And who will do the protecting?

Amnesty International sounds like Al Qaeda

Mukul Sharma, of Amnesty International, does the Amnesty International thing in the Hindu. Terror must be countered with justice he writes, which is all very fine. But Mr Sharma is also against special laws that can used to bring terrorists to justice. All he has to say is:

The only way people can be protected — from both governments and suicide bombers — is to treat every single human being as possessing fundamental rights that no government, group or individual may ever justifiably take away. Human rights are grounded in fundamental values that create ‘no go areas’ — acts that one human being must never do to another. [The Hindu]

And who can disagree with that? But Mr Sharma doesn’t say who it is that should do the protecting, the government or the suicide bombers? If indeed the government should do this, it must bring the terrorists to justice, for which it not only needs laws, but needs to carry out investigations today, not at an ideal time when law enforcement agencies are perfect.

But then, Mr Sharma comes out against forceful investigations because of “the actions of certain groups and individuals, entire communities are being viewed with suspicion…If whole communities are antagonised and alienated by the security forces using terror, aren’t those communities more likely to respond with supporting the use of violence?” That’s a series of specious arguments—it is not reasonable to contend that a government of a multi-religious state can investigate and fight terrorism born of Islamic radicalism without antagonising a proportion of the Muslim community. Defeating Khalistani terrorism involved antagonising many Sikhs. Fighting ULFA antagonises many Assamese. Fighting LTTE antagonises some Tamils. The question Mr Sharma must answer is whether the cause of human rights is served by setting aside the pursuit of justice just because it would cause this antagonism?

The second specious argument, and a more egregious one, is that it is somehow justifiable for “antagonised and alienated” communities to respond with violence. So just how different is Amnesty International from Al Qaeda, then? “If governments abandon the rule of law and use methods of terror,” Mr Sharma asks, “then won’t groups fighting governments feel justified in using methods of terror themselves?” That’s an explicit apology for terrorism and political violence, disguised though it is as a rhetorical question. Neither jihadi groups nor Naxalites really need external justification for their violence. Armed struggle is a core belief. So passing off terrorism as a “reaction” to some failing of the government is wrong, and even if were right, cannot be morally justified.

The case for human rights is built on a bedrock of morality, so it is not least paradoxical that an organisation claiming to defend those rights can throw up arguments based on vacuous morality.

Related posts: After terrorists, their apologists strike

28 thoughts on “And who will do the protecting?”

  1. Nitin, an excellent analysis. Thanks for pointing out the vacuousness of Mukul Sharma’s pointless piece.

    Your post title asks “And who will do the protecting?” I would like to ask Mr Sharma who is the subject in his statement, “The only way people can be protected — from both governments and suicide bombers — is to treat every single human being as possessing fundamental rights …” Who is the subject of the verb “to treat” in that statement?

    Mr Sharma can best be characterized as a “bleeding heart idiot”. He thinks that writing fluffy text that makes one come over all warm and fuzzy is sufficient to counter ideologically motivated terrorism. He will be singing an entirely different tune the day he or his own are the victim of suicide bombers.

  2. 1. I do give Mukul Sharma credit for asking himself:

    “How would you feel if your child’s life was at stake,”
    …. Maybe we would ourselves commit an atrocity if we believed it would save our loved ones – but it would remain an atrocity.”

    2. I continue to hold an analog position in an increasingly discrete binary debate: that things such as review panels operating 2 steps behind a track team that IS empowered with some version of super-law (a refined POTA perhaps) and that efficiently weeds out and checks their excesses, *could* be the way forward. But I’m getting as little traction with this here as I do with the human-rights-only folks.

    3. Violence is a core belief.

    Granted straightaway. There will be some who are into this who wont ever stop or rethink. But there is no sense in giving them oppty to swell their ranks. I’ve heard that in the BOM blast trials several suspects/undertrials/ convicts repeatedly declared the lack of justice after the ’92 riots as a causative factor.

    Even if half of these guys were making that up as an excuse to cover their core violent nature, the benefit from preventing the remaining half “going postal” shouldnt be discounted; not to mention the basic fact that terror needs justice whether inflicted by bomb in a sneak attack or gas cylinder in an open riot.

    regards,
    Jai

  3. Jai,

    Based on what I see from your comments on this blog, you seem to conflate a black & white view of the ends with a black & white view of the means.

    These are two different things. You can’t fight terrorism if you sit on the fence as to the morality of terrorism and political violence in a constitutional democracy. There is no scope for middle ground against people for whom violence is an inseparable part of their political agenda. I’m suspicious of claims to the contrary and believe such claims effectively support the terrorists, whatever may be the motivations of those who make the claim.

