The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has refused to divulge details of the Standard Operating Procedure (SOPs) used by government forces in areas where militant groups are active and use civilians as ‘human shields’.
“While the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) did not bother to send any reply, the First Appellate Authority (FAA) of the MHA has rejected my first appeal invoking security and strategic interests of the State as grounds for for refusing disclosure,” said Venkatesh Nayak of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative who had filed the RTI plea.
Nayak has cited the controversy triggered by the video of a youth tied to an Army vehicle in Budgam in April.
According to him, government has a policy on the issue of 'human shields' in militancy-affected areas. “Almost four years before the Budgam incident occurred, an MP had raised a query about the alleged “use of civilians as shields” by left wing militant groups in other parts of India. The then Union Minister of State for Home Affairs revealed about the existence of a draft SOP on 'Maoists using villagers as human shields'.
“The Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) have sensitised their field formations to take utmost care to avoid casualties/injuries and any form of harassment of locals while undertaking anti-naxal operations even when they are used as human shields by the Maoists.... The Government of India has issued instructions to all State Governments/CAPFs to adhere to the highest standards of human rights during anti-LWE operations and to strictly deal with aberrations...” Nayak said quoting the government reply.
“This policy clearly applies to States affected by left-wing militancy. It is not clear whether similar instructions and the related SOPs apply to security personnel deployed in J&K as well. If the Government's policy is to adhere to the strictest standards of human rights despite any provocation and avoid any form of harassment of locals even when they are used as “human shields” in other States, how can the use of a civilian in J&K as a 'human shield' by security forces themselves be reconciled with this policy?” he added.
Nayak further questions: “Is this policy of strict adherence to human rights standards by security forces not applicable to J&K due to its special constitutional status (under Article 370)? Or has the National Democratic Alliance changed Government policy vis-a-vis 'human shields' instituted under the previous United Progressive Alliance regime?”
Nayak argues if SOPs regarding the use of 'human shields' are placed in the public domain, victims will be able to demand accountability from the State when the SOPs are transgressed.
“Transparency will also facilitate a fuller- debate on the use of 'human shields' by any agency, be it State forces or non-State actors. It can be a big confidence building measure in areas like J&K,” he adds.