Skip to main content

Home Ministry refuses to disclose procedure on using human shields


By Venkatesh Nayak*
The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has rejected my information request for details of the Standard Operating Procedure (SOPs) intended for use, by security forces, in areas where militant groups are active and use civilians as ‘human shields’. While the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) did not bother to send any reply, the First Appellate Authority (FAA) of the MHA has rejected my first appeal invoking security and strategic interests of the State as grounds for refusing disclosure.

Background

Readers may remember the video of a youth tied to a pilot vehicle being driven around by security forces engaged in counter-insurgency operations in Budgam, Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). This incident occurred in the poll-bound Lok Sabha constituency of Srinagar. This video went viral in April, 2017 and soon after the Indian Army reportedly ordered a Court of Inquiry into the incident. The findings of the Court of Inquiry are yet to be made public. A few weeks later, the officer responsible for this incident received a commendation for his performance in counter-insurgency operations, from the Chief of the Indian Army.
After this video went viral, opinion was divided about the legitimacy of the action of security forces using a civilian as a ‘human shield’. While those supportive of this action argued that it saved the lives of security forces who frequently faced stone-pelting mobs, since July, 2016, others, more critical of the action, roundly condemned it as yet another instance of highhandedness of the armed forces. In July, acting on the plaint of the victim, the J&K State Human Rights Commission directed the Government to pay Rs. 10 lakhs as compensation, unequivocally describing what several others called a “life-saving strategy”, “humiliation, physical and psychological torture and wrongful confinement” of the victim which the law does not permit even for a convict (person found guilty of any crime by a competent court). More recently, the media has reported on the unwillingness of some unnamed officers of the security forces to follow such coercive measures. Instead they have expressed the desire to build better relations with local residents in conflict-affected areas.

GOI apparently has SOPs on the use of ‘human shields’

It is not as if the Government had no policy on the issue of ‘human shields’ in militancy-affected areas. Almost four years before the Budgam incident occurred, an MP had raised a query about the alleged “use of civilians as shields” by left wing militant groups in other parts of India. In May 2013, Mr. P. Kumar, AIADMK MP from Trichy constituency in Tamil Nadu raised the following queries in the Lok Sabha:
“a) whether there are reports that innocent civilians have been killed during anti-naxal operations;
b) if so, the details of such cases reported during the last three-years and current year, State-wise;
c) whether it is true that many villagers in this country have complained that the naxals were using them as human shields; and
d) if so, the details thereof and the reaction of the Government thereto?”
The then Union Minister of State for Home Affairs provided some statistics in response to these queries. He also made an important revelation about the existence of a draft SOP on ‘Maoists using villagers as human shields’ which was circulated for comments, to the armed forces and States affected by left wing militancy.

The RTI Intervention for SOPs on ‘human shields’

Stumbling upon this parliamentary query and reply, less than two weeks after the J&K video surfaced, I submitted a request under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) to the MHA seeking the following information:
“Apropos of the web printout of the reply to the Unstarred Question #6497 presented in the 15th Lok Sabha on 07/05/2013 annexed to this RTI application, I would like to obtain the following information from your public authority:
a) A clear photocopy of the instructions issued to all State Governments/CAPFs to adhere to the highest standards of human rights during anti-LWE operations, mentioned in the last para of the reply to paras #(c) and (d) of the said Unstarred Question;
b) A clear photocopy of the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on ‘Maoists using villagers as human shields’ circulated to the Governments of LWE affected States and the CAPFs for consideration and comments;
c) A clear photocopy of all comments received till date in relation to the SOP mentioned in para #(b) of this RTI application;
d) A clear photocopy of the latest version of the SOP relating to the use of civilians as human shields issued by the Central Government, if any; and
e) A clear photocopy of the latest version of the SOP relating to the use of civilians as human shields by militant groups issued by the Central Government in the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Jammu and Kashmir.”
The CPIO, MHA did not bother to send any reply. After waiting for almost two months, I submitted a first appeal to the FAA of the MHA demanding disclosure of all the requested information, free of charge. The FAA has rejected the appeal summarily stating:
“I have examined your first appeal and found that the information/documents, sought in your RTI application dated 19.04.2017, are secret in nature and disclosure of such documents would prejudicially affect the security and strategic interests of the State. Therefore the desired information/documents cannot be provided as per Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act, 2005.”
So it is clear that an SOP to guide security forces for handling situations where militant groups use ‘human shields’, exists. The MHA does not want to disclose it. I will submit a second appeal to the Central Information Commission, shortly.

