By Bhanvi Satija:
A recent evaluation report released by the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) looks into the allegations of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) in its peacekeeping operations around the globe. The report is aimed at assessing the achievement of the enforcement and remedial strategy of the UN to address SEA, in the period 2010-2013. It also assesses the responses received by the countries that are contributing troops i.e. if there is prima facie evidence of SEA by the personnel or member of the country.
Where does India stand?
According to the report, the Indian peacekeeping forces have three cases of substantiated allegations against them.
This comes as an embarrassment to the army that contributes the third largest contingent to the UN missions, and brings back memories of a cash-for-sex scandal in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2008. “Strictest action is taken against soldiers bringing a bad name to the army on foreign soil. The army is also putting in place tougher rules for monitoring conduct and discipline to curb such cases,” a senior army officer told Hindustan Times.
On the other hand, the report itself notes that the largest contributors of troops to the UN, like India, had lower incidence of cases of abuse. “While many variables, including contingent size, could affect the numbers of substantiated allegations, it appears that the largest TCCs (troop contributing countries) do not have the highest number of substantiated allegations against their personnel,” says the report. The other largest contributors of uniformed personnel to the UN are Pakistan, which has more than 8,750 in UN operations and had four substantiated cases, and Bangladesh with over 9,000 personnel and two such cases. Britain, which has fewer than 300 personnel serving in UN operations, had one substantiated case. South Africa with 2,160 had the highest number of cases at nine. Uruguay with fewer than 1,500 personnel had eight cases.
One of the major concerns of the report is that only a few TCCs comply with the 10-day deadline; some do not respond at all and timeliness and comprehensiveness of information provided remains an issue. It is important to note that India’s name has not been listed among the nations that had not complied with the UN’s requests for reports on follow-up actions and investigation. If this is to be believed, then it means that with respect to the army personnel deployed outside the country India is ready to look into the matter and take action when the code of conduct is breached. However, back home India’s stand on the similar issues has been quite the opposite.
The situation back home
While we are apparently complying with the UN’s standard and norms for investigating into SEA allegations, based solely on prima facie evidence, sometimes we refuse to acknowledge the excesses committed by our own army within the boundaries of the country. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which provides immunity to India’s soldiers for acts committed in the line of duty, has been under fire for years. Critics say that the law allows security forces to get away, and that the soldiers who commit SEA on women hide behind its protective clauses.
AFSPA’s special provisions give the security forces unbridled powers to raid without evidence or warrant and use force, even fatally. Both commissioned and noncommissioned personnel have immunity under Section 6 of this act; prosecution can be initiated only if the Government of India sanctions it. Right from 2004 (and much before that), Badar Payeen Rape Case in Kashmir, and the case of Thangjam Manorama, who was picked up by jawans of the Assam Rifles on suspicion of being a militant in Manipur in 2004; to the recent cases of three women being raped in the Karbi Anglong District in Assam – little has changed, and not much has been done. Ten years later, when Thangjam Manorama’s plight has come to light, after the Upendra Commission Report was made public, none of the Army men who were named guilty are to face trial and prosecution.
Till now, there has been very little development on these above listed cases, and there are a countless others that go unreported. Even when cases like that of Thangjam Manorama come to light, the procedure for initiating hearings in the regular court of law against army personnel is tiresome and takes a lot of time. This gap of time occurring due to the procedure often results in loss of crucial evidence in cases of sexual exploitation and abuse making the identification of perpetrators an impossible task – as the forces get transferred routinely, especially in areas of conflict.
A significant development in this regard took place when the Justice J.S. Verma Committee looking into legal reforms related to violence against women called for a review of the AFSPA. It noted that “impunity for systematic or isolated sexual violence in the process of internal security duties is being legitimised by the AFSPA” and “women in conflict areas are entitled to all the security and dignity that is afforded to citizens in any other part of our country.” The committee also recommended that “special care must also be taken for the safety of complainants and witnesses in cases of sexual assault by armed personnel”. While the government in power then adopted several of the Verma Committee’s recommendations in the form of a new anti-rape law, the recommendations related to AFSPA remained unacknowledged.
Sexual assault can never be part of ‘official duty’, swift and strict action should be taken against any personnel accused of such violence. While the government dithers over whether or not to repeal the AFSPA, the least it can do is to make sure that the armed forces do not get protection under it for violence against women — an offence that simply cannot be justified as having been committed ‘in the line of duty’.
There is a clear contrast between the treatment meted out to army personnel working outside the country and those working within the national borders. What it looks like is that India is more concerned about the country’s image across the globe, than it is concerned with listening to the voices of its own people. It is okay to continue sanctioning rape and sexual assault by Army men as long as they are within the border of the country, and to encourage such blatant impunity as long as it occurs within the four walls of our home (country) – kyunki yeh sab to ghar ki baat hai?