#India- An abomination called AFSPA #mustread


February 12, 2013, The Hindu 

SANJOY HAZARIKA

Mr. Chidambaram has sought to blame the Army for the failure to repeal the draconian Act but the government is equally guilty as it has abdicated responsibility in the matter

At an institute that is virtually owned, funded and run by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram did the unthinkable the other day. He virtually attacked the Army for refusing to review and amend the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), if not repeal it altogether.

Like a clever politician, he tossed the issue squarely into the lap of the Army and the MoD, saying they were unambiguously opposed to any change and that “you should ask the question to the armed forces and ask why are they so opposed to even some amendment to AFSPA which will make [it] more humanitarian. We have [the] Jeevan Reddy Committee report but yet if the Army takes a very strong stand against any dilution or any amendment to AFSPA, it is difficult for a civil government to move forward.”

This raises a startling issue about democracy, the rule of law and of civilian control over the military. Now that the most powerful figure in the Cabinet after the Prime Minister has spoken, perhaps someone will take notice. But the problem is far more complex than it appears to be.

After all, the Minister did not say why the Government of India has refused to publish the Reddy Committee’s report or even table it in Parliament eight years after it was submitted. It remains accessible on The Hindu’s website, the place where the report was first leaked and published verbatim in 2005.

It is not that the question is simple, stark and frightening: who runs the north-east or Jammu & Kashmir or any area that is affected by insurgency? AFSPA is put in place after the area has been declared “disturbed” under the Disturbed Areas Act, the enabling provision of law, which facilitates the summoning of the Army to the aid of civil authorities who are unable to control armed insurrection. This is the call of the State government or the Centre.

No prosecution in over 50 years

Passed in 1958 when the Naga movement for independence had just taken off, AFSPA is a bare law with just six sections. The most damning are those in the fourth and sixth sections: the former enables security forces to “fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death” where laws are being violated. The latter says no criminal prosecution will lie against any person who has taken action under this act. In 54 years, not a single army, or paramilitary officer or soldier has been prosecuted for murder, rape, destruction of property (including the burning of villages in the 1960s in Nagaland and Mizoram). In the discussions over the past days, no one has even mentioned the regrouping of villages in both places: villagers were forced to leave their homes at gunpoint, throw their belongings onto the back of a truck and move to a common site where they were herded together with strangers and formed new villages. It is a shameful and horrific history, which India knows little about and has cared even less for.

Impact of Verma report

A year ago, two judges of the Supreme Court, intervening in a case where the Central Bureau of Investigation was seeking to prosecute army officers accused of murdering five villagers in Jammu & Kashmir, in what is known as the Pathribal incident, declared clearly that AFSPA’s protection was limited to acts conducted in the line of duty.

“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,” declared the bench of Justices Swatanter Kumar and B.S. Chauhan.

It’s simple: you don’t rape or murder “in the line of duty.” These are aberrations to the law of military conduct with civilians. And the Army is upset that the Justice J.S. Verma Committee even suggested that military men accused of sexual assault should be tried under normal law and not be protected by the law that guarantees absolute protection: Immunity.

A retired general came on a TV programme the other day and fumed that reviewing AFSPA was not the mandate of the Verma Committee. Sorry sir, you’ve got it completely wrong. The question of life and death in a “disturbed” area where, according to a case now before the Supreme Court 15,000 people (men, women and children) have disappeared from the killing fields of Manipur is everyone’s concern.

Army circles are worried that soldiers and officers will be dragged to civilian courts and that frivolous cases will be filed against them. This is a real matter of concern but it cannot be the rationale for blocking efforts to repeal or amend AFSPA. Come up with an alternative instead. But the MoD has not or is perhaps unable to do so. A former general even said publicly that 97 per cent of all cases against army men were found to be false. The question I will put is simple: how far back are you going? Do you forget those murdered, raped and tortured, their homes and granaries burned and their places of worship desecrated? Should these crimes go unpunished? Remember too that the Indian Air Force, in March 1966, bombed Aizawl and civilian targets in the Lushai Hills (now Mizoram) to repulse an insurgent attack that had almost overrun the district headquarters.

