Human Rights and the Indian Armed Forces
POINTS TO DEVELOP
Both terrorism and anti-terrorism operations infringe upon the human rights of affected civil societies.
Provisions for protection of human rights exist both at the international and national levels.
Several international laws are aimed at restricting the use of violence against those not involved in fighting.
Terrorism cannot be tolerated but at the same time human rights have to be safeguarded.
While the terrorist has no concern for human rights, the armed forces are under tremendous pressure to protect such rights.
Some excess are committed by the armed forces, but studies show most of the claims are exaggerated. If found guilty in court, defense personnel are punished.
Strict rules and procedures of conduct are in place for armed personnel in the context of human right.
Armed forces play a significant civic role in insurgency hit areas.
Human right of the armed forces are often grossly violated. This needs to be corrected.
Conclusion – armed forces also realize that cooperation from the civilian population will come only when human right of all are respected.
Historically armed violence against civil societies was the regrettable fallout of wars between nations. Today, the unfortunate reality is that the targeting of civil populations has become the scary strategy of the new breed of terrorism unleashed by fundamentalist of forces. Innocent men, women and children become hapless victims of such violence and are caught in the cross-fire between the terrorists, on the one hand, and the security forces, on the other. While the freewheeling terrorists have no restrictions on descending into the worst methods of medieval mayhem to achieve their aims, the soldiers of the Indian Army face the daunting task of performing their duty in accordance with a high code of conduct and strict norms of behavior with all odds stacked against them.
It was the appalling crimes against humanity by Nazi Germany in the extermination of millions of people that horrified the civilized world and aroused the collective conscience of the international community to do something to protect humanity against the violence perpetrated by man against man. This resulted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948. The Declaration generally state that all human beings are born free and equal , that their lives , liberty , security and dignity need to be protected. This is the document of the large body of Human right jurisprudence that has since come into being. In India, the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 defines human rights as the rights relating to life liberty, equality and dignity of the individual as guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in international covenants and enforceable by courts in India.
International humanitarian law deals with protecting victims of armed conflicts form violence and other violations of human rights. Standards have been codified in the Geneva Conventions (1949) for the protection of war victims and two additional Protocols(1977). The combined goal of these instruments is to restrict the use of violence against those who are not engaged in armed fighting and to prohibit method of warfare that cause unnecessary suffering. The conventions that cover the armed forces relate to the treatment to be given to sick and wounded military persons in the field, to sick and shipwrecked members of the armed forces at sea, treatment of prisoners of war and protections of civilians in time of war.
Since Independence the India armed forces have been engaged in four wars and in prolonged and contiguous engagement in counter insurgency operations against terrorist and insurgents in Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern states. While combating insurgency the, army is very alive to the fact that it is a battle for the hearts and minds of the insurgents and the harmony between the interests of the individual and the state is essential. The problem arises when the dangers from across the border and form terrorism cross dangers from across the border and form terrorism cross reasonable limits.
A nation and a society connote tolerate terrorism when it endangers the security of the state and the welfare of its people. The state is bound to take stringent measures. The dilemma is how to execute such measures without disregarding the human rights aspect. It is here that the insurgent holds the trump card. The insurgent and military arenas. The terrorists are aware that the political and military arenas. The terrorists are aware that the politicians are concerned mainly with the vote banks of their constituencies. Anything that distrubs chances of coming back to power disturbs them. The terrorists, therefore, depend upon premeditated outright lies are the weapons they use to degrade the capacity of the armed forces employed against them. It becomes incredibly difficult for the soldiers to be restrained when they see their comrades being killed, even as human rights organizations are swayed by the propaganda of the terrorists. Regrettably , the press often publishes the version of the terrorists, perhaps because it is more easily available. The terrorists therefore use the politician, the press and the Terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir have often fired at soldiers from within crowds of women and children, secure in the knowledge that soldiers will hesitate to fire back; or that if they do, then it is the armed forces who will get the flak.
