The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) launched on Friday an online signature campaign marking the 10th year of Irom Sharmila's (Iron Lady of Manipur, picture on the left) fast to end the culture of impunity in Manipur.
Sharmila will celebrate her 38th birthday on 14 March this year in the small hospital room where she is detained for the past 10 years by the Indian authorities.
Sharmila started the fast on 4 November 2000, protesting against the violence committed by state and non-state actors in Manipur. The protest demands an immediate end of impunity in the state, for which the withdrawal of the martial law, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA), from Manipur is a prerequisite.
"The ordinary people of Manipur have suffered enough at the hands of the underground militant organizations as well as the state agencies during the past several years..." said Mr. Basil Fernando, AHRC's Director.
"The AFSPA enforced in Manipur to support government actions in the state in countering secessionist activities and underground militant acts has certainly not helped in preventing militancy in Manipur, but has enraged it..." Fernando said.
The Act grants the military wide powers in the so-called "disturbed areas" to shoot-to-kill on mere suspicion, arrest without warrant, search and destroy property with statutory impunity. Over the years it has become a tool of state abuse, oppression, and discrimination thereby violating fundamental rights of the citizen.
The AFSPA has not only led to human rights violations, but has also allowed members of the armed forces to perpetuate abuses with impunity. Extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, disappearances and extortion have fed public anger and disillusionment in Manipur. This is one of the catalysts for militant activities to flourish in the state. The armed militant groups operating in the state also are engaged in similar acts of human rights violations.
The Act is also in the centre of international criticism. In 1997, the United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed concern over the "climate of impunity" provided by the Act. Since then, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (2006), the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (2007) and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (2007), have all called for an end to the AFSPA. The High Commissioner for Human Rights has also urged the Government of India to repeal this Act during her visit to India (March 2009).
A number of national bodies like the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee appointed by the government to review the law, the Administrative Reforms Commission headed by present law minister Mr. Veerappa Moily and the Working Group on Confidence-Building Measures in Jammu and Kashmir led by the present Vice President, Mr. Mohammad Hamid Ansari, have all recommended repeal of the Act.
"Sharmila’s struggle is not just to defend human rights in Manipur, but in reality it is reshaping the foundations of democracy in India. It has become important that all those who defend justice, peace and democracy in India support her struggle, forge ranks amongst us to renew our pledge to end impunity in India..." said Mr. Fernando.
"Irom Sharmila Chanu is Manipur's beacon of peace and hope," Fernando added.
By signing the petition, everyone can state their disapproval of using force with impunity in Manipur and express solidarity to Sharmila's silent protest. The name and other personal details will be kept confidential if required.
The petition will be open for signature until 15 March 2010.
Online petition: http://campaigns.ahrchk.net/manipur/