Many in Mizoram do not even talk about those days. They are simply spoken of as “the troubles” and no discussion takes place, such is the trauma that has been inflicted on people. And are we merely supposed to forget all this, to sweep it under the carpet and “move on”? Why should the victims continue to pay the price? Why not those who inflicted the devastation, who gave the orders and who carried them out?

Nagaland is peaceful now

We need to remember two points here about AFSPA and the place where it all began — Nagaland, in 1958. Nagaland today is peaceful. It is not free of intimidation, extortion or factional killings, but not a single Indian solider has fallen in combat here for the past five years. The State government has been asking, since 2005, for the removal of the Disturbed Areas Act. The Government of India refuses to listen.

What is the greater abomination then? Is it that the Army, which is easy to blame and always in the line of fire, is stuck in a thankless task? Or is it that the civilian government which first sent them there is unable to take the political decision that will bring the boys home? Fifty-four years is a long time to have a law as revoltingly brutal and obscure as AFSPA. Now, both sides are stuck. The army says it is like its “Bible” and that if the Act is removed it will face the prospect of fighting “with one hand tied.” The central government says that it can’t persuade the Army to back down.

What will it take to close this sad, ignominious and bloody chapter in our nation’s history? We will need to go beyond Mr. Chidambaram’s remarks — for what he was doing is to lay the blame at the door of the Army. That is not right for the civilian government is equally complicit in this. He is seeking to show that the “civilian” government is opposed to a doctrinaire securitised approach and that the MoD and the Army are isolated. But this approach doesn’t work. Instead, it shows that the two, even when isolated, are more powerful than the rest of the government put together. They have, after all, successfully stalled any effort to dilute or amend the Act. Why did the “civilian” government not have the courage to act in 2005 when the Reddy Committee gave its report, which not only recommended AFSPA’s repeal but also proposed a legal mechanism by which the Army could be used in extraordinary situations involving national security? Our essential recommendation was that no one could be above the law; everyone must be equal before and under it.

Display statesmanship

The Centre has lost more than seven years in coming to no decision on the recommendations. Yes, internal wrangling is difficult to resolve but how long should anyone have to wait for a resolution? Today, the situation has become much more complex because the window of opportunity provided by the Reddy Committee has virtually closed. The Army has bolted it because it does not want to be seen as the villain of the piece. It did not ask to go anywhere. It was sent to Nagaland and Manipur. But now it must, in its own interests and that of the country, get out of places where threats to national security simply do not exist, and when the central government thinks it should leave. After all, if required, the security forces can always be summoned again.

The situation calls for statesmanship of a very high order. Atal Bihari Vajpayee showed this in 2003 on his maiden visit to Kohima when he reflected, as Prime Minister, on the suffering that both sides had faced and sought to reach out and seek reconciliation: “Let us leave behind all the unfortunate things that happened in the past. For too long this fair land has been scarred and seared by violence. It has been bled by the orgy of the killings of human beings by human beings… Each death diminishes us … The past cannot be rewritten. But we can write our common future with our collective, cooperative efforts.”

The present situation demands measures no less significant from the current Prime Minister, who decided that AFSPA must be reviewed. But he did not follow this up because the opposition from the Defence Ministry was just too strong.

So, we must ask, as we rest and wrestle with this tortuous story: how many more deaths, how many more naked protests, how many more hunger strikes, how many more committees, how many more editorials and articles and broadcasts before AFSPA goes?

(Sanjoy Hazarika is Director of the Centre for North East Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, and founder of the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research in the north-east. He was a member of the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee to Review AFSPA.)

Revealed: US and Britain Launched 1,200 Drone Strikes in Recent Wars


Published on Tuesday, December 4, 2012 by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

by Chris Woods and Alice K Ross
An MQ-9 Reaper returns to Kandahar from an Afghan mission. (USAF/Tech Sgt Chad Chisholm)Recent conflicts in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq have seen almost 1,200 drone strikes over the past five years, according to new data released to the Bureau.