It would be untruthful to say that there have never been excesses by the armed be the armed forces. There have been a number of cases where uniformed men have been found involved in serious violations of human rights of the civilians. For instance, sometime back some jawans threw out some civilians form the standing Farakka Express at the Shikohabad station in Uttar Pradesh. The unfortunate civilians who fell on the adjacent rail track were run over by the incoming Sampoorna Kranti Express. And , as a result , several persons were killed. Further, in the guise of searching homes for the supposedly hiding terrorists, rapes and molestations of women by the men in olive are also not unheard of.
However, before, examining the record, one must also consider that when one uses the term ‘ armed forces’ it includes not only the army but also the BSF,CRPF, ITBP ,Assam Rifles and other paramilitary forces operating in the area. The fact that, in the Indian system, the Army is only called out when the police and the paramilitary forces commodores R.V. Kumar and Group Captain B.P. Sharma in their book Human Rights and the Armed Forces have stated that less than one per cent of the complaints made against the army personnel are found to be valid.
The Armey deals with human rights violations with a very heavy and where army personnel are found guilty, they are awarded severe punishment quite swiftly through court martial. In one case, death penalty was awarded. Nonetheless, some people say that court martial’s even while punishing the culprit swiftly, often do not do full justice vis-à-vis the gravity of the crime perpetrated by the guilty men in uniform. What makes matters worse is that the defence administration jealously maintains a complete secrecy and often shields the personnel concerned from the hounds of the media and the society for the sake of the so-called dignity and honour of the forces.
The Army is very conscious of the effect of the infringement of human rights by its personnel on the overall morale, discipline and motivation of the armed forces as a whole, It has, therefore, initiated a series of measures to educate its personnel in human rights awareness and correct procedures to be followed. There is a comprehensive list of do’s and dont’s during, before and after military operation. In addition, human rights awareness is promoted by running various training courses at the level of precommission training. Young officers courses, and training courses at level including senior officers courses and the Defence Services Staff College course at Wellington. More importantly, situational courses are run in counter insurgency areas that take into consideration the on-the-spot factors that could vary from one situation to another. Although this training focuses on situations of counter insurgency, provision is also made for the conduct of armed forces personnel during war.
The Indian army personnel assigned for UN peacekeeping operations are given training not only in human rights but also on how to react to various situations they are likely to encounter. In order to sensitise the entire Army on human rights, the records of personnel are monitored and taken into account while considering promotions and postings to sensitive appointments.
Organizationally , the Army has instituted human rights cells. The charter of these cells is to monitor, receive complaints, investigate and submit reports for further action and also to be in touch with the National Human Rights Commission and NGOs working in this field with a view to minimizing human violations.
The Chief of Army Staff in 1993 issued his Ten Commandments for strict compliance for forces engaged in counter-insurgency operations, which included, among others; no rape, no molestation, no torture, death preferable to military disgrace, no meddling in civil administration, human rights, and fear only of God, to uphold the path of righteousness.
As a corollary to these Commandments, the concerned corps commanders further issued Ten Directives for strict compliance which include; display compassion and humanity towards the local populace; there are no insurgents here – only misguided countrymen; never molest women –they are our sister and mother; do not harm children –they are our heritage; no reprisals under any circumstance ; treat apprehenders with respect; honour democratic norms and adhere to human rights.
