Supreme Court Comes Down Heavily Against Extra-Judicial Killings
Apex court affirms principle of accountability as an essential part of rule of law. Supreme Court regrets NHRC reduced to a toothless tiger.
In a far reaching directive, the Supreme Court has come down heavily against extra-judicial killings urging the Centre to address the concerns of the National Human Rights Commission. It has ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to probe more than 80 cases of suspected extra-judicial killings in Manipur.
The Apex court expressed concern about the NHRC being reduced to a toothless tiger. What the legal fraternity finds encouraging is the Supreme Court affirming the principle of accountability being an essential part of the rule of law and that encounter killings cannot be overlooked owing to lapse of time.
These cases involved either suspected fake encounters or the use of excessive or retaliatory force. The court has turned down attempts by the government to stall any probe into these deaths on the ground they were too old to be raked up now. The state cannot take advantage of its own inaction and scuttle a probe by citing delay as a reason.
Inexplicably there is a certain disbelief about putting an end to extra-judicial killings or deaths in encounters. International human rights law prohibits the arbitrary deprivation of life under any circumstances. Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”.
Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) holds that “every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life”. Article 4 of the ICCPR states that this right cannot be waived “even in times of public emergency threatening the life of a nation”.
The government ratified the ICCPR in 1979 and in doing so India is obliged not only to respect the right to life in principle but also take effective measures to ensure that extra-judicial killings do not occur in practice. Although the Right to Life is enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution, the prevalence of extra-judicial killings shows the government has failed to take effective measures ensuring the right to life is adhered to in practice.
The government has failed to ensure adequate investigation of all complaints and reports of extra-judicial killings. Proper investigation is a critical factor in the prevention of alleged encounter killings and without adequate investigation of complaints there is hardly any hope of prosecuting and convicting the perpetrators.
Even as the government has not demonstrated a commitment in ensuring that all complaints of extra-judicial killing are adequately investigated, the NHRC has failed in being effective in combating extra-judicial killings. This is also on account of its guidelines not being followed by police in all the cases of encounter killings.
Studies by several human rights organisations about extra-judicial killings by police in this country observed that such killings are not isolated but occur throughout the country. Last year the court had ruled that the armed forces cannot escape investigation for excesses even in places where they enjoy special powers, and that the legal protection provided by the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) will have to yield to the principles of human rights.
The Apex court made the call last week after hearing a PIL seeking a probe and compensation for about 1,530 alleged extra-judicial killings in Manipur from 2000 to 2012 by the army, para-military and police forces. On its part the government has failed to show the commitment in bringing to book those responsible for extra-judicial killings.
The situation under AFSPA is so hostile to the concept of human rights that in many of these cases there was no inquiry at all. It will be difficult for the investigators to get to the bottom of these incidents. The difficulties encountered cannot be the reason for denying or putting off a formal criminal investigation as required. Notwithstanding the time lapse, Justice must be served with prosecution in as many cases as possible.
( T R Ramachandran is senior journalist and commentator. The views are personal.)