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U.N. says India should scrap AFSPA in Kashmir

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India should scrap the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which gives security forces, battling militancy in the troubled regions of Kashmir and the northeast, sweeping powers to search, arrest or shoot people, the United Nations said on Friday.

An Army soldier checks the identity papers of a motorist during a curfew in Jammu August 7, 2008. REUTERS/Amit Gupta/Files

Human rights groups say the AFSPA is a draconian law which the military arbitrarily uses to violate civilians’ rights.

The authorities and the army deny those charges, and say the legislation is essential to root out insurgents. Kashmir, the country’s only majority-Muslim region, has been the trigger for two out of three wars between India and its neighbour Pakistan.

After a 12-day visit to India, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, urged New Delhi to repeal the law, saying it was “a symbol of excessive state power” that “clearly violates international law.”

“A law such as AFSPA has no role to play in a democracy and should be scrapped,” Heyns told reporters.

A defense ministry spokesman declined on Friday to comment on Heyns’ remarks.

Heyns, who will submit a report of his findings to the U.N. Human Rights Council next year, said he heard numerous testimonies from families of victims who had reportedly been killed in arbitrary executions carried out by security forces.

Among other powers, the AFSPA allows security forces to fire upon, or use force against, an assembly of five or more people, or anyone in possession of a deadly weapon. It gives legal immunity to the officials, so they can be neither sued nor prosecuted.

In 2010, over 100 people were killed by government forces in protests against the AFSPA in Kashmir. Local authorities in some areas have said they will stop using the law, but this has been blocked by the Indian army.

“The position may have improved in some respects, but has not been resolved, and the legacy of the past is bound to continue into the future,” Heyns said.

Editing by Anurag Kotoky and Daniel Magnowski