SOPs relating to ‘human shields’ must be made public

To the best of my knowledge there has hardly been any discussion in the public domain about the Government’s own policy of dealing with ‘human shields’. The following para from the 2013 reply of the Union Home Minister must be taken note of:
“The Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) have sensitised their field formations to take utmost care to avoid casualties/injuries and any form of harassment of locals while undertaking anti-naxal operations even when they are used as human shields by the Maoists…. The Government of India has issued instructions to all State Governments/CAPFs to adhere to the highest standards of human rights during anti-LWE operations and to strictly deal with aberrations…”
This policy clearly applies to States affected by left-wing militancy. It is not clear whether similar instructions and the related SOPs apply to security personnel deployed in J&K as well. If the Government’s policy is to adhere to the strictest standards of human rights despite any provocation and avoid any form of harassment of locals even when they are used as “human shields” in other States, how can the use of a civilian in J&K as a ‘human shield’ by security forces themselves be reconciled with this policy?
Or is this policy of strict adherence to human rights standards by security forces not applicable to J&K due to its special constitutional status (under Article 370)? Or has the National Democratic Alliance changed Government policy vis-a-vis ‘human shields’ instituted under the previous United Progressive Alliance regime?
If SOPs regarding the use of ‘human shields’ are placed in the public domain, victims will be able to demand accountability from the State when the SOPs are transgressed. Transparency will also facilitate a fuller- debate on the use of ‘human shields’ by any agency, be it State forces or non-State actors. It can be a big confidence building measure in areas like J&K.

Are there “Do’s and Don’ts” for security forces operating in ‘disturbed areas’ in J&K

In fact, during a recent visit to J&K, I discovered that there was very little knowledge about the “Do’s and Donts” issued by the Indian Army for its personnel operating in areas covered by the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958. These guidelines received the Supreme Court’s approval when it decided the matter of Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights vs Union of India. (NPMHR) A 3-Judge Bench of the Apex Court upheld the constitutionality of this law applied to States such as Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland, Manipur and Meghalaya (and Tripura until May 2015) and recognised these “Do’s and Don’ts” as safeguards against the arbitrary use of power by security forces while acting in aid of civilian authority. These “Dos and Dont’s” were drawn up by the Indian Army itself and presented before the Apex Court in more than one case involving the arbitrary use of power by security forces. The Apex Court only accorded its stamp of approval to these guidelines.
In 2012, in response to my earlier RTI intervention, the MHA admitted that their Kashmir Desk had not issued any “Do’s and Dont’s” or any instructions or guidelines to the security forces operating in the “disturbed areas” in J&K declared as such under The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act 1990. The FAA, MHA pointed out that this matter fell in the domain of the State Government but refused to transfer the RTI matter to J&K as the Central RTI Act does not apply to the State. The Indian Army which was also involved in this case, supplied a copy of the “Do’s and Dont’s” issued under the 1958 AFSPA law after their FAA issued a direction. With the help of a young law student who interned with us, we compared the “Do’s and Don’ts” listed in the NPMHR judgement with the version supplied by the Indian Army. Despite a few discrepancies, there was a clear match between the overall spirit and instructions contained in the two documents.
Three of the 10 commandments issue by the Chief of Army Staff under the 1958 AFSPA are an eyeopener to all who openly applaud or tacitly support the use of the civilian as a ‘human shield’ in J&K, in April this year:
“1. Remember that the people you are dealing with, are your own countrymen. All your conduct must be dictated by this one significant consideration.
2. Operations must be people friendly, using minimum force and avoiding collateral damage – restraint must be the key.
3. Be compassionate, help the people and win their hearts. Employ all resources under your command to improve their living conditions.”
The Army’s ‘Do’s and Dont’s’ as well as the COAS’s Ten Commandments are described as “binding instructions” and any disregard of these instructions would entail suitable action under Army Act, 1950. Do these commandments apply to J&K? That is the billion rupee question.
It is high time all human rights and transparency advocators revisit this issue to ascertain whether the Government of India has issued any “Do’s and Dont’s” for security forces operating in areas covered by J&K’s AFSPA. RTI advocators in J&K must also try to ascertain whether the J&K Government has issued any “Do’s and Dont’s” to security forces deployed in ‘disturbed areas’. The twin RTI laws operational at the Centre and in J&K can be used for this purpose.

