India's responsibility to end Manipur violence

Dr L Malem Mangal *

The endurance of the Asian State of Manipur as a civilisation entity looms large with destructive forces all around. India’s responsibility to ensure that life, liberty and property of civilians are protected is not anew in the political landscape of conflict ridden societies of North-East region in general and of Manipur in particular.

However, in the wake of recent violence which had erupted since last May, the nature of India’s State responsibility has taken an entirely different dimension that is to say obligations emanating from the Constitution of the Republic of India and obligations arising from international law especially jus cogens norms and erga omnes.

The ongoing violence is State sponsored with the intention to dismember the ancient Asian State of Manipur. This is grounded upon the following premises: first, Indian State is not able or unwilling to intervene and bring an end to the armed violence that is about to complete one year.

Second, Union Home Minister’s statement that external elements especially Myanmar’s armed opposition forces are involved does not take away India’s responsibility since Article 355 of the Constitution mandates the Union Government of India to protect Manipur’s integrity and civilians inhabiting the State against external aggression and armed rebellion.

Third, the relentless armed conflict and indifferent attitude of Government of India is reflective of its policy of non-intervention leaving the people to defend themselves through their own means as was also witnessed during the bloody ethnic-conflict between the Nagas and the Kukis in ‘90s which took place under the nose of the mighty Indian military.

India’s policy of non-intervention in ethnic-conflict and armed violence in North-East in general and Manipur in particular makes her accountable. If the Indian Air Forces could bomb rebels in Mizoram during ‘60s to extinguish the declaration of independence from India at the height of Mizo insurgency, if it could carry out armed surgical strikes inside the territories of Myanmar and Pakistan to eliminate anti-India elements, it is quite surprising that the presence of more than 1 lakh Indian military could not make the situation different.

Because of in-action of the Indian State, hundreds of innocent lives have perished and thousands have been rendered homeless. As a State, India has failed in its basic responsibility to ensure maintenance of law and order and safeguard life, liberty and property of the civilians in the region.

India is accountable under the 1998 Rome Statute for three reasons: first, for its inability or unwillingness to intervene and stop the fratricidal wars in the region. Ethnic armed conflict with the intention to cleanse an area is genocidal in character. India is accountable for the genocide taking place in Manipur under Article 6 of the Rome Statute.

Second, India is also accountable under Article 7 of the Statute for crimes against humanity for its inability or unwillingness to prevent the murders, rape, tortures, taking into hostage of civilians, extermination of horse de combat, enforced disappearances, deportation or forcible transfer of population, etc.

Third, the Indian State is further accountable under Article 8 of the Statute for War Crimes for its inaction to prevent wilful killings, extensive destruction or appropriation of property, intentionally directing attacks against civilian population, killing of combatants who no longer take part in the conflict or who have surrendered, etc.

The upheavals which present day Manipur experiences perhaps seem to be the most tumultuous and critical phase in the annals of its existence as acivilisational entity. Beginning from 1949 the Indian State seems to fuel and abet ethno-Nationalist politics that seeks to dismember Manipur.

If this project would be implemented in the region, after the State of Jammu & Kashmir Manipur becomes second amongst the Princely States of former British Indian Empire whose integrity both territorial and non-territorial is dismembered to suit India’s geo-political and strategic interests.

India’s pursuit to gain benefits in terms of trade and commerce by maintaining a business-friendly stance towards ASEAN countries including especially Myanmar’s armed opposition groups operating along the Indo-Myanmar border and also in terms of alignment with Washington’s containment policy of China informs ethnic political landscape of the North East region today.

Towards this end, effective containment of National liberation movements who are yet to engage in political dialogues with New Delhi, the Government of India seems to achieve multiple objectives by aiding and supporting tacitly these armed Non-State Actors along the Indo-Myanmar border.

Taking advantage of the shifting political dynamicsin the Indo-Pacific region, India is all set to do everything to capitalise this power equation. For instance, suppression or elimination of armed opposition groups and maintaining the posture that as a regional power the gateway towards South East Asia is secured for business and that law and order is stable becomes policy priorities of India.

In fact, with the symbolic engagements into peace dialogues with various armed Non-State actors of the region such as ULFA (I), NSCN (IM), NSCN (K) and other splinter Naga rebels and comparative peace in Mizoram and Tripura and of course the late entry made by the Pambei led UNLF the message has already been sent out to the international business community that an investment playing level field has been created in India’s North-East region.

