Indian Armed Forces and the Human Rights.

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

Warning- Long Post



Human Rights are those minimal rights which every individual must have by virtue of his being a “member of the human family”, irrespective of any other consideration. They are based on mankind’s demand for a life in which the inherent dignity of the human being will receive respect and consideration.[1] Human rights propagate the dignity and freedom of human being in society. The notion of human rights is the most precious legacy of classical and contemporary human thought to culture and civilization. The struggle to preserve, protect and promote these basic human values has continued in every generation in each society.

The Universal Declaration of human rights adopted by UN on 10 Dec 1948 in its preamble has proclaimed that “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a common standard of achievements for all people of all nations”.[2] Human rights ideology postulates human dignity and recognition that every human being, irrespective of race, religion, colour or sex, is born equal and entitled to the rights as a human being. The UN Charter pledged to promote and encourage respect for human rights and envisaged not only the traditional rights but rights like a higher standard of living and economic progress.

The constitution of our country provides basic human rights and fundamental rights to its citizens. Being natural rights, it is of utmost importance that human rights be protected at every cost by each individual and organization in the country. Especially so the Indian armed forces which are held in very high esteem by the citizens of its country.

In India, the traditional application of humanitarian law to the armed forces is almost as old as the armed conflicts themselves. There are several examples of prescribed humane behaviour for the forces during the conflict in Ramayana and in Mahabharata. These are a part of our cultural legacy. Even during British colonial rule of India, the armed forces followed the concept of “Naam, Namak, Nishan: Be Honourable, True to your salt, and uphold the Flag.[3]

In Kargil war, Indian battalions recovered over 270 dead bodies of Pakistani soldiers after re-capturing posts occupied by them. The Indian troops gave all of them a burial befitting a soldier as per Muslim rites. Upholding human dignity, personal values, and mitigation of collateral hardship to the public are cornerstones of the professional ethos in the Indian Armed Forces. Such an ethos is systematically imbibed in all ranks through training, motivation, and enforcement of stringent discipline, and monitoring of operations. The respect for human rights thus comes naturally to all ranks. Also, secularism, discipline, integrity, loyalty, esprit-de-corps, apolitical outlook are essential values that are inculcated in the forces. These values contribute to their civilized behaviour.[4]

The Indian armed forces have been engaged in Counter-Terrorism (CT) operations in Jammu and Kashmir and the North-East since the last six decades. While the terrorists and militant organizations carry out gruesome acts of violence and savagery, which are gross violations of the human rights of the other peaceful citizens of the country, it is the armed forces that in performance of their duty are maligned for violating human rights and perpetrating violence. It has to fight militancy on one hand and at the same time be on guard always for any human rights violations on the other hand. It definitely appears to be a very difficult game if one understands the limitations with which the Indian armed forces have to operate in the environment where there is no enemy. While discharging its duties the Indian armed forces are most vulnerable to human rights violations and the same is being exploited by the terrorists/terrorists through the media. The general populace and the media fail to understand the true context of the overall situation before lamenting the armed forces with human rights violations. It must be appreciated that soldiers too are humans who are given to normal human emotions and human vulnerabilities. They also deserve their share of human rights which are invariably not paid heed to by the government and the society as a whole. While it may be fashionable to condemn the armed forces for alleged violation of human rights, activists and human rights watchdog organizations should raise their voice equally forcefully against violation of human rights by terrorists and their ilk. Hence, the Indian Armed Forces image has been tarnished by the local, national and international media which immensely assists the terrorists.

India is a signatory to International Humanitarian Law and all 12 conventions on terrorism. India firmly shares the perception of the Madrid Declaration, which advocated “harmonisation of domestic law regarding compensation for the victims of terrorism and the drafting of an international statute for the victims of terrorism”. India is one of the active participants in the deliberations of the Counter-Terrorism Committee set up by the Chairman of the Security Council pursuant to Resolution 1373. The Indian Armed Forces took immediate cognizance of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 and voluntarily established its Human Rights Cell in March 1993, six months prior to the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission in India. COAS’ Ten Commandments laying down the Code of Conduct for all ranks operating against armed insurgents and terrorists i.e. Do’s and Don’ts, are recognized by the Indian judicial system, and by the United Nations.

Despite Indian armed forces utmost sensitivity towards Human rights, its has been frequently painted as ‘monstrous institution of the state’ perpetrating widespread human rights violations by those very countries that in the first place are responsible for funding separatism, insurgency and terrorism in India. These allegations are fuelled by large scale media coverage and can only be put in the correct perspective by understanding the methods employed by the various terrorist organizations and the operational environment in which the Indian armed forces operates today. The doubts about human rights conduct of the soldiers in India and abroad arise currently on account of lack of understanding about terrorism and insurgencies, the difficulties faced in dealing with them, and human rights aberrations that take place in such operations.

The media is known to be a powerful force in confrontations between terrorists and security forces. Media influence on public opinion may impact not only the actions of governments/armed forces but also on those of groups engaged in terrorist acts. From the terrorist perspective, media coverage is an important measure of the success of a terrorist act or campaign. Especially in hostage situation, the media may provide the only independent means of information for a terrorist and coverage can complicate rescue efforts. Governments can take the help of media in an effort to arouse world opinion against the country or group using terrorist tactics. Public diplomacy and the media can also be used to mobilise public opinion in other countries to pressure governments to take, or reject action against terrorism.[5]

The challenge to both the government and press communities is to understand the dynamics of terrorist enterprise and to develop policy options designed to serve the interests of government including the security forces fighting the terrorists, the media, and the society. The media and the armed forces have common interests in seeing that the media are not manipulated into promoting the cause of terrorism or its methods. On the other hand, neither the media nor policymakers and law enforcer want to see terrorism, or CT operations, eroding constitutional freedoms, including that of the press, which one of the pillars of democratic societies. The challenge for policymakers is to explore mechanisms enhancing media/armed forces cooperation to accommodate the citizen and media need for honest coverage, while limiting the gains, uninhibited coverage may provide terrorists or their cause. Communication between the armed forces and the media here is an important element in any strategy to prevent terrorist causes and strategies from prevailing and to preserve democracy.[6]


An insurgency is like a child nurtured in its own environment and no two terrorists are similar. They differ substantially from one another and are a product of at least three factors. One is terrain that always influences operations. Another is the number of weapons available and the efficiency of its use by the terrorists. The third is the cause and the degree of support that it enjoys from the populace.[7]

Environmental Realities

In general, the environment is characterised by the following:-

  1. The general atmosphere is vitiated harbouring on mistrust and disloyalty.

  2. The populace, in general, is both the doer and the victim since it is from this pool that a misguided section rises up to be the terrorists/ undergrounds, forging many misdeeds on the residual populace.

  3. Three bastions of state administration i.e. bureaucracy, politicians and judiciary come under tremendous pressure because of the constant threat of retribution. Terrorists attempt to terrorise