The information, much of it classified until now, shows that US Air Force drones carried out most of the 1,168 attacks. However British crews are also responsible for a significant portion of the strikes in Afghanistan.

The Bureau has obtained data from the US armed forces, Nato and the UK’s Ministry of Defence. It reveals, for example, that more than a quarter of all armed Coalition air sorties in Afghanistan are now carried out by drones.

While only a fraction of those missions result in strikes, drone strikes in Afghanistan are now taking place on average five times each week.

NB: Libya figures are to September 2 2011; conflict ended on October 31. Yemen figures are confirmed drone strikes only; dozens of further strikes are reported but unconfirmed. Click the graph to see the data.

Afghanistan – the US’s most intense conflict
The US’s secret drone campaign in Pakistan and elsewhere is now in its eleventh year and is attracting increasing scrutiny, including academic studiescourt casesand, soon, a UN investigation. Ironically, less is known about the use of drones in conventional theatres of war.

The US military and its allies have carried out almost 1,200 drone strikes since 2008 in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq. When the Bureau first approached the US military in August seeking drone data for recent conflicts, we were told the information was classified. Central Command (Centcom) later relented after the Bureau argued there was a strong public interest in releasing the information.

Centcom now says it is committed to publishing statistics on the number of missiles fired by drones in Afghanistan, as part of its monthly reports.

The newly declassified figures provided to the Bureau show armed drones flown by the Coalition have carried out 1,015 drone strikes in Afghanistan since 2008. This is three times more than the 338 attacks the CIA has carried out in neighbouring Pakistan over the same period.

Of more than 7,600 armed drone missions flown by Coalition forces between January and October 2012, ‘kinetic events’ – drone strikes – occurred 245 times, a ratio of about one strike for every 30 missions flown. In Iraq, however, only one in every 130 armed drone missions in 2008 resulted in a strike.

For context, there were an additional 1,145 attacks by conventional aircraft in Afghanistan during that period, official figures show. The proportion of airstrikes carried out by drones has risen steeply to 18%, up from 11% in 2009.

While no British drones went to Libya, the MoD has revealed British pilots had flown US drones in the campaign.While Coalition drones fly thousands of armed sorties in Afghanistan, drone strikes are ‘the exception, not the norm’, a Centcom spokeswoman told the Bureau.

The number of strikes has increased steadily year-on-year – but there is ambiguity over who is carrying them out. The majority are by the US Air Force, with the remainder by the British military and – possibly – US Special Forces. Here there is some confusion.

A senior US Army spokesman said: ‘Of the thousands of UAS [unmanned aerial systems] we have, only a very small number (well less than 100) are armed.’

But another senior US military official, speaking on background terms, said: ‘The Army doesn’t have UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] in service that carry munitions… Any UAVs that can carry munitions are/were under the charge of the Air Force in Afghanistan and Iraq.’

Military officials were unable to explain the discrepancy between the two statements. The Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) has its own classified fleet of Reaper drones, however, which may account for the apparently contradictory statements.

Britain’s small, active fleet
‘In Afghanistan drone strikes are ‘the exception, not the norm:’ US Central Command spokeswomanThe UK’s drone fleet in Afghanistan is small compared with that of the US – Britain will shortly double its number of Reapers from five to ten aircraft.

Yet British-piloted aircraft launched a high proportion of the total missiles fired from drones.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has released new data on the number of missiles fired in each of the past five years. In 2011, almost four missiles of every ten fired by drones in Afghanistan were the work of UK forces, the new figures indicate. In 2010 and 2012 the proportion was over a quarter. An MoD spokesman pointed out that the rate of missiles released in comparison to total hours flown had fallen significantly from its peak in 2008.

