The Machil moment

Fair, transparent court martial proceedings would help restore the army's credibility in the Valley.

In April 2010, three youths were shot near the LoC at Kalaroos in Kashmir, branded as foreign militants and buried. Later it was found that they were local youths who had allegedly been lured to Kalaroos by army personnel with the promise of jobs and money. The Machil encounter had long shadows. It proved to be the flashpoint for the Kashmir protests of 2010, in which 123 people were killed. As the army now starts court martial proceedings against six personnel accused in the case, it could be the chance to address the hurt that has lingered in the Valley. It could also be an opportunity for the army to prove that it is invested in preventing and punishing human rights violations in the state.

So far, the army in Kashmir has been perceived to be insulating its personnel from civil criminal proceedings, and public faith in the court martial as a means to justice runs low. In the Machil encounter, widely believed to be a case of murder and abduction, the army invoked the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, even though it was evident that the killings had not taken place in the line of duty. The case was taken out of the trial court in Sopore and placed under the army's jurisdiction. Earlier cases have not set a heartening precedent. For instance, the investigation of the Pathribal encounter killings (2000) was caught in a tug of war between the CBI and the army for years, until the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the army could decide whether the case should be tried by regular criminal courts or through court martial proceedings. The army opted for the latter and the case has been put on the backburner. The BSF personnel tried by court martial for the Bijbehara massacre of 1993 were all acquitted. In numerous cases, the court martial has been seen as a way to short-circuit the due processes of law.

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