The role of the armed forces in civic and welfare work in insurgency and disaster-hit areas-both natural and manmade-must not be forgotten. According to an assessment, the termination of the insurgency in Punjab was facilitated by the humanitarian work done by the Army when it was called out to assist the police in counter-insurgency operations. Army personnel attended the sick and wounded villagers, shared their rations with the villagers, and conducted classes in village schools. It is estimated that in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir alone, the Army treated education to thousands of children, distributed free of cost rations worth millions of rupees and helped in the construction of hundreds of kilometers of roads and tracks. Towards the end of 2004, when the deadly tsunami struck the coastal areas of the South-Eastern India, the defense forces were the first to rise to the occasion. They did for the victims what the local, state and central governments failed to do. Apart from saving countless precious lives, the men in uniform provided food, medicine and shelter to thousands of victims and helped them in numerous other ways to take up a normal life once again. Similarly, in Jammu and Kashmir when due to heavy snowfall, normal life is disrupted and when tourists are trapped, the Army and the Air Force are known to evacuate the trapped people and ferry them to safe areas. Defence personnel posted in the region even stop counter-terrorist operations during sucj times to provide relief to the beleaguered civilians. Further, on many occasions, the Army even provides more than half of its war reserves of oil and other resources for meeting the fuel shortage and other needs of the people in Kashmir. It may also be recalled that in the 1971 Indo-Pak war India tool 93,000 persons as prisoners. The Indian Army is reputed to have meticulously followed the Geneva Conventions in the treatment of these prisoners. It is on record that Indian Army troops moved out of their barracks so that the prisoners of war could be housed. The behavior of the Indian Army was exemplary, to say the least. The invisible result of the conduct probably won for the country the goodwill of these POWs and their families-a consequence as impressive as the victory achieved by the use of force.
Mr K.P.S. Gill, who as Director-General Punjab police contributed substantially to the curbing of insurgency in Punjab, has highlighted a growing aberration which has received little public attention and is stridently denied by the human rights litigation as a weapon against the agencies of the state by terrorists, insurgents and criminals who themselves reject democracy and seek the overthrow of lawful and elected government. An overwhelming proportion of ‘public interest’ human rights litigation is today being initiated by front organization s of virulent underground terrorist movements in a systematic strategy to harry and paralyze security forces and the police. The eventual judicial outcome of such litigations is irrelevant to the objectives of these groups. The very admission of a petition is sufficient to launch a media campaign based on fabricated information and charges that are reported without even a semblance of investigation or corroboration as ‘facts’. Hundreds of such cases and complaints have been found to be utterly false. But there are no effective penalties attached to this abuse of the process of the law- through statutes exist for malicious. Persecution, the have never been applied in a single case of this nature. This perversion of judicial process has to be countered to effectively resist the forces of destabilization in the country.
It must also be borne in mind that personnel of the armed forces operating in areas of insurgency are also Indian citizens and, as such, are entitled to protection of their human rights. As a matter of fact, they face the grossest violation of several of their fundamental rights. They are constantly exposed to danger and torture of the worst kind. Instances of murder I cold blood, mutilation and torture have occurred in the 1992, 1965 and 1971 and the Kargil wars and in Jammu and Kashmir and in the north-east. However, human rights organizations have never ever protested against such acts. This has an adverse effect on the morale of troops who are kept on a tight leash when operating against insurgents with their own lives in danger, but have no support when their rights are violated. This needs rectification if the human rights issue is to have a balanced perspective.
The armed forces understand that they can function more effectively and smoothly if the civilian population is with them in their endeavors. This need of the armed forces makes them more sensitive to civilian needs and human rights. This awareness will help in cubing the temptation to use more than minimum force and encouraging them to exercise restraint. It is desirable that the armed forces continue to emphasize the importance of human rights in the execution of their duties.
There is no place for the kind of events that have recently taken place in Kashmir and Manipur , for instance; at the former, several innocent young men were killed as ‘terrorists’; in the latter, a woman was allegedly abducted, raped and killed for ‘being in touch with insurgents’. Equally, the armed forces too need our sympathy for the violation of human rights they constantly face with none to bring public attention to their plight.
The media can play an effective and important role in this, instead of giving coverage to the human rights violations- both genuine and fake- of only those who pay scant attention to their victims’ rights in the first place, they must also give coverage to the violation of human rights of the armed forces personnel, so that the morale of the uniformed men are kept high.
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UNLIKE many other Asian countries—and in stark contrast to neighbouring Pakistan—India has never been run by its generals. The upper ranks of the powerful civil service of the colonial Raj were largely Hindu, while Muslims were disproportionately represented in the army. On gaining independence the Indian political elite, which had a strong pacifist bent, was determined to keep the generals in their place. In this it has happily succeeded.
