New Delhi
December 18, 2009
The Defence Minister Shri AK Antony today asked the top brass of the Armed Forces to ensure that there is no violation of human rights at any level. Delivering the key note address at a seminar on ‘Internal Security: Duties and Obligations in upholding human rights’, Shri Antony said, though cases of human rights violations by security forces have been rare, even a single instance of human rights violation is totally unacceptable.

While conceding the need for Armed Forces Special Powers Act for effective action by the Armed Forces, Shri Antony however, asked them to ensure that the special provisions of AFSPA are not put to any misuse. He said he would not hesitate in taking stern action against the guilty in case of any misuse. “We must adopt the policy of ‘Zero Tolerance’ in letter and spirit towards any instance of Human Rights Violations”, he said.

Following is the text of the address:-
The theme for today’s Seminar covers a wide gamut of issues – ranging from human rights, armed forces and civil society to internal security. The subject is a matter of concern for all of us in view of the increasing role the Forces are required to play in the current situation. The issue of human rights is no doubt a sensitive one, deserving our undivided and careful attention at all times.

The complex interplay of liberalised economy and globalised citizens, coupled with the conventional and non-conventional threat perceptions have altered the security dimensions the world over like never before. In such a scenario, internal security acquires top priority. The challenges to our internal security are manifold, cutting across the socio-economic spectrum of our civil society – terrorism, cyber crimes, drug-trafficking, money laundering and arms proliferation, to name a few.

Terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and North East and Left-wing extremism in some pockets require continuous diversion of time, energy and resources. The situation is further complicated due to external support extended to perpetrators of terrorism. India has been the worst victims of terrorism. The international community has of late, woken up to the need for global unity in the fight against terror.

The peculiar challenges to our internal security have to be understood in the backdrop of our democratic polity. A democracy is the best possible guardian and respecter of human rights, with its emphasis on the rule of law, liberty and equality. In fact, human rights are the lifeblood of a democracy. Terrorists have no regard for human life, or rights and often attack the very basis of a democratic set-up, but they underestimate, or overlook the resilience of a democratic country like ours.

One of the major challenges in countering terror is that security forces, on the one hand, have to preserve the territorial integrity, sovereignty of the nation and give a sense of security to the people. On the other hand, in the process of combating terrorism, they also run the risk of being dubbed as authoritarian and repressive. Through repeated terror attacks, the terrorists want the security forces to make mistakes which can be projected as a violation of human rights. Though cases of human rights violation by security forces have been rare, even a single instance of human rights violation is totally unacceptable. The top brass of our Armed Forces must ensure that there is no violation of human rights at any level. Our Government is fully committed to uphold human rights at all times.

We have always laid special emphasis on political and developmental models. Initiatives like Operation Sadbhavna have been widely welcomed by the local people. Respecting human rights is then, not simply a moral and a legal necessity, but also a crucial strategic imperative.

India has been one of the original votaries of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. We are also a signatory to the six core human rights covenants and remain fully committed to the rights proclaimed in the Universal Declaration. This demonstrates our avowed commitment to uphold human rights.

The Preamble, Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy of Indian Constitution together provide the framework for every basic human right for our people. The three arms of the Government – the executive, the legislature and judiciary must protect its citizens and provide a stable order and ensure freedom for individuals.

Our Armed Forces personnel are made aware of the respect for human rights and laws at every stage of their military training. This awareness must be translated into action on the ground. Our Armed Forces must consciously follow the twin ethics of ‘minimum use of force’ and ‘good faith’ during operations against an ‘invisible and ruthless’ enemy. Though the constraints of the security forces are understandable, the security forces too must bear in mind that the process of ‘winning the hearts and minds’ of people is never an easy one.

The Indian Army had established a Human Rights Cell in March 1993 at Army Headquarters, much before the National Human Rights Commission was established. Similar cells have also been established at the Command and Corps level in counter-insurgency areas. These cells act as nodal agencies for receiving complaints from various groups or individuals, investigating the veracity of each complaint and taking corrective action where required. The track record of our Forces in upholding human rights ought to have been much better than it is.

The Indian judiciary has also been assertive on the issue of human rights. It is well known, justice delayed is justice denied. As the Supreme Court of India rightly recognised, “the lack of hope for justice provides breeding grounds for terrorism”. In India, human rights activists, bar associations, individual lawyers and media have long played a crucial role in challenging human rights violations taking place in the name of security. This is another added merit that displays the inherent vibrancy of Indian democracy.

The track record of the Indian Army in J&K and the Northeast, where it has been deployed as an aid to the State’s apparatus for internal security tasks, has been guided also by the “Dos and Don’ts”, it has drawn up for itself and which have been endorsed by the Supreme Court. The Armed Forces Special Powers Acts empower the Forces to act in such difficult situations. However, there is also a robust mechanism in place for course correction. Thus, while admitting the need for Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the onus lies squarely on our Armed Forces to ensure that these special provisions are not put to any misuse. I wish to emphasise here that we will not hesitate in taking stern action against the guilty, in case of any misuse. We must adopt the policy of ‘Zero Tolerance’ in letter and spirit, towards any instance of human rights violation. I am sure that our Armed Forces will never let us down on this count.

The ideology of human rights advocates human dignity and recognition that every human being is born equal, entitled to basic rights of a human being. This has been institutionalised in our system. Despite various pressures and dilemmas, our commitment to respect and uphold human rights has been truly exemplary.

I am confident that when you deliberate on all these and other related issues, you will also come up with visionary, yet implementable recommendations for the Government’s consideration.