged extra-judicial killings in the state.

The court had ordered the registration of FIRs in 81 cases, including 32 probed by a Commission of Inquiry, 32 investigated by judicial authorities, 11 in which compensation was awarded and six probed by a Commission headed by former Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde.

The investigation followed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed jointly by Imphal-based Extra Judicial Execution Victims’ Families Manipur (EEVFAM) and Human Rights Alert.

“Several states of India have experienced prolonged conflicts. These areas end up fostering a culture of impunity due to, among other reasons, the application of laws such as AFSPA and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act,” said Murthy, who earlier served in the National Human Rights Commission of India in various capacities for over 12 years.

“The result is a deep mistrust between the State and its citizens, who fall between the cracks of the conflict and who often end up in a cross-fire between security forces and militants,” he added.

Underlining the importance of transitional justice in India, the professor said that gross human rights violations, both by security forces and armed groups, create a situation where effective transition to lasting peace becomes difficult.

“Further, India has signed important international conventions against torture and enforced disappearances, but it has still not ratified them. This has huge ramifications for enjoyment of human rights in ‘disturbed areas’ such as Manipur and Kashmir,” Murthy said.

Widespread dialogue done in good faith with active participation of the government is a critical prerequisite for bringing in any transitional justice framework into action.

“I believe that National Human Rights Commission India and other human rights institutions can be key to bringing such a framework into reality,” he said, adding that few components of transitional justice were adopted by civil society organisations in the past, but the government has not yet adopted this mechanism.

To improve its record on human rights protection, India should also implement the constitutional guarantees and other laws and strengthen institutional machinery to protect human rights, Murthy added.