The Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR) has called for immediate repeal of the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA).

The civil rights group has long been alleging that under the garb of the Act, currently imposed in Jammu and Kashmir and some north-eastern States, the armed forces carry out extra-judicial killings and indulge in inhumane and unlawful activities.

“The AFSPA has continued to be an excuse for suppression and impunity for the last 55 years. The law and the violence and illegality committed under its protection have alienated the people of the north-eastern States and Jammu and Kashmir. For 13 years force-fed and forgotten, Irom Sharmila, has determinedly laid her life on the line for its repeal,” said WGHR, a coalition of Indian civil society organisations and independent experts, in its statement.

“Continued reluctance to repeal the AFSPA, in the face of unequivocal demands from a range of credible international human rights and numerous national bodies, indicates a policy paralysis in the government. Such a paralysis tragically reinforces the climate of impunity in the country amongst India’s armed forces. There is no excuse, whatsoever, for a country that claims to be a democracy and a responsible member of the United Nations to continue to have a law like AFSPA on the books,” said Miloon Kothari, convener, WGHR and former U.N. Special Rapporteur.

The WGHR noted that though the Supreme Court upheld the AFSPA’s constitutionality in 1997, it had warned against prolonged and too frequent deployment of armed forces for handling such situations. It asked the government to initiate necessary legal reforms and policy measures to end impunity and diminish the level of unlawful killings.

In recent months, many government-appointed commissions and global human rights activists have asked the government to review the Act which was causing much angst among people. While Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has been demanding phased withdrawal of the AFSPA from the State, Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has called for making it a more “humanitarian” law but pointed to the Army’s “strong stand” against any dilution of the Act.

Earlier this year, the Justice Verma Committee, which was formed to review the criminal law system after the Delhi gang rape case of December 2012, had highlighted the “need to review the continuance of the AFSPA and AFSPA-like legal protocols in internal conflict areas as soon as possible.”

“We notice that impunity for systematic or isolated sexual violence in the process of Internal Security duties is being legitimised by the AFSPA, which is in force in large parts of our country,” the Committee said.

Most recently, following a PIL filed by the Extrajudicial Execution Victim Families Association, Manipur on 1,528 alleged extra-judicial killings, the Supreme Court-appointed Justice Santosh Hegde Committee, also agreed with the Verma Committee and observed that “though the Act gives sweeping powers to the security forces even to the extent of killing a suspect with protection against prosecution, it does not provide any protection to the citizens against possible misuse of these extraordinary powers.”

‘Illegality committed under its protection has alienated people of north-east and J&K’