But there have been costs. One is that India exhibits a striking lack of what might be called a strategic culture. It has fought a number of limited wars—one with China, which it lost, and several with Pakistan, which it mostly won, if not always convincingly—and it faces a range of threats, including jihadist terrorism and a persistent Maoist insurgency. Yet its political class shows little sign of knowing or caring how the country’s military clout should be deployed.
That clout is growing fast. For the past five years India has been the world’s largest importer of weapons (see chart). A deal for $12 billion or more to buy 126 Rafale fighters from France is slowly drawing towards completion. India has more active military personnel than any Asian country other than China, and its defence budget has risen to $46.8 billion. Today it is the world’s seventh-largest military spender; IHS Jane’s, a consultancy, reckons that by 2020 it will have overtaken Japan, France and Britain to come in fourth. It has a nuclear stockpile of 80 or more warheads to which it could easily add more, and ballistic missiles that can deliver some of them to any point in Pakistan. It has recently tested a missile with a range of 5,000km (3,100 miles), which would reach most of China.
Which way to face?
Apart from the always-vocal press and New Delhi’s lively think-tanks, India and its leaders show little interest in military or strategic issues. Strategic defence reviews like those that take place in America, Britain and France, informed by serving officers and civil servants but led by politicians, are unknown in India. The armed forces regard the Ministry of Defence as woefully ignorant on military matters, with few of the skills needed to provide support in areas such as logistics and procurement (they also resent its control over senior promotions). Civil servants pass through the ministry rather than making careers there. The Ministry of External Affairs, which should be crucial to informing the country’s strategic vision, is puny. Singapore, with a population of 5m, has a foreign service about the same size as India’s. China’s is eight times larger.
The main threats facing India are clear: an unstable, fading but dangerous Pakistan; a swaggering and intimidating China. One invokes feelings of superiority close to contempt, the other inferiority and envy. In terms of India’s regional status and future prospects as a “great power”, China matters most; but the vexatious relationship with Pakistan still dominates military thinking.
A recent attempt to thaw relations between the two countries is having some success. But tension along the “line of control” that separates the two sides in the absence of an agreed border in Kashmir can flare up at any time. To complicate things, China and Pakistan are close, and China is not above encouraging its grateful ally to be a thorn in India’s side. Pakistan also uses jihadist terrorists to conduct a proxy war against India “under its nuclear umbrella”, as exasperated Indians put it. The attack on India’s parliament in 2001 by Jaish-e-Mohammed, a terrorist group with close links to Pakistan’s intelligence service, brought the two countries to the brink of war. The memory of the 2008 commando raid on Mumbai by Lashkar-e-Taiba, another terrorist organisation, is still raw.
Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities are a constant concern. Its arsenal of warheads, developed with Chinese assistance, is at least as large as India’s and probably larger. It has missiles of mainly Chinese design that can reach most Indian cities and, unlike India, it does not have a “no first use” policy. Indeed, to offset the growing superiority of India’s conventional forces, it is developing nuclear weapons for the battlefield that may be placed under the control of commanders in the field.
Much bigger and richer, India has tended to win its wars with Pakistan. Its plans for doing so again, if it feels provoked, are worrying. For much of the past decade the army has been working on a doctrine known as “Cold Start” that would see rapid armoured thrusts into Pakistan with close air support. The idea is to inflict damage on Pakistan’s forces at a mere 72 hours’ notice, seizing territory quickly enough not to incur a nuclear response. At a tactical level, this assumes a capacity for high-tech combined-arms warfare that India may not possess. At the strategic level it supposes that Pakistan will hesitate before unleashing nukes, and it sits ill with the Indian tradition of strategic restraint. Civilian officials and politicians unconvincingly deny that Cold Start even exists.
Bharat Karnad of the Centre for Policy Research, a think-tank, believes Pakistan’s main danger to India is as a failed state, not a military adversary. He sees Cold Start as a “blind alley” which wastes military and financial resources that should be used to deter the “proto-hegemon”, China. Others agree. In 2009 A.K. Antony, the defence minister, told the armed forces that they should consider China rather than Pakistan the main threat to India’s security and deploy themselves accordingly. But not much happened. Mr Karnad sees feeble civilian strategic direction combining with the army’s innate conservatism to stop India doing what it needs to.