    As for the means, no public policy—from taxation to anti-terrorism—can be made on black & white terms. It’s always a balance and a trade-off, and there is a time dimension too. The imagery is that of an artist with a palette of colours and brushes. No reasonable person arguing for stringent anti-terror law is making a case for a blank cheque. Circumscribing is necessary, checks and balances are necessary, judicial review is necessary, even a sunset clause is necessary.

    The point is proponents of ‘human rights’ are not even discussing this; they have halted the debate at the point of POTA or no-POTA. So I’d say middle-grounders like you need to spend more time convincing human-righters.

    (And please—I detest tricks like “if it were our children, we ourselves would commit such atrocities”. That’s an insult to so many parents who’ve lost children and pursue justice in the normal way. Mr Sharma is speaking for himself, perhaps.)

  4. >> “If governments abandon the rule of law and use methods of terror,” Mr Sharma asks, “then won’t groups fighting governments feel justified in using methods of terror themselves?” That’s an explicit apology for terrorism and political violence ..

    More than that. It also betrays Sharma’s barely-concealed belief that some groups are somehow more prone than others to killing innocent people. Sharma needs to open eyes and look around. Take Kashmiri Hindu refugees. They were betrayed by all governments, and they believe that Kashmir government is not interested in restoring their rights and property to them. But they aren’t detonating bombs killing innocent people. Consider also the example of Tibetan Buddhists. Terror is literally let loose on them, but they are not blasting bombs either. Indian freedom struggle was waged mostly on principles of non-violence, and when it was not, the targets of violence were not random, innocent bystanders.

    Despite the evidence that disproves his claims, Sharma has somehow convinced himself that some groups — say for example Muslims — can’t help killing innocents allegedly because governments use “terror” on them. Amnesty is sounding not only like Al Qaeda, but also like far-right anti-Muslims who think every Muslim is doctrinally predisposed to the idea of killing innocents.

  5. Mr Sharma is now seeking to cloak his arguments in the libertarian mold (“save individuals from Government”) and thereby discredit that fine socio-political doctrine.

    What the yanks call libertarianism and the euros would call ‘classical liberalism’ is a fine philosophy that is actually attainable in reality. It should not be tainted with the likes of Mr Sharma twisting it to shield (however unwittingly) terrorists and their sympathizers.

  6. Nitin,

    “… ‘human rights’ are not even discussing this; they have halted the debate at the point of POTA or no-POTA. …”

    to my increasing disappointment, I have to concede this is very true. There is argument, about how police action on the ground tends to be draconian enough already, but it largely seems (to me) to be made after the conclusion desired has been formed, viz.

    – that there should be no POTA, no.
    – not even any kind-of-POTA, no.
    – not even administered by this most secular of governments, no.

    Its all built around that NO. Not a very effective answer to terrorism, even after we include riots, pogroms, whatever into that ambit.

    And I suspect its going to cost us a lot in terms of gain to the BJP. Ive been hogging comment space for quite a while. I’ll be off now for sometime.

    Thx,
    Jai

  7. Jai,

    My previous comment was not meant to discourage you from commenting…rather, it was to point out where the human-righters are going wrong.

  8. I found an interesting passage in Kenneth Waltz’s Man, the State and War. On page 163, he explains Kant’s philosophy.

    After the state is established, men have some chance of behaving morally. Before the state is established, uncertainty and violence make this impossible. Men need the security of law before improvement in their moral lives is possible. The civil state makes possible the ethical life of the individual by protecting the rights that were logically his in the state of nature, though actually he could not enjoy them.

  9. Nitin,

    Is it fair to blame only the human rights folks for the paucity of debate? Even those favoring tough laws are unwilling to take the debate beyond POTA/non-POTA. Is there real evidence that POTA actually brought down terror? If there is, one can legitimately debate whether the cost of POTA outweighs its benefits or not. So far, I am yet to find anyone who has offered a cogent argument of that kind. So why blame Mukul Sharma? After all, you have people with particular agendas all making their points (environmentalists, socialists, rural development – you name it), so why single this one out? His broader point that brutality and terror have no place is absolutely right. B.Raman has made the same point about Afghanistan and how the scorched earth tactics of NATO forces has driven more and more young people into the arms of the Taliban. If governments in India arrest people arbitrarily and apply third degree methods to them without inhibition with no recourse from our conviction-obsessed criminal justice system, do you seriously expect all that abuse to not have any consequences? The point is not whether jihadi organizations care about human rights or not; the point is whether its absence will aid their recruitment of disaffected youth. I think we cannot ignore that he has a point here.

  10. Dear Cupid,

    Is there real evidence that POTA actually brought down terror?

