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In Cold Blood: Abuses by Armed Groups

January 8, 2009

India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Occupied Territories, Indonesia, Egypt, Jordan, USA, UK, Spain, the Russian Federation, to name a few, are a testimony to the cruel attacks on civilians and other human rights abuses in the recent past by non-state armed groups, including terrorist groups. They are showing utter disdain for the lives of civilians and others, continuing a pattern of serious crimes and crimes against humanity. They fail to abide by even the most basic standards of humanitarian law. The attacks and other abuses by armed groups are so frequent and the security situation so grave, that it is impossible to calculate with any confidence the true toll upon the civilian population, let alone the long term consequences that so many people inevitably suffer.

There can be no valid justification for deliberate killings of civilians, hostage-taking, and torture and killing of defenseless prisoners. Those who order or commit such atrocities place themselves totally beyond the pale of acceptable behavior. There is no honor or heroism in blowing up people going to pray or murdering a terrified hostage. Those carrying out such acts are criminals, nothing less, whose actions undermine any claim they may have to be pursuing a legitimate cause. Many non-state armed groups claim to oppose the continuing violence of Stat

e, army, police in the country, and that these forces have themselves committed grave violations, including killings, disappearances, and encounters of civilians. But abuses committed by one side do not and can not justify abuses by another. This is all the more the case when the principal victims are ordinary men, women and children attempting to go about their everyday lives.

All sides to the ongoing conflict have a fundamental obligation to respect the rights of civilians or of those who are rendered defenseless. Those who breach this obligation, on which ever side they stand, must be made to stop and they must be held to account. As such, there is an obligation on both the concerned government and the international community at large to ensure that the perpetrators of these crimes are identified and brought to justice. There can be no excuse for such abuses; several international and national humanitarian laws clearly distinguish certain acts as crimes irrespective of the causes of a conflict or the grounds on which the contending parties justify their involvement. Non-state armed groups are operating mainly in Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Asom, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Orissa, Tripura, West Bengal states in our country. They are Maoists, Naxalites, terrorists, ethnic-caste based groups. In north eastern states, we have many like, UnitedLiberation Front of Asom (ULFA), Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF), Dima Halam Daogah (Jewel Garlosa) or Black Widow, United Liberation Front of Barak Valley, All Adivasi National Liberation Army, Kuki Revolutionary Army, Hmar People’s Convention (Democratic), Muslim United Liberation Tigers Front of Assam, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Kanglei Yawol Kanba Lup, National Liberation Front of Tripura. We can see a pattern of widespread acts of violence and terror by armed groups.

There have been indiscriminate attacks resulting in civilian deaths. Hundreds of people have been killed as a result of car/scooter bombs or suicide attacks. The deadliest attacks have also hit the police and the army establishments. The attackers have generally disguised themselves as ordinary civilians, and sometimes as members of the police or other security forces. They appear to have made little or no effort to distinguish between military targets and civilians, or to avoid disproportionate harm to civilians when directing their attacks at military targets. Individuals, religious and ethnic groups have also been targeted. Scores of civilians as well as police personnel have been taken hostage by various armed groups. Many of the hostages were later killed. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between armed political groups and criminal gangs when it comes to hostage-taking. In many cases armed political groups seem to have made the release of their victims conditional on payment of money even when they make political demands. Armed groups vehemently oppose the holding of elections.

