“Personnel guilty of sexual offences in conflict areas should be tried under ordinary criminal law”

The Justice J.S. Verma Committee, set up to suggest amendments to laws relating to crimes against women, has recommended review of the continuance of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in the context of extending legal protection to women in conflict areas.

“There is an imminent need to review the continuance of the AFSPA and AFSPA-like legal protocols in internal conflict areas as soon as possible,” it said. “This is necessary for determining the propriety of resorting to this legislation in the area(s) concerned.”

Full text of Justice Verma's report (PDF)

In its report submitted to the Union Home Ministry on Wednesday, committee member Gopal Subramaniam said going by the testimonies of the people from Jammu and Kashmir, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and the North-East, it was evident that there was a pressing need to try armed forces personnel guilty of sexual offences in conflict areas under the ordinary criminal law.

Taking cognisance of the complaints and reports of sexual assaults on women by men in uniform and the civil society’s demand for repeal of the AFSPA, the committee recommend an immediate resolution of “jurisdictional issues.” Simple procedural protocols must be put in place to avoid situations where the police refuse to register cases against paramilitary personnel.

It cited the Supreme Court’s recent observation that security forces should not be able to take cover under the AFSPA in cases of rape and sexual assault. “Systematic or isolated sexual violence, in the process of Internal Security duties, is being legitimised by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which is in force in large parts of our country,” the committee said.

Stressing that women in conflict areas were entitled to all the security and dignity that was afforded to citizens in any other part of the country, the committee recommended bringing sexual violence against women by members of the armed forces or uniformed personnel under the purview of ordinary criminal law; taking special care to ensure the safety of women who are complainants and witnesses in cases of sexual assault by the armed forced; and setting up special commissioners for women’s safety and security in all areas of conflict in the country.

The commissioners must be vested with adequate powers to monitor and initiate action and initiate criminal prosecution. Care must be taken to ensure the safety and security of women detainees in police stations, and women at army or paramilitary check points. “This should be a subject under the regular monitoring of the special commissioners mentioned earlier,” the committee said.

It also recommended strict adherence to laws related to detention of women during specified hours of the day. It said measures to ensure their security and dignity would not only go a long way in providing women in conflict areas their rightful entitlements, but also restore their confidence in the administration.

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