Justice Verma Committee Pitches For AFSPA Review

Justice Verma Committee Pitches For AFSPA Review

23 January 2013
Greater Kashmir
Anil Anand

New Delhi: In a major fillip to the ongoing demand for revocation of the contentious Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) from conflict zones such as Jammu and Kashmir and Northeastern states, Justice J S Verma committee set up by the government to look into laws for sexual crimes following heinous gang-rape of a young girl in Delhi, has strongly recommended the need to review the law. The three member panel that also includes Justice (retired) Leila Seth and senior advocate Gopal Subramaniam has suggested that the armed forces, including paramilitary forces, should be brought under the purview of a common law while operating in conflict zones. This, the panel felt is necessary to check the cases of women being sexually exploited. “Sexual offences by armed forces and uniformed men in conflict areas should be brought under ordinary criminal law,” the committee said. Referring to the relevant parts of the report while releasing it, Subramaniam, said; “There’s an imminent need to review the continuance of AFSPA in areas as soon as possible,” and added: “Mechanisms need to be put in place to take action against military and paramilitary forces in conflict zones.” He further said that panel had noticed the “impunity of systematic sexual violence” that was being legitimized by AFSPA and that measures to ensure the security and dignity of women would have a long term impact. “General law relating to detention of women must also be strictly followed,” he said. The AFSPA, which allows personnel of armed forces to enter homes without a warrant and arrest people if they are perceived to be involved in a crime, has been cited by various human rights groups as being draconian and a denial of basic human rights to the people in states where it is implemented. The law which seeks to protect armed forces in conflict zones from being hindered by general law, requires sanction to prosecute personnel accused of crimes. However, in the context of sexual crimes against women the tide may be turning, with even the Supreme Court recently observing that in cases of rape and sexual assault security forces should not be able to shield themselves with the AFSPA. “You go to a place in exercise of AFSPA, you commit rape, you commit murder, then where is the question of sanction? It is a normal crime which needs to be prosecuted, and that is our stand,” a Supreme Court bench consisting of Justices BS Chauhan and Swatanter Kumar noted recently. Justice Verma Commission, headed by former Chief Justice of India, Justice JS Verma, completed its review of existing laws and prepared its report within a tough 30-day deadline. The Commission said it received 80,000 suggestions from India and abroad after they set January 5 as a deadline for receiving comments from the public to revamp existing legislation to deal with sex offenders. Pertinently, Kashmir Centre for Social and Developmental Studies (KCSDS) chairperson Prof Hameeda Nayeem had deposed before Justice Verma Commission in New Delhi recently “informing it about the incidents of rape and sexual violence that have taken place in the last two decades in Jammu and Kashmir.” “She portrayed a whole context in which civilian space has been taken over by military which has shrunk the space for citizens in the state,” a statement issued by KCSDS had said. “In the highly militarized background citizenry's life and death is under the control of army and other forces. In a context where there is no distinction between war and human rights abuse, the forces are not only not bound by rules of war or more importantly the rule of law but violate both with impunity as after 1990 there are whole range of laws AFSPA, NSA, PSA, DAA that have given them unbridled powers,” the spokesman quoted Hameedah as having said. The panel has identified 'failure of governance' as the root cause for sexual crime. It has criticized the government, the police and even the public for its apathy, and has recommended dramatic changes. Some of the measures recommended by the panel include: need for a comprehensive law for violence against women, addressing even mild sexual harassment and registering every complaint of rape. The Commission has also included instance of eve-teasing, stalking and voyeurism, insensitivity of police to deal with rape. The panel has also called for addressing issues of stalking, unsolicited sexual contact, sexual assault on homosexuals, crackdown on Khaps and police reforms. It said law enforcement agencies must not become tools in the hands of political masters, politicization of crime must stop, more effective control of subordinate judiciary by high courts, general laws related to detention of women during regular hours must be strictly followed, strong measures to ensure security and dignity of women in conflict areas and all marriages must be registered - that should also ensure no dowry is demanded or taken.