    I think it was B S Raghavan who asked if the Indian Penal Code actually prevented crime. If you are looking for evidence, it does appear that 21 terrorist attacks took place after POTA was repealed.

    Mr Raman’s point about NATO is beside the point. NATO is a foreign military force imposing order in a war-ravaged Afghanistan. The Indian context is different.

  11. Cupid,

    >>Is there real evidence that POTA actually brought down terror?

    In the same vein, is there any evidence that innocents suffered under POTA?

  12. Nitin,

    You are doing injustice to the original article. I don’t see how you made an Al Qaeda out of a sensible warning that human rights could be violated during times like this. In particular, the author shows empathy with the victims saying they are prone to committing atrocities due to desperation.

    Why is it unreasonable to contend that fighting terrorism is not possible without antagonising Muslims? You can’t expect defenders of civil liberties to walk away just because there is a war on terror. The media and bloggers have a responsibility to highlight every single case of police violation of rights so that they improve their methods. Assume that India (or Karnataka) issues such a law in the near future, will National Interest commit to having a section solely devoted to exposing violations, like the various Offstumped posts on Narendra Modi’s media coverage?

    Of course I didn’t mean that literally. But I am saying some people feel strongly about civil liberties.

    The author was making the point that since the State claims monopoly over violence, it ought to follow due process when deploying it. Otherwise they’ll be no different from Al Qaeda. We know that our police is corrupt and prone to political interference. That’s why the words of caution.

    Beyond that is a debate whether POTA/TADA actually work despite their dangers. I don’t have enough facts to argue on that.

  13. Pramod,

    Why is it unreasonable to contend that fighting terrorism is not possible without antagonising Muslims?
    Who says this is not possible? Where is it implied that such is not possible? By making this case, are you not sir, (akin to the ‘secular’ political parties) not saying that aggressively pursueing or prosecuting terrorism cases itself antagonises the muslim community? If a convicted terrorist, ordered executed by the SC of India after every ounce of due process is followed, is still consuming oxygen because following the law of the land == antagonizing a particular community, what does that show?

    Insidious. You imply that anyone supporting the fight against terrorism also, by default, supports antagonizing the muslim community.

    You can’t expect defenders of civil liberties to walk away just because there is a war on terror.
    And who is asking them to walk away? Point is do they recognise that after due process is allowed and followed, and the judicial process of the land issues its verdict (as it did in the Binyak Sen and Afzal cases), one *should* walk away. That further contesting the judicial verdict, second guessing it, ascribing it dubious motivations (seen particularly in the Binayak Sen case) is shooting the constitution and due process itself in the foot?

    Hey, am sure I’m missing something here. Am willing to listen and learn to cogent reasoning. But ascribing underhand motives such as ‘wanting to antagonize muslims’ everytime someone makes a call for a tougher legal and police line on terror, on the basis of unproven and often egregious assumptions to that someone, don’t do your arguements any credit.

    JMTPs, IMVVHOs. Standard disclaimers hold
    /Have a nice day, all.

  14. Nitin and Oldtimer,

    For one thing, I do not know how many attacks took place when POTA was around (Akshardam is one but I do not know about the others) to compare the figure of 21 with. Secondly, to measure effectiveness of POTA, we need to ask how many were tried in both instances and successfully prevented. Thirdly, we need to compare the number of leads obtained with and without POTA and the proportion of those that proved to be for real (eliminate the false positives). Without any of this, it is impossible to know whether or not POTA was effective – the one number does not indicate anything.

    Sharma says that 3500 people were arrested under this Act. How many of these have been convicted? In how many cases has evidence been collected to make out a prima facie case for indictment? We again have no numbers, so it is premature to say that it has or has not worked.

    Finally, it is important to also recognize that it is not true that POTA was repealed in toto. In fact, the government lifted Chapters 4, 5 and 6 straight out of it and incorporated them as an amendment into the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (1967). Only certain egregious provisions such as allowing introduction of confessions made to police as testimony in the trial which led to the worst form of abuses under TADA were repealed. So, now that we have this attack, how likely is it that the lack of POTA (mostly in name) has actually emboldened terrorists? We do not obviously have a definitive answer but it is worthwhile to be at least skeptical of such a claim.

    Mukul Sharma is right that we need better and more modern ways to collect intelligence. Old fashioned methods such as arbitrary arrests and torture are better suited to medieval autocracies, not a modern-day democracy.

  15. Cupid,

    You did not really answer my question:

    “is there any evidence that innocents suffered under POTA?”

    but I’ll take the following as a sort-of answer:

    >>We again have no numbers, so it is premature to say that it has or has not worked.