The MoD refused to reveal the number of strikes it had carried out, and indicated it would be inaccurate for the Bureau to infer a number of attacks by comparing British data with Centcom’s more complete numbers, ‘because of differing rules of engagement’.

Click the image to see an interactive and download the data

The missing numbers
‘Protecting civilians is the cornerstone of our mission. The use of all Afcent weapons and methods are tightly restricted, carefully supervised, and applied by only qualified and authorised personnel.’ US Air Force spokeswomanThe US has so far refused to release casualty data for its drone campaigns, although an Air Force spokeswoman insisted that ‘protecting civilians is the cornerstone of our mission’. She added: ‘The use of all Afcent weapons and methods are tightly restricted, carefully supervised, and applied by only qualified and authorised personnel.’

Only Britain has issued estimates of the non-combatants it has killed. According to officials at the Ministry of Defence, four civilians have died in UK-piloted drone strikes in Afghanistan – although campaigners such as Drone Wars UK have questioned this figure.

David Cameron visits troops in Afghanistan, December 2010 (Corporal Mark Webster/MoD)A ministry spokesman said: ‘Every effort, which includes in some circumstances deciding not to release weapons, is made to ensure the risk of collateral damage, including civilian casualties, is minimised.’

Although Britain has not officially estimated the number of militants killed, prime minister David Cameron told reporters in December 2010 that by that point UK drones ‘killed more than 124 insurgents’. More than 200 missiles have been fired by British drones since that date.

Libya: a short, bloody campaign
In contrast to the long-running Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, figures supplied by Nato and the Pentagon on last year’s Libyan air campaign give an insight into the brutal intensity of that short conflict.

Nato provided the Bureau with figures for the operation, first published in a letter to the head of the UN’s investigation into Libya in January 2012. Differences in how data is recorded makes it difficult to draw a comparison  between Libya and other recent campaigns. What is clear is that armed drones played a small yet significant role.

Prime minister David Cameron in December 2010 said UK drones ‘killed more than 124 insurgents’. Since then more than 200 missiles have been fired by British drones.In April 2011, the US announced it was sending Reaper and Predator drones to Libya as part of Operation Unified Protector. ‘They are uniquely suited for urban areas,’ Marine General James Cartwright, the vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a press conference at the time.

While no British drones went to Libya, the MoD later revealed British pilots had flown US drones in the campaign.

Nato aircraft – piloted by the US, France and UK – flew around 18,000 armed sorties during the brief campaign, firing 7,600 missiles.

A tiny proportion of these armed missions – 250 in total – were flown by drones. US Predators flew 145 strike sorties, according to a Department of Defense briefingpublished in October 2011. A Nato spokesman explained ‘strike sorties’ is the term used for ‘identifying and engaging targets’, while armed sorties could also be for surveillance, and carrying weapons for self-defence.

The Pentagon confirmed to the Bureau that US-piloted drones carried out 105 strikes between the start of April and September 2, 2011. This figure does not reflect the full campaign, which continued until October 31. However, it does indicate a very high ratio of strikes to armed sorties – more than one in three total armed missions led to a strike – reflecting the intensity of the Libyan conflict compared to the more drawn-out wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where drones often fly armed missions without firing weapons.

Following the end of the campaign, in November 2011 Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen claimed: ‘We conducted our operations in Libya in a very careful manner, so we have no confirmed civilian casualties caused by Nato.’

But the following month, a New York Times investigation reported 40-70 civilians died in Nato bombings. The findings were supported by an Amnesty Internationalinvestigation published in March 2012, which named 55 civilians including 16 children and 14 women – all killed in strikes on urban areas, including in Tripoli, Zlitan, Majer and Sirte.

‘We conducted our operations in Libya in a very careful manner, so we have no confirmed civilian casualties caused by Nato.’ Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen But it is not clear how many – if any – of these deaths were caused by drones.

Iraq: a rapid wind-down
The Bureau has also obtained previously classified details of US drone strikes in Iraq for the final years of the conflict.

These demonstrate how swiftly the US Air Force scaled down its drone strikes as withdrawal approached.