*Programme Coordinator, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi

Comments

TRENDING

Zakir Naik tumult, Catholic Church power abuse: will Anwar Ibrahim save Malaysia?

Anwar Ibrahim By Jay Ihsan*  Anwar Ibrahim, a hardcore reformist who took a punch to his eye in 1998 from then inspector-general of police, Rahim Noor, has finally been given the mandate by Malaysians to serve as the nation's 10th prime minister. Anwar knows too well the burden of staying true to both trust and faith the people have in him requires every once of commitment and dedication. The question is will he be apologetic for his transgressions enroute to "rebuilding" Malaysia? In his overzealousness to get the job done, Anwar, 75, needs to safeguard every bit of gumption to address prickling issues plaguing the safety of the nation especially those involving communal sensitivities. For one, dare Anwar get rid of terrorist hate preacher and fugitive Zakir Naik for inciting religious unrest in Malaysia? In November 2016, India’s counter-terrorism agency filed an official complaint against Naik, holding him responsible for promoting religious hatred and unlawful activi

Although sporting genius, Wasim Akram was mascot of cricket globalisation era

By Harsh Thakor*  Since Independence India and Pakistan produced a galaxy of cricketing stars that permeated cricketing artistry of legendary heights. Amongst this bunch.Wasim Akram manifested pure cricketing genius to the greatest height.I speculate how India’s fortunes would have changed had partition not taken place and Wasim playing for India. Wasim Akram explored realms untranscended in bowling wizardry, like a painter devising new art forms or a scientist experimenting. He simply re-defined the art of reverse swing, reversing the ball in and out. There were bowlers quicker, more accurate and with better records, but none equalled Wasim in an all-round package. He was more lethal with a new and old ball than any fast bowler ever. Wasim could produce balls that were surreal, with his reverse swing, defying laws of bio mechanics He was simply the epitome of versatility, possessing a repertoire of six different deliveries within an over itself, disguising deliveries in the manner of

Alarming US data on child mental health: Wake-up call to end social malaise

By Bharat Dogra  If 1 out of 2 high school girls feel persistently sad or hopeless and one out of six students plan suicide in a year, isn’t it time for a society so affected to look inwards at what has gone wrong, so that at least, and as a first step, the causes of such a dismal state of affairs can be identified correctly? After all, effective remedial action depends first and foremost on a proper identification of causes. This is all the more necessary in a situation when, as this alarming official data for year 2019 for USA tells us, in addition there is an incredibly high rate of increase of these problems. According to the data of the  (the latest such data available at present and also quoted by the USA Surgeon General in the advisory issued by him in 2021), in 2019 37% of all high school students and half of female students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. What is more, within a decade (2009-2019), this had recorded a 40% increasing, rising from 26% to

Floods: As ax falls on most vulnerable, Pak seeks debt cancellation, climate justice

By Tanupriya Singh  Even as the floodwaters have receded, the people of Pakistan are still trying to grapple with the death and devastation the floods have left in their wake. The floods that swept across the country between June and September have killed more than 1,700 people, injured more than 12,800, and displaced millions as of November 18. The scale of the destruction in Pakistan was still making itself apparent as the world headed to the United Nations climate conference COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November.  Pakistan was one of two countries invited to co-chair the summit. It also served as chair of the Group of 77 (G77) and China for 2022, playing a critical role in ensuring that the establishment of a loss and damage fund was finally on the summit’s agenda, after decades of resistance by the Global North. “The dystopia has already come to our doorstep,” Pakistan’s Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman told Reuters. By the first week of September, pleas for h

Implementing misleading govt order to pollute Hyderabad's 100 year old reservoirs

Senior activists* represent to the Telangana Governor on GO Ms 69 dated 12.4.2022 issued by the Municipal Administration and Urban Development (MA&UD), Government of Telangana: ‘...restrictions imposed under para 3 of said GO Ms 111 dated 8.3.1996 are removed...’: *** Ref: GO Ms 111 dated 8.3.1996: ‘To prohibit polluting industries, major hotels, residential colonies or other establishments that generate pollution in the catchment of the lakes upto 10kms from full tank level as per list in Annexure-I...’ We come to your office with grievance that GO Ms 69 dated 12.4.2022 issued by Government of Telangana not only contains false information issued ‘By Order and in the name of the Governor of Telangana’ , without any scientific or expert reports, but also that implementation of the said GO is detrimental and can be catastrophic to the Hyderabad city as two 100 year old reservoirs Osman Sagar and Himayath Sagar were constructed as dams on river Moosa and river Esa, with the first and

