Sunday, March 26, 2023

Elusive justice

In a startling disclosure though not unexpected, the Army has chosen to remain mute and unresponsive to two requests made by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Nagaland Police, to hand over the unit commander of the Army’s Alpha Team of 21 Para Commandos and some 30 others for the massacre of 13 innocent Konyaks at Oting area on December 4,2021. The SIT had concluded its findings and submitted it to the Army. On its part the Army had also conducted its own Court of Inquiry (CoI) and confirmed that non-adherence to Standard Operating Procedures (SoP) by the Apha Team of the 21 Paras led to the massacre. Most damningly, the SIT had also found out that the officer in charge of the Alpha Team, an officer in the rank of Major, had knowingly misled his men by suppressing input that the Myanamar-based underground group which was the target, was at another location. Thus, when the mine workers were returning home to Oting village from TIru, the waiting ambushers from elite Alpha Team of the 21 Paras, shot to kill without warning. These damning findings are at the core of the six-month-long investigation carried out by the SIT. Further, as per the report of the SIT, all victims were shot at “with a clear intention to kill”. SIT cited forensic report which revealed that almost all deceased persons were shot at multiple times, from close range, and suffered injuries to their upper bodies. It was also revealed that in the second firing incident it was more “extensive and indiscriminate”. SIT concluded that the purpose of the firing was not just to “break contact and extricate” but that it was “the intention to kill” based on the post mortem (PM) reports of the victims. After submission of the final report on receipt of forensic laboratory reports, the Nagaland state police has been waiting sanction since April from the Department of Military Affairs to go ahead with the prosecution of the accused army men. However, the defence ministry’s military affairs has not responded to the requests to hand over the guilty to be tried in a court of law. The army’s attitude which appeared to border on unwillingness to admit that its unit had committed a horrendous crime was reflected by an earlier statement made on the floor of the house by the home minister and not the defence minister. In the Lok Sabha on December 6, the home minister said the killing took place when the vehicle tried to flee when asked to stop by the 21 Paras. Subsequently, another explanation was given, that it was a case of mistaken identity. The fact of the matter is that the controversial Armed Forces(Special)Powers Act,1958 insulates armed forces personnel from being tried in civil courts without clearance from the central government. Though AFSPA was lifted from three districts-Tuensang, Shamator and Tseminyu and partially lifted in Kohima, Wokha, Longleng and Mokokchung, it remains in force in nine districts including Mon, where the incident occurred. It is not about AFSPA but the intention of the government on whether the draconian law can be allowed to shield uniformed personnel guilty of such crimes against the citizens of India? Also sops may be compensation but these cannot be justice as per law and also for the victims and their families.

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