Published On: Sat, Jul 15th, 2017

SC orders CBI probe into 97 extra-judicial killings by security forces in Manipur

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fjNew Delhi : The Supreme Court ordered on Friday a federal investigation into 97 alleged extra-judicial killings in 11 years by security forces in Manipur, overruling objections by the government and the army in a landmark decision hailed by human rights activists.

A bench headed by Justice MB Lokur ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to set up a team for the probe and asked the agency’s director to respond within two weeks. The 97 cases were between 2000 and 2011.

The army — which is accused in at least 30 cases — wanted an internal probe.

The court gave the CBI time till by December 31 to lodge cases, complete its investigation and file charge-sheets before an appropriate forum.

“These petitions should be listed positively in the second week of January, 2018, to ensure compliance with our directions for investigation by the CBI,” the bench said.

In July last year, the top court had ruled that all incidents involving suspected use of excessive and retaliatory force by the army in Manipur must be investigated. The decision had come on a petition that alleged 1,528 staged shootings by the army and other security forces during 2010-12 in Manipur.

“The army and paramilitary personnel ‘cannot use excessive or retaliatory force’ even in areas where the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) had been notified,” the order had said.

Manipur police officers will not be included in the special probe team as the state force’s role in the killings has also come under the scanner. The police, the court said, hadn’t registered cases despite complaints by families of victims.

The order is a setback for the army. Former attorney general Mukul Rohatgi, who was defending the military in court until he retired this year, had argued against reopening the cases for investigation.

But the top court rejected Rohatgi’s argument, saying “death of a person, possibly innocent, cannot be overlooked only because of lapse of time”.
The state has an obligation to conduct a thorough inquiry at an appropriate time. However, it cannot take advantage of the delay to scuttle an inquiry, the court said.

“Our constitutional jurisprudence does not permit us to shut the door on such persons and our constitutional obligation requires us to give justice and succour to the next of kin of the deceased,” it added.

The court also dismissed the Centre’s argument that the affected families were compensated.

“This cannot override the law of the land, otherwise all heinous crimes would get settled through payment of monetary compensation,” the bench said.

It asked the government not to reduce the National Human Rights Commission into a “toothless tiger” but obey the panel’s suggestions.

“The respect and dignity of the dead and the human rights of all of us will remain only on paper” unless the commission’s guidelines are followed, the bench said.

Human rights activists in Manipur welcomed the top court’s directive but also sounded a note of caution about the composition of the investigating team.

“It is too early to celebrate,” said Babloo Loitongbam of the Human Rights Alert that along with an association of families filed a petition in the Supreme Court in 2012 on the extra-judicial killings.

Advocate and human rights activist Rakesh Meihoubam recalled the case of 12-year-old Azad Khan, allegedly shot dead in front of his parents and villagers, and a handgun planted at the site to label him a militant. An infuriated judge had reportedly asked how a 12-year-old student could be a militant, he added.

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