The number of armed drone sorties dropped steadily between 2008 and December 2011, when US forces finally withdrew.

Actual drone strikes – or ‘kinetic events’ – collapsed by more than 90% between 2008 and 2009, Obama’s first year in office, from 43 strikes to four. In comparison, the CIA carried out 55 drone strikes in Pakistan in 2009.

There were no US Air Force drone strikes in Iraq in 2010, and just one in 2011. All US military drone sorties in the country have now ceased.

 

Nuclear waste ‘may be blighting 1,000 UK sites’


MoD under fire after report finds number of contaminated sites is far higher than previously estimated

Sandside beach sign warning of radioactive particles.

A sign warns of radioactive particles at Sandside beach, Caithness in Scotland. Photograph: Alamy

Hundreds of sites across England and Wales could be contaminated with radioactive waste from old military bases and factories, according to a new government report.

Up to 1,000 sites could be polluted, though the best guess is that between 150 and 250 are, says a report on contaminated land by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc), released last month, but previously unreported.

This is far higher than previous official estimates, with evidence from theMinistry of Defence (MoD) last December suggesting that there were just 15 sites in the UK contaminated with radium from old planes and other equipment.

The MoD has come under fire from former prime minister Gordon Brown for trying to evade responsibility for cleaning up the contamination it has caused. His constituency in Fife, north of Edinburgh, includes one of the most notorious examples of radioactive pollution at Dalgety Bay.

In the past year, the MoD has realised that there are others areas of radioactive contamination across the country that may need to be cleaned up, Brown said. “They’ve started to use their lawyers to get out of what is, in the first place, I think, a moral responsibility and in the second place, will become a legal responsibility.”

The MoD has begun a year-long investigation of the contamination at Dalgety Bay to try and avoid it becoming the first place in the UK to be legally designated as radioactive contaminated land. More than 2,500 radioactive hotspots have been found on the foreshore in the past 22 years, one-third of them since last September.

Brown has also criticised the failure to act on a 1958 Cabinet report uncovered by BBC Radio 4’s Face the Facts, to be broadcast at 12.30pm on Wednesday. The previously secret report by a group of radiation experts urged ministers to control the disposal of the radium painted on dials of military planes to make them visible in the dark.

“There may be undesirably high levels of radiation near these dumps,” warned the Cabinet report. “Records of burials and of burial sites should be kept and handed on to future users of the land.”

But this was not done at Dalgety Bay, Brown said. “The truth is that, at that point, someone did know that there was a potential problem. Someone should have then passed it to the Ministry of Defence, and urged them to take the appropriate action.”

Former environment minister Michael Meacher MP said he ordered officials to identify and produce clean-up plans for all the contaminated sites in 1997. “I am astonished and deeply concerned that that does not appear to have happened,” he told the BBC.

One example of a radioactively contaminated site has been outed by Fred Dawson, a radiation scientist who worked for the MoD for 31 years, before he left as head of the radiation protection policy team in 2009. It is an area of walled and wooded land in an urban area by the former naval dockyard at Chatham in Kent.

Some 300 cubic metres of radioactive waste was buried there between 1968 and 1986, Dawson said. But the MoD has underestimated the potential hazard because it missed one of the wastes likely to be present, carbon-14, he argued.

Dawson said: “The non-availability of a risk assessment or safety case for the burials at Chatham is a serious failing of corporate memory and does little to engender public confidence in the MoD’s ability to manage the safety of legacy issues over the medium and long term.”

The MoD, however, has defended its actions, insisting that other parties could have been involved in spreading the contamination at Dalgety Bay. It has been “entirely open” about contamination at other sites, MoD sources said.

The defence minister, Andrew Robathan, said: “Where MoD is found to be a party responsible, namely, the appropriate person, in whole or part for contaminated land under the statutory regime, then we will work with the regulator and other responsible and interested parties such as landowners, to meet our portion of the liability and carry out voluntary remediation where appropriate.”

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