Human rights and the armed forces: The unfilled space

Updated: 09 Jul 2016 12:48 PM
These are the times for extreme views. These are times when people choose to let their fingers do the walking on their keypads without putting the brain into gear. These are times when important Supreme Court decisions are ridiculed as judicial overreach without even first taking the pains to read them or understand the broader import. Or else how could anyone justify the sharp reactions to the Supreme Court’s verdict onfake encounters in Manipur?

The past many years have seen extreme comments against Human Rights activists by those claiming to be patriots and also similar remarks against the security forces by the other side as if our Armed Forces are some kind of heartless mercenaries. How I wish proponents of both views could understand each other and fill up the space which is unfortunately lying empty in our discourse today!

I would go to the extent of saying that both views act as a check and a counter-balance, and holistically viewed, are not opposite but rather complement one another and ensure that neither has a free run. That is what a democracy with a rule of law is all about.

So does the Supreme Court decision indict the Armed Forces or tie their hands? Not at all.

The decision merely reiterates the law that already exists and reminds us that semblance of balance or respect for human life (or Human Rights) should not be lost sight of, even in such extraordinary situations.




What people need to realise is that the decision comes down heavily upon ‘fake’ and staged encounters and not real operations. Those making irresponsible comments in the garb of support for Armed Forces should understand that the Armed Forces themselves consider fake encounters the greatest form of cowardice and hence would go all out to punish those who are actually found involved in such crimes or for that matter in other proved Human Rights violations.




What commentators have also failed to realise is that the Supreme Court has taken note of the “Ten Commandments” issued by the Chief of the Army Staff for operations and has praised the same and has in fact recorded that “nothing can better elucidate how the security forces are expected to act in Manipur.”
The Commandments lay emphasis on compassion, integrity, minimum force, moral strength, professionalism and dharma. If there are people, including on TV panels and social media, who want the Army to be ruthless, then sorry to burst your bubble- that is not the ethos of the Army and such approach goes against the very grain of the same Commandments.


The Army is a ‘defence’ service of protectors not an ‘offence’ force of aggressors and the Army believes in upholding Human Rights to the hilt and those found violating them are punished and those wrongly accused of violating them are protected.



Another aspect that the Supreme Court has rightly brought out is that the Central forces are performing a task that they are actually not meant to perform and such situations are ones which are meant to be handled by the civil administration. It is not an ordinary situation and the Apex Court has actually indicated that deployment of the Armed Forces for internal disturbances is not of their own volition and has frowned upon their prolonged deployment and that the State has not been able to restore normalcy thereby requiring their deployment. While this may sound harsh, it is the bitter truth. The Armed Forces are not performing a pleasant task and it is not that they chose the same.



The Supreme Court has also emphasized that by no stretch of imagination could it be deemed to be casting aspersions on the Armed Forces. The Supreme Court has reiterated that personnel of the Armed Forces are not immune to the judicial process, a fact that the Armed Forces themselves fully recognize.
Also, if there is confidence about the lack of wrongdoing, there should be no resistance to any inquiry into any allegation and the Supreme Court has also not reached any conclusion about veracity of all allegations and has only focussed upon investigation and due process of law.

Beyond the extreme narrative, it would be in national interest if individuals and organisations with supposedly contrary views try to understand all facets of this vexed issue devoid of political polarization and view each other with respect and attempt to find a meeting groundrather than indulge in shrieking matches on electronic and social media.
It also must be understood that the Armed Forces vouch for protection of Human Rights as well as the rule of law and shall ensure that violators face (a fair) trial, but at the same time, shall also strongly stand behind their troops wrongly accused of violations due to political considerations.


(Major Navdeep Singh is a practicing Advocate at the Punjab & Haryana High Court. He was the founding President of the Armed Forces Tribunal Bar Association at Chandigarh. He is a Member of the International Society for Military Law and the Law of War at Brussels. )

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