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Impunity must END in Manipur

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14 March is the birthday of "Menghaobi" or Ms. Irom Sharmila Chanu, also known as the Iron Lady of Manipur, a human rights activist, journalist and poet living in the Indian state of Manipur. This online campaign is to support Sharmila's 10-year-old hunger strike and to demand to the government of India and the Manipur state government to end impunity in the state. The campaign is also to urge the government to withdraw the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 from Manipur.

Sharmila is on an indefinite fast since 4 November 2000, protesting against the violence committed by state and non-state actors in Manipur. The protest also demands an immediate end of impunity in the state, for which the withdrawal of the martial law, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA), from Manipur is a prerequisite. The government has not withdrawn the law; neither has Sharmila stopped her fast.

Within a few days into the fast, Sharmila's health deteriorated. Fearing adverse political repercussion and failing to admit defeat, the government arrested Sharmila and has detained her. The excuse is Section 309, a provision in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 that penalises attempt to commit suicide. The government of Manipur is now force-feeding her through a nasogastric tube. For the past 10 years Sharmila continues in this state, confined under police custody in her small room in Manipur.

As Sharmila's protest gained publicity, several persons wanted to visit her and express their solidarity to cause of ordinary Manipuri people that she represents. But the government denies permission to anyone wanting to visit her.

In the meanwhile Manipur has become increasingly militarised. Each day innocent persons are killed by underground militant groups operating in the state as well as by the state agents. Most of these incidents are not investigated or even registered as extrajudicial executions. In the past ten years hundreds of persons have been killed in this conflict.

The state of affairs in Manipur is such that in 2009 the state's Director General of Police, Mr. Joy Kumar Singh, in an open interview, without shame or fear for consequences, stated that his men had killed more than 260 persons in 11 months, and of course insisted that all of them are terrorists. For further details please see AHRC-STM-236-2009.

There is no credible data available from Manipur that provides a reasonable estimate concerning the number of death and/or other forms of human rights violations. The state government, with overwhelming support from the central government, is relatively successful in silencing human rights activists in the state. The arrest and detention of Mr. Jiten Yumnam is the latest of these cases. For further details please see AHRC-STM-010-2010.

Extrajudicial execution is not legalised in India. Yet, it happens every day in states like Manipur. National institutions like the National Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court of India has expressed concern about the increasing number of extrajudicial executions reported in the country.

Yet, nothing has deterred the state agencies in Manipur to stop the killing spree.

The AFSPA is one more addition to the overall impunity framework that has contributed to the deterioration of the state of rule of law in Manipur. A number of national bodies including Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission and the Prime Minister’s Working Group on Confidence-Building Measures in Jammu and Kashmir have recommended that a law like AFSPA will only facilitate violence and not prevent it.

The ongoing armed conflict in Manipur has only benefited two categories of individuals. The underground militant groups find the conflict as a precondition to create a climate of fear so that they could continue extorting the citizens and receive support from foreign entities that encourage internal disturbances in India. It also benefits politicians like the Chief Minister of Manipur, who in the past two decades have become one of the richest persons in the state. He has reportedly used the conflict as a catalyst for his political and economic growth. Not too long ago the Chief Minister was a petty contractor who paid extortion money to the militant groups.

Caught between the two evils are the ordinary people of Manipur, forsaken by the country's institutions.

The withdrawal of the AFSPA will not in itself solve the Manipur crisis. Neither is it a panacea for the state's socio-economic problems. Yet, it could be a bold and open step by the government to show that it does have intentions to find solution to an armed conflict that has haunted an entire state for over six decades.

Armed conflicts across the world have proven that murder with impunity committed by the state will never end conflicts, but on the contrary infuriates it.

By her humble yet bold protest, this is the message that Sharmila want her government to acknowledge and respect.

By signing this petition, you can state your disapproval of using force with impunity in Manipur and express solidarity to Sharmila's silent protest. Your name and other personal details will be kept confidential if required. The petition in the form of a letter will be send to the addresses mentioned below.

The petition will be open for signature till 15 March 2010.


The petition letter:

Dear Honourable Mrs. Pratibha Patil,

I am writing to express solidarity to the ten-year-long fast of Ms. Irom Sharmila Chanu, the Iron Lady of Manipur and her cause.

I am informed that Sharmila has started the fast on 4 November 2000, protesting against the violence committed by state and non-state actors in Manipur. I am aware that the protest also demands an immediate end of impunity in the state, for which the withdrawal of the martial law, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA), from Manipur is a prerequisite.
I am worried about the sufferings of the ordinary people of Manipur at the hands of the underground militant organisations as well as the state agencies.
I am aware that the AFSPA is enforced in Manipur to support government actions in the state in countering secessionist activities and underground militant acts. Yet, it is now certain that the AFSPA has not helped in countering militancy in Manipur, but in fact has enraged it.

I am informed that the climate of impunity is one of the reasons why conflict continues in Manipur.

The AFSPA, as far I understand is an addition to the overall impunity framework that has contributed to the deterioration of the state of rule of law in Manipur. My opinion is also shared by national bodies including Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee; the Second Administrative Reforms Commission; and the Prime Minister's Working Group on Confidence-Building Measures in Jammu and Kashmir. I am informed that these eminent bodies have recommended the government to withdraw AFSPA from operation since they are of the informed opinion that a law like the AFSPA will only facilitate violence and not prevent it.

I am convinced that under the current circumstances in Manipur the withdrawal of AFSPA will not in itself solve the Manipur crisis.

Yet, it could be a bold and open step by the government to show that it is determined to find solution to an armed conflict that has haunted an entire generation in the state. The withdrawal of AFSPA from Manipur will be recognition to the sufferings of the state's people and an expression of respect and acknowledgment of their rights.

Additionally, withdrawing AFSPA from Manipur will be a catalyst to end the climate of impunity in the state.


Sincerely,

[fullname]
[organization] [location]
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