In the backdrop of such changing rules of the game, the issue of the North East region becoming a new haven for trade in drugs, its plantation and human trafficking is a non-issue for India.

Be that as it may, with the distinctive political status of this Asian State of Manipur recorded since 33 AD and the ordeals which have been overcome so far as a civilisation, the collective political consciousness of the people of Manipur fails to accept India’s policy to dismember Manipur’s integrity.

Now, therefore, the primary question before every Manipuri irrespective of ethnic affiliations who shares a practical sense of belongingness and organic inter-relationship to co-exist as one people remind ourselves and draw certain inferences from the norms of international law especially the legal order established under the United Nations Charter, jus in bello (known as IHL) and the principle of pactas untservanda to help preserve the continuity of Manipur’s historical and political distinctive polity.

India’s responsibility to end ethnic-conflict in Manipur arises from the following issues: first, by virtue of Article 73 of the UN Charter, India as an administering State has the paramount responsibility to ensure that the interests and well-being of Manipuri peoples are protected. Capitalising differences amongst the people and fomenting deep divide on ethnic lines is against this UN Charter obligation.

Second, taking the involvement of Myanmar’s armed opposition groups in the present Manipur conflict as an act of aggression, India is under serious obligations under Article 43 the Fourth Hague Regulations of 1907 (Laws and Customs of War on Land) to take all measures within its power to restore and ensure public order and safety of the civilians in the region.

Third, these norms read with Article 21 of the Constitution of India stands as an absolute obligation on the part of Indian State to ensure that life and liberty of Manipuri people are protected by law. These obligations are further enjoined by the constitutional mandate of Article 355 which requires the Union Government of India to protect Manipur [states] from external aggression or armed rebellion.

Article 43 obligation of the Hague Regulations is wide enough to include respect for applicable rules of international human rights law (such as Article 6 of ICCPR) and IHL especially Article 3 common to the Four Geneva Conventions to protect Manipuri people against acts of violence including those perpetrated by Myanmar’s armed NSA [any third party] (Democratic Republic of Congo v. Uganda,[2005]ICJ Rep168, para178).

India’s State responsibility towards Manipur’s Integrity is grounded upon the following issues: first, taking the Instrument of Accession of 11th August, 1947 (IOA) as the only valid treatyin terms of procedural fairness which was concluded between the Dominion Government of India and Manipur, the Government of India is also under an obligation not to change territorial and non-territorial integrity that is to say especially demographic composition and human settlement patterns of Manipur State as stoodon 15th October 1949 the day on which Manipur came to be occupied by India.

This is premised on Article 43 of the Fourth Hague Regulations that prohibits India from changing of status of the territory (dismembering) or (dividing) people inhabiting Manipur. Second, the principle of utipossidetisjuris affirmed by the ICJ in Burkina Faso v. Republic of Mali, 1986) gives responsibility to India to secure the territorial boundary (integrity) of Manipur as stood on 15th August, 1947 the date on which British suzerainty lapsed over Indian Provinces and Princely States.

India’s policy of dismembering Manipur based on Article 3 of its Constitution is ill-founded in law. Third, this is because Manipur neither committed to accept Indian Constitution of 1950 by virtue of Article VII of the Instrument of Accession, 1947 nor gave up her sovereignty with the accession to India. Treaties concluded must be respected in good faith and its terms cannot be changed by one party unilaterally.

This customary rule of pactasuntservandacodified by Article 26 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 1969 prohibits India from either breaching IOA or dismemberingManipur. Thus, Article 3 of India’s Constitution is not applicable to the State of Manipur. As such, India’s State responsibility to preserve Manipur’s integrity and status becomesabsolute.

Under rules of international law, India can neither change the status of Manipur’s integrity both territorial and non-territorial nor divide its peoples along ethnic-lines by establishing artificial administrative conclaves to the exclusion of other kindred tribes.

** The views expressed by the author solely represent those of the author’s and does not reflect the views of Himalayan University, Itanagar - 791113.

* Dr L Malem Mangal wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is Assistant Professor,
Department of Law,
Himalayan University,
Itanagar - 791113.
This article was webcasted on 24 April 2024

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