NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court cited Bangladesh‘s prosecution of war criminals for atrocities committed in 1971 as it rejected the Centre’s plea that cases of alleged extra-judicial killings by armed forces in insurgency-hit Manipur in 2003 should not be reopened as more than a decade had passed since.
A bench of Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice U U Lalit said a fair and impartial probe was needed to find out the truth behind the killings, and favoured the setting up of a committee comprising senior CBI and state police officials to investigate the cases. The government should not shy away from punishing the culprits accused of killing innocent people in the last three decades, it said.
Attorney general Mukul Rohatgi strongly opposed any reinvestigation, saying it would not be appropriate to reopen the cases after 14 years. He said many of the armed forces personnel had since retired, and the court should confine itself to awarding compensation to the victims’ families
The bench, however, reminded the Centre that India’s neighbour Bangladesh had prosecuted armed forces personnel and politicians for the war crimes they allegedly committed in 1971. The court said the fresh probe was required to send out the message that armed personnel could not be let off after killing innocent people.
The court said it would first direct a probe in three cases of rape and murder from 2003 as there were apparent flaws in the investigations conducted by the Army’s Court of Inquiry. “It appears to us that three cases need to be probed by an independent team to find out the truth. The probe will take time but it is needed as judicial inquiry and Court of Inquiry came to two divergent findings,” the bench said.
The court was hearing a PIL filed by the Extra Judicial Execution Victims Families Association, a registered trust comprising the wives and mothers of people allegedly killed in fake encounters by Manipur police and security forces (Assam Rifles and Army). The petitioner alleged that 1,528 extra-judicial killings had been carried out by the Army and other security forces in Manipur in the last three decades.
The court also pulled up the state government for not protecting its people and said “the state is in bad shape”. The court asked the Centre, state and petitioner to suggest names of officers who could be entrusted with the task of carrying out investigations.
In 2013, the apex court had appointed a Commission of Inquiry (CoI), headed by former SC judge Santosh Hegde, to investigate six “sample cases of alleged fake encounters”. In its report, the commission had said that all six cases were fake encounters, and had not been carried out by the security forces in self-defence.