IMPHAL, Nov 2: Today marks the completion of 15 years of the selfless and unparalleled protest of Irom Sharmila, 42 year old poet and human rights defender from Manipur. She has been on hunger strike since 2 November2000, demanding the repeal of the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) which has been criticized by several tiol and intertiol bodies. In a joint statement, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Human Rights Alert (Manipur), Amnesty Intertiol India and ga People’s Movement for Human Rights have urge Indian authorities to immediately and unconditiolly release Irom Sharmila and repeal AFSPA.
“Irom Sharmila’s 15 year hunger strike is a symbol of a brave struggle against injustice. The AFSPA has caused widespread human rights violations like enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, torture and sexual violence,” said Henri Tiphagne, Chairperson of FORUM-ASIA. In particular, “AFSPA has been used to justify killings on mere suspicion as well as granted virtual immunity through a clause prohibiting legal proceedings without sanction from the federal government, which is virtually never granted.”
Irom Sharmila started her hunger strike on 2 November 2000 demanding the repeal of AFSPA. However she was arrested four days later and charged with attempted suicide, a crime under Section 309 of the Indian Pel Code. “According to Section 309, a person convicted of the crime of attempted suicide may only be imprisoned a year. Since then Sharmila has been arrested, released and rearrested to be released after a year of judicial custody where she is forced fed through a sogastric tube,” said Babloo Loitongbam, Director of Human Rights Alert Manipur. “Sharmila has never been convicted of charges of attempted suicide. Sharmila has repeatedly rejected the allegation that she is trying to commit suicide and maintains that she is on hunger strike demanding the repeal of AFSPA”.
“A hunger strike is not an attempt at suicide. Irom Sharmila is being detained by the government only for her inconvenient activism,” said Aakar Patel Executive Director of Amnesty Intertiol India. “She is a prisoner of conscience, using her freedom of expression to protest against an unjust law. And her shameful detention leaves a stain on India’s commitment to human rights which grows harder to remove with every passing year.”
The crimilization of Irom Sharmila’s peaceful protest also goes against the spirit of Article 1 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which guarantees the right of human rights defenders to promote and protect the realisation of human rights.
Despite repeated calls to withdraw the AFSPA from UN experts as well as tiol and intertiol groups, the Act continues to be enforced and continues to cause flagrant human rights violations.
Earlier this year, the Indian government-appointed High Level Committee on the Status of Women recommended repealing AFSPA. Previously, several other government-appointed commissions have recommended repealing the law. The 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 the repeal of the AFSPA. The Justice Verma Committee, set up in 2012 to review laws against sexual assault, noted that AFSPA legitimizes impunity for sexual violence. The Justice Santosh Hegde Commission, set up by the Supreme Court in 2013 to investigate cases of extrajudicial executions in Manipur, described its findings as “egregious examples of the AFSPA’s gross abuse.”
FORUM-ASIA, Human Rights Alert (Manipur), Amnesty Intertiol India and ga People’s Movement for Human Rights urge the Indian government to take immediate measures to repeal AFSPA given that is not in accordance with the intertiol human rights standards. Repeal of AFSPA is already much delayed.