Analysis

UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings and AFPSA

Following are excerpts from the "Conclusions" section of the press statement issued by Christof Heyns, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions issued at the end of his visit to India during 19-30 March 2012:
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“There is reason for serious concern about extrajudicial executions. The National Human Rights Commission has on occasion said ‘extrajudicial executions have become virtually a part of state policy’. The position may have improved in some respects, but has not been resolved, and the legacy of the past is bound to continue into the future.

“To a large extent the required structures to decrease extrajudicial executions are already in place. The steps to be taken have also by and large been identified within the system. What is required is a concerted and systematic effort by the state, civil society and all others concerned to eradicate its occurrence. In this process some of the best practices that are already followed in the country should be used as models for reform elsewhere. I have been impressed, for example, by the measures taken in Kerala State to make the police force more responsive to the needs of the public.

“Impunity for extrajudicial executions is the central problem. This gives perpetrators a free reign, and leaves victims in a situation where they either are left helpless, or have to retaliate. The obstacles to accountability that are in place-in particular the need for prior sanction of prosecutions-should be removed. Women and minorities-religious minorities, as well as dalits and adivasis-as well as human rights defenders, including right to information activists, are especially at risk, and their protection deserves special measures.

“Almost everyone interviewed said that the courts, and the Supreme Court in particular, play a central role in the fight against unlawful killings. The same applies to the role of the media. I was also struck by the level of expertise and responsibility in civil society.

“It is evident that the killings of people take place in the context of other abuses, such as torture and enforced disappearances. Preventing these and other abuses can under some circumstances prevent the taking of life.

“It is clear that in general the underlying causes of some of the violence need to be addressed, including the levels of development of those who are currently using force to oppose state policies. Andhra Pradesh was mentioned to me as an example in this regard.

“There is a strong need for victims to speak about their experiences. A large number of the almost 200 victims who made presentations to me emphasised the need to know the truth, and to ‘clear the names’ of their loved ones who had been killed in ‘fake encounters’. However, a credible national process will have far greater legitimacy in this regard than an international one. Some form of-internal-transformative justice is called for. In Jammu and Kashmir the Chief Minister called for a truth and reconciliation commission. It must be underscored that justice for the victims, accountability and punishment of the perpetrators, that is a real end to impunity for extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and torture, are essential elements of any such process.

“A public commitment to the eradication of the phenomenon of unlawful killings is needed. In this context it could be valuable to highlight to the public and to those in the structures of the State the historical and global role the country has played in promoting non-violence worldwide, including non-violent demonstrations, and the fact that extrajudicial execution is its opposite. A Commission of Inquiry, drawing on some of the outstanding jurists and other figures that the country has produced, can play this role.

“There should be a special focus on the areas of the country where specific forms of unlawful killings take place. In some instances some form of transitional justice may be required, to ensure justice to the victims, break the cycle of violence, and to symbolize a new beginning. Specific and targeted attention should be given to the following issues: challenging the general culture of impunity; addressing the practice of ‘fake encounters’, to ensure that it is rooted out; and ensuring that swift and decisive action, with concrete outcomes, is taken when there are mass targeted killings. The Commission has to be required to complete its work within a reasonably short period of time, also to demonstrate that a new approach is being followed. In this respect it will be useful to look at possible lessons to be learned from the recent appointment of a judge to investigate extrajudicial executions in Gujarat, which at this stage appears to be a positive development.”

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 April 2012 on page no. 11

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