The “line of actual control” between China and India in Arunachal Pradesh, which the Chinese refer to as South Tibet, is not as tense as the one in Kashmir. Talks between the two countries aimed at resolving the border issue have been going on for ten years and 15 rounds. In official statements both sides stress that the dispute does not preclude partnership in pursuit of other goals.
But it is hard to ignore the pace of military investment on the Chinese side of the line. Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal of the Centre for Land Warfare Studies points to the construction of new railways, 58,000km of all-weather roads, five air bases, supply hubs and communication posts. China would be able to strike with power and speed if it decided to seize the Indian-controlled territory which it claims as its own, says Mr Karnad. He thinks the Indian army, habituated to “passive-reactive” planning when it comes to the Chinese, has deprived itself of the means to mount a counter-offensive.
Unable to match Chinese might on land, an alternative could be to respond at sea. Such a riposte was floated in a semi-official strategy document called “Nonalignment 2.0”, promoted last year by some former national security advisers and blessed by the current one, Shivshankar Menon. India’s naval advantage might allow it, for example, to impede oil traffic heading for China through the Malacca Strait.
China and India are both rapidly developing their navies from coastal defence forces into instruments that can project power further afield; within this decade, they expect to have three operational carrier groups each. Some Indian strategists believe that, as China extends its reach into the Indian Ocean to safeguard its access to natural resources, the countries’ navies are as likely to clash as their armies.
Two if by sea
China’s navy is expanding at a clip that India cannot match—by 2020 it is expected to have 73 major warships and 78 submarines, 12 of them nuclear—but India’s sailors are highly competent. They have been operating an aircraft-carrier since the 1960s, whereas China is only now getting into the game. India fears China’s development of facilities at ports in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar—a so-called “string of pearls” around the ocean that bears India’s name; Mr Antony called the announcement in February that a Chinese company would run the Pakistani port of Gwadar a “matter of concern”. China sees a threat in India’s developing naval relationships with Vietnam, South Korea, Japan and, most of all, America. India now conducts more naval exercises with America than with any other country.
India’s navy has experience, geography and some powerful friends on its side. However, it is still the poor relation to India’s other armed services, with only 19% of the defence budget compared with 25% for the air force and 50% for the army.
The air force also receives the lion’s share of the capital-equipment budget—double the amount given to the navy. It is buying the Rafales from France and upgrading its older, mainly Russian, fighters with new weapons and radars. A joint venture between Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Russia’s Sukhoi is developing a “fifth generation” strike fighter to rival America’s F-35. As well as indulging its pilots’ need for speed, though, the air force is placing a new emphasis on “enablers”. It is negotiating the purchase of six Airbus A330 military tankers and five new airborne early-warning and control aircraft. It has also addressed weaknesses in heavy lift by buying ten giant Boeing C-17 transports, with the prospect of more to come. Less clear is the priority the air force gives to the army’s requirements for close air support over its more traditional role of air defence, particularly after losing a squabble over who operates combat helicopters.
With the army training for a blitzkrieg against Pakistan and the navy preparing to confront Chinese blue-water adventurism, it is easy to get the impression that each service is planning for its own war without much thought to the requirements of the other two. Lip-service is paid to co-operation in planning, doctrine and operations, but this “jointness” is mostly aspirational. India lacks a chief of the defence staff of the kind most countries have. The government, ever-suspicious of the armed forces, appears not to want a single point of military advice. Nor do the service chiefs, jealous of their own autonomy.
The absence of a strategic culture and the distrust between civilian-run ministries and the armed forces has undermined military effectiveness in another way—by contributing to a procurement system even more dysfunctional than those of other countries. The defence industrial sector, dominated by the sprawling Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), remains stuck in state control and the country’s protectionist past. According to a recent defence-ministry audit, only 29% of the products developed by the DRDO in the past 17 years have entered service with the armed forces. The organisation is a byword for late-arriving and expensive flops.
