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Civilian monitoring of military operations on the anvil?

By Rana Ajit, IANS

New Delhi : President Pratibha Patil is exploring the possibility of having civilians monitor military operations in the northeast and Jammu and Kashmir in a bid to tackle complaints of harassment of women by security personnel.

In what could revive the demand for the repeal of the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 – AFSPA – the president has assured leading women rights activist and former National Commission for Women chairperson Mohini Giri that she would see whether civilian supervision of military operations was possible.

“I, with my 50 years of experience of working for women in various trouble-torn states, can say that women are not immune to exploitation or abuse by security personnel during their operations against militants,” Giri said.

“I had broached the issue with President Patil and mooted the idea of civilian monitoring of military operations in the northeastern states and Jammu and Kashmir, and she has promised to get it examined,” Giri told IANS.

“The president asked me to give her a formal explanatory note of my ideas on civilian monitoring of military operations and I am in the process of sending the note to her,” Giri added.

Elaborating, Giri said she wants an apex body comprising women and civil rights activists, retired High Court or Supreme Court judges and even senior government officials to keep a tab on military operations in militancy-hit areas.

Giri said she would like at least one of the members of the apex body to accompany the armed forces whenever they undertake military operations.

President Patil, in fact, indicated last Sunday she was willing to have the possibility examined. “Dr Mohini Giri has raised some points in her speech. I will look into them,” Patil said during her inaugural address to a national conclave of northeastern states “for access to justice to the women of the region”.

The president gave the assurance without elaborating upon Giri’s idea and stressed upon the need for accelerated development of the northeastern region.

Giri, speaking at the same conclave, said: “Could I also request you as the chief of the armed forces in the country to kindly host a meeting of the three services chiefs with women activists for a dialogue on how to form a rationalized military action in the northeast that often comes into conflict with women’s rights.”

The idea of civilian monitoring of military operations was first mooted by former army chief Gen (Retd) V.P. Malik in the wake of the hue and cry raised after the alleged rape and murder of a woman in Manipur, Manorma Devi, in 2004 by Assam Rifles personnel.

Malik mooted the idea while recommending some changes in the AFSPA to divest the non-commissioned officers of their statutory powers “to shoot to kill” under the Act and restrict the power only to commissioned officers fighting insurgency in Manipur and other northeastern states.

Asked about his views on civilian monitoring of military operations, Gen Malik told IANS: “Judicial magistrates could accompany military patrols for joint military-civil police operations in urban areas so that the police carry out arrests and streamline early handover of arrested people.”

Following the outrage over the Manorma Devi episode, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government had formed a committee headed by former Supreme Court judge B.P. Jeevan Reddy to examine the feasibility of repealing or amending the AFSPA.

Justice Reddy had recommended total repeal of the Act but the government has put the report in cold storage.

(Ajit Rana can be contacted at [email protected])