A remote Indian state has withdrawn a long-standing controversial law that handed security forces sweeping powers to fight insurgents, saying it was no longer needed, a top official said on Thursday (28).
The draconian law, covering parts of northeastern India and restive Kashmir, gives forces the right to search property and shoot-on-sight and is seen by critics as cover for grave human rights abuses.
Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar said the law was being revoked in his state because forces have largely put down a separatist insurgency by tribal militants.
“After reviewing the situation thoroughly, we have decided to revoke the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from the state as the act was no longer required,” Sarkar told reporters.
Rights groups welcomed the move and urged other state governments to follow suit, branding it a “scar on democracy”.
“We want the act to go. This act is a scar on democracy and against all tenets of basic human rights,” Bimal Singh, an activist in nearby Manipur state, said.
AFSPA was introduced in tiny Tripura in 1997 in the wake of stepped-up attacks by militants bordering Bangladesh.
The law was also introduced in 1990 in Kashmir to give hundreds of thousands of army and paramilitary forces there extensive powers to detain people and use deadly force.
Governments say security forces need the powers to help them battle multiple rebel groups, whose long-standing demands range from secession to greater autonomy and land rights.
But human rights groups say it provides cover for soldiers who are regularly accused of murder and rape, but they cannot be prosecuted unless the national government gives its sanction.
The law is still imposed in other northeastern states including Assam, Nagaland and Manipur where one woman, Irom Sharmila, has been on a 15-year-long hunger strike against the powers.
Her brother, Singhajit Singh, said on Thursday that the 43-year-old would continue her fast “until and unless the AFSPA is repealed”.
Sharmila, known as Iron Lady of Manipur for her unwavering and non-violent protest, has spent years in judicial custody over her fast and is force-fed via a nasal drip.
She began her fast in November 2000 after witnessing the killing of 10 people by the army at a bus stop near her home in Manipur.