The cost of developing a heavy tank, the Arjun, exceeded the original estimates by 20 times. But according to Ajai Shukla, a former officer who now writes on defence for the Business Standard, the army wants to stick with its elderly Russian T-72s and newer T-90s, fearing that the Arjun, as well as being overweight, may be unreliable. A programme to build a light combat aircraft to replace the Mirages and MiG-21s of an earlier generation started more than quarter of a century ago. But the Tejas aircraft that resulted has still not entered service.
There are signs of slow change. These include interest in allowing partnerships between India’s small but growing private-sector defence firms and foreign companies, which should stimulate technology transfer. But the deal to buy the Rafale has hit difficulties because, though Dassault would prefer to team up with private-sector firms such as Tata and Reliance, the government wants it to work with stodgy HAL. Even if Dassault had a free choice of partners, though, it is not clear that Indian industry could handle the amount of work the contract seeks to set aside for it.
Richard Bitzinger, a former RAND Corporation analyst now at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, sums up the problem in a recent study for the Zurich-based International Relations and Security Network. If India does not stop coddling its existing state-run military-industrial complex, he says, it will never be capable of supplying its armed forces with the modern equipment they require. Without a concerted reform effort, a good part of the $200 billion India is due to spend on weaponry over the next 15 years looks likely to be wasted.
The tiger and the eagle
The money it will spend abroad also carries risks. Big foreign deals lend themselves to corruption. Investigations into accusations of bribery can delay delivery of urgently needed kit for years. The latest “scandal” of this sort surrounds a $750m order for helicopters from Italy’s Finmeccanica. The firm denies any wrongdoing, but the deal has been put on hold.
Britain, France, Israel and, above all, Russia (which still accounts for more than half of India’s military imports), look poised to be beneficiaries of the coming binge. America will get big contracts, too. But despite a ground-breaking civil nuclear deal in 2005 and the subsequent warming of relations, America is still regarded as a less politically reliable partner in Delhi. The distrust stems partly from previous arms embargoes, partly from America’s former closeness to Pakistan, partly from India’s concerns about being the junior partner in a relationship with the world’s pre-eminent superpower.
The dilemma over how close to get to America is particularly acute when it comes to China. America and India appear to share similar objectives. Neither wants the Indian Ocean to become a Chinese “lake”. But India does not want to provoke China into thinking that it is ganging up with America. And it worries that the complex relationship between America and China, while often scratchy, is of such vital importance that, in a crisis, America would dump India rather than face down China. An Indian navy ordered to close down China’s oil supplies would not be able to do so if its American friends were set against it.
India’s search for the status appropriate to its ever-increasing economic muscle remains faltering and uncertain. Its problems with Pakistan are not of the sort that can be solved militarily. Mr Karnad argues that India, from a position of strength, should build better relations with Pakistan through some unilateral gestures, for example cutting back the size of the armoured forces massed in the deserts of Rajasthan and withdrawing its short-range missiles. General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, head of Pakistan’s army, has declared internal terrorism to be a greater danger to his country than India. That may also offer an opportunity.
China’s confidence in its new military power is unnerving to India. But if a condescending China in its pomp is galling, one in economic trouble or political turmoil and pandering to xenophobic popular opinion would be worse. Japan and South Korea have the reassurance of formal alliances with America. India does not. It is building new relationships with its neighbours to the east through military co-operation and trade deals. But it is reluctant to form or join more robust institutional security frameworks.
Instead of clear strategic thinking, India shuffles along, impeded by its caution and bureaucratic inertia. The symbol of these failings is India’s reluctance to reform a defence-industrial base that wastes huge amounts of money, supplies the armed forces with substandard kit and leaves the country dependent on foreigners for military modernisation.
Since independence India has got away with having a weak strategic culture. Its undersized military ambitions have kept it out of most scrapes and allowed it to concentrate on other things instead. But as China bulks up, India’s strategic shortcomings are becoming a liability. And they are an obstacle to India’s dreams of becoming a true 21st-century power.
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