Qatar World Cup has a strong Bangladesh connection: stadium construction, t-shirts

By Mashrur Siddique Bhuiyan*  The FIFA World Cup fever has unquestionably cut through the minds of mass people all over the world. Stadiums in Qatar are buzzing with football fans and athletes representing their countries at the “Greatest Show on Earth". The magic of the FIFA World Cup is so enormous that even being unable to participate does not matter much to the fans who support different nations. This is one of the highest viewed events in the world, with the 2018 event viewed by about 3.6 billion people worldwide. But this crowd is not aware of the contribution of migrant workers who helped build the very stadiums where the matches are playing in. Qatar won the bid in 2010 to host the FIFA World Cup 2022, which got the oxymoron of celebration and controversy. This also created the potential for Qatar to Showcase its monumental economic achievements and unique culture on the global stage. The motto for Qatar’s bid team in 2010 was ‘Expect Amazing’ and migrant workers across th

Why foreign diplomats must maintain diplomatic etiquette, protocol in Bangladesh

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder*  Foreign governments and organizations are not allowed to dictate how a sovereign country like Bangladesh should run its politics. The 12th national parliamentary elections are drawing near, and the election wind has started to blow in Dhaka. The political parties have already begun to plan their voting strategy through a variety of events. However, this time, the diplomatic community in Dhaka is very active. A number of Western ambassadors frequently meet with government departments, political party representatives, the Election Commission (EC), and members of civil society in Dhaka. At numerous forums, they discuss upcoming elections' management, fairness, and impartiality -- issues that are unquestionably domestic to Bangladesh and in no way fall under the purview of diplomacy. Additionally, it has been noted that diplomats have made public remarks on these subjects in front of the media. It raises the question of how much authority diplomatic protocol h

Bangladesh's ties with Myanmar, Nepal, China need connectivity with India's NE states

By Samara Ashrat*  On 26th November, India's External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said that India is trying to improve trade and connectivity with Bangladesh and Myanmar on his two-day visit to India's Northeast region. He emphasized the importance of linking Northeastern India to the rest of the nation and reiterated Delhi is working to improve connectivity and infrastructure in the region. By taking the G20 presidency India will try to showcase the true spirit of the Northeast to the world, with its tourism benefits. But, the umbilical cord between the Indian mainland and North Eastern Region is Chicken's Neck or Siliguri corridor which brings Bangladesh into the Indian equation of northeastern development. Not only that, Bangladesh has very close relations with West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, and Tripura in terms of language, culture, and history. These factors make Bangladesh an inextricable element of the development of the northeastern states. Tourism Sector and Con

25 years of CHT peace accord: A glorious chapter of conflict resolution in Bangladesh

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder*  Conflicts between the Bangladesh army and Shanti Bahini persisted in the Chittagong Hill Tracts for more than two decades. On December 2, 1997, Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) and the Bangladeshi government signed the CHT Accord, putting an end to the violent armed conflict and improving the life of a lot of the people there. It has been made possible through just seven meetings under the worthy leadership of Sheikh Hasina. The historic peace agreement created an atmosphere of peace in the mountainous region. An atmosphere of peace has been established by ending the armed conflict. The geographical features and ethnic diversity of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) are distinctive. The 13,184 square kilometer territory is bordered by Myanmar and the Indian state of Mizoram on the East and Tripura on the North. With its 1.6 million people, it entails great importance to Bangladesh for its geopolitical location. Due to the conflict-prone Northeast Indi

A classic, 'Gandhi' ignores merciless cruelty unleashed on militant freedom fighters

By Harsh Thakor  The movie ‘Gandhi’ produced by Richard Attenborough, which was released 40 years ago on November 30th, 1982, was classic in it's own right. Ironical that it took an Englishman to embark upon the making of a film on this legendary figure. I can't visualize a better pictorial portrayal of Gandhi's life or an actor getting in the skin of the character an exuding the mannerisms as actor Ben Kingsley. Episodes are crafted and grafted surgically, illustrating how Gandhi wove fragmented bits into a cohesive force, to confront he British empire. Most boldly the movie unfolds how British colonialism subjugated the Indian people to barbaric cruelty. With great mastery the cinematography captures the vast Indian landscapes and essence of livelihood of Indians under colonial rule. The movie most illustratively shows the crystallisation of anti-colonial fervour from the embryonic stage and how it fermented into an integrated movement. In a most subtle manner it illustr