Take for example, Jammu & Kashmir or Chhattisgarh, before the elections, voters received many threats, including that they would be killed, that their children would be abducted and that their houses would be burned down. In Maoist-controlled areas of country the Maoist are employing quasi-judicial bodies charged with dispensing ‘justice’. Some locals, disillusioned with the official state system, turn to these ‘courts’ which they view as fairer and less corrupt than state justice system. Although information concerning the charges against individuals is limited, the majority of people who have come before such courts are being ‘charged’. Many of those who come before such bodies have been abducted by the Maoists. In many cases harsh punishments have been issued and carried out. Few details about the nature of proceedings are known. Armed group’s oppressive treatment of women has been well documented. Under their hardline rule, women are discriminated against in all walks of life, including the denial of education, employment, freedom of movement and political participation and representation. They are excluded from public life and prohibited from studying, working or leaving the house without being chaperoned by a male blood relative. The severe restrictions on their freedom of movement virtually confine women to the home. The effects of these restrictions are particularly hard on widows. Many forms of gender-based violence are also perpetrated. Women aid and health workers, election candidates, teachers, women’s rights activists and other human rights defenders are specially subjected to threats and attacks, in some cases resulting in death. Afghanistan is the burning example of the operation of the armed groups. The human rights abuses by the Taliban, include threats, intimidation and attack targeting civilians and indiscriminate attacks, including suicide bombings attacks on schools, abductions and unlawful killings of captives. The make-up of the insurgency in Afghanistan is diverse and complex and it is not always clear who is behind the violence. Many armed groups are said to be operating in Afghanistan, including al-Qa’ida, Jeysh-e-Mohammadi, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and the armed political group, Hezb-e-Eslami. The term ‘Taleban’ has often served as a catch-all tag for armed groups or elements hostile to the central government and foreign forces. As a result, some attacks attributed to the Taleban by the media may have been carried out by al-Qa’ida, or the armed political group Hezb-e-Eslami, headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Other elements attributed to the Taleban might include local warlords, criminal gangs involved in the drugs trade or private individuals.

Financial support for the Taleban flows in from supporters in the region but is also thought to come from wealthy donors from the Persian Gulf states. Other sources of income are derived from the illegal drugs trade, kidnappings in which ransoms are demanded and the smuggling of goods. The Taleban also receive money and support in strongholds in southern Afghanistan either by coercion, for example, by the demanding of food and shelter, or by Zakat (the religious obligation of Muslims to make an annual charitable donation as defined by the Qur’an). There is a Taleban military rulebook, or Layeha, containing 30 rules. Some rules explicitly sanction the targeting and killing of civilians. Rule 25 states that a teacher who ignores warnings from the Taleban and continues to teach ‘must be beaten’ and should they ‘continue to teach contrary to the principles of Islam, the (Taleban) district commander or a group leader must kill him’. Rule 26 suggests that NGOs and humanitarian workers may be targeted: ‘Those NGOs that come to the country under the rule of the infidels must be treated as the government is treated…we tolerate none of their activities, whether it be building of roads, bridges, clinics, schools, madrassas or other works’. Much of the strength and support for the Taleban can be linked to Pakistan’s apparent tolerance of Afghan Taleban and local Taleban fighters in its border regions, notably the Northwest Frontier Province, the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas and parts of Baluchistan. 24 Taleban fighters – local and Afghan – have reportedly regrouped and resupplied from bases in these regions, directing attacks in Afghanistan from these strongholds, in many instances with little interference from the Pakistani authorities.

Many non-state armed groups in our country and outside condemn terrorism, but they brand their violent struggle against the oppression and occupation legitimate. They ask us to differentiate between terrorism and the struggle against the state, feudal and corporate agencies sanctioned by the tenets of the political and ideological convictions. Contrary to these assertions, attacks on civilians, killing, and hostages are not permitted under any recognised standard of law, whether they are committed in the context of a struggle against oppression or any other context. Not only are they considered murder under general principles of law in every national legal system, they are contrary to fundamental principles of humanity which are reflected in the foundations of every human society. In the manner in which they are being committed in India or in any other country, they also amount to crimes against humanity. Whatever noble may be the cause, whenever armed force is used the choice of means and methods are not unlimited. The principles of rule of law must set out standards of humane conduct applicable to both state forces and armed groups. Regardless of the formal legal categorization of the situation in any region, the non-state armed groups remain bound by fundamental principles of humanity, which are reflected in the rules of international humanitarian laws outlined. In cases not expressly covered by our present systems, both ‘civilians’ and ‘combatants’ remain under the protection and authority of the principles of international law derived from established custom, from the principles of humanity and from the dictates of the human conscience.

Armed Groups in our country should remember Professor Edward Said saying in May 2002 that ‘(Suicide bombings have) disfigured and debased the Palestinian struggle. All liberation movements in history have affirmed that their struggle is about life not about death. Why should ours be an exception? The sooner we educate our Zionist enemies and show that our resistance offers co-existence and peace, the less likely will they be able to kill us at will, and never refer to us except as terrorists.’

One Comment leave one →
  1. somitra permalink
    April 24, 2011 2:07 PM

    It is important to differntiate between the violence conducted by these armed groups and the violence perpetrated by the state. It is the injustice that has been institutionalised by state that gives rise to various armed insurgencies.

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