    Very good. If we don’t have the numbers to tell us concretely that POTA vicitimized innocent people, then human rights professionals’ demand to repeal it seem to have been based on old-fashioned methods like whipping up paranoia, rather than on the basis of scientific evidence.

    Now what if POTA did prevent some of the terrorist attacks? That would mean that the activism of HR professionals has actually resulted in the killing of innocent people. Since we don’t have the numbers, we cannot entirely rule out the possibility that people like Sharma are not accountable for the violation of human rights by terrorists.

    It’s ironic that those who claim to be defenders of human rights should be under a cloud of suspicion of facilitating the violation of human rights.

  16. Sud,

    Sorry about that. I got tangled in double negatives 😀 What I meant to say was: It is reasonable to contend that it is possible to fight terrorism without antagonizing minorities, and we should press government to do the same.

    I think it’s actually Nitin who makes the point that fighting terrorism (born of Islamic radicalism as he puts it) will involve some amount of antagonizing the particular community.

  17. Oldtimer,

    I do not know whether POTA helped or not. Today’s article by Praveen Swami in the Hindu (27th May) gives you the numbers for TADA – 72,000 out of 77,000 released without charges and 1.8% conviction for the rest. Does that inspire any degree of confidence? The broader problem is the way our criminal justice system works which badly needs to be fixed.

    Every time there is an attack, the police go to the slums, round up the youth and haul them to the police station for interrogation. And when a large number of people have died, they are under enormous pressure to come up with quick results. In such a scenario, give them POTA and allow them to detain for 180 days without filing charges and also to enter into the record confessions obtained from undertrials. Is it unreasonable under such circumstances to believe that such an environment is conducive to torture? I do not believe so.

    What if POTA has prevented attacks? If it has, then we need to ask whether the trade-off is worth it and whether there are alternatives that mitigate its abuse without reducing its effectiveness (eg. allow habeas corpus petitions, lower time limit, etc.). The best way to refute Sharma is to come up with evidence to show that POTA and similar laws indeed work. Rhetoric alone will not suffice especially when it comprises on our liberty.

  18. I don’t understand why anyone should suffer because one cop has a brainwave! Laws such as TADA/POTA belong to the middle ages. The focus needs to be on modernizing the investigating agencies and the judiciary. And yes, on building trust with the local community.

    When they are not able to find the perpetrators of any of the major terrorist acts, what is the use of a bigger stick? What the police need is a bigger brain.

  19. So passing off terrorism as a “reaction” to some failing of the government is wrong, and even if were right, cannot be morally justified.

    The case for human rights is built on a bedrock of morality, so it is not least paradoxical that an organisation claiming to defend those rights can throw up arguments based on vacuous morality.

    Nitin, I think the arguments of Mukul Sharma and Amnesty International can be traced back to a corollary of a quote in one of your comments: (and) after the state is established, men have some chance of behaving morally.

    Thus once the state (and law enforcement) is established and man starts behaving morally, he also expects the state enforcement apparatus to have the same morality. Ergo, the liberal arguments against death penalty, the arguments against “big defence”, the arguments against terror laws. We find these things morally reprehensible if done individually — our morality dictates that — and hence the dissonance required to not demand the same morality from the state is huge. At a high level, Amnesty International is being consistent, you and I are not.

  20. Hello cupid,

    >>If it has, then we need to ask whether the trade-off is worth it and whether there are alternatives that mitigate its abuse without reducing its effectiveness

    We do know that several terrorist attacks happened after the repeal of POTA and that several hundred innocent people were murdered in these attacks. Therefore, we cannot rule out putting part of the blame for the spilling of innocent blood (and the abuse of human rights) at the door of human rights activists whose commitment to protecting the rights of the innocent people is suspect.

    Why are people like Mukul Sharma not giving us concrete evidence and numbers for abuse of POTA? Their studied silence on this matter is concerning, because in the absence of data, human rights movement is actually being debased and discredited with old-style whipping up of paranoia.

  21. 7*6

    Thus once the state (and law enforcement) is established and man starts behaving morally, he also expects the state enforcement apparatus to have the same morality. Ergo, the liberal arguments against death penalty, the arguments against “big defence”, the arguments against terror laws.

    No, it doesn’t follow. Hobbes (and I think Kant) argue that the morality of the sovereign is different from the morality of the citizen. In the Indian tradition, raj dharma is not quite the same as the individual’s dharma.

    The morality of the sovereign (ie the ‘state’) is to ensure that citizens can have a moral life, by providing security and the rule of law.

    Though the state itself is sovereign, we do impose rule of law on the functionaries and institutions of the state, through constitutional checks and balances, because we realise that these are in the end, comprised of human beings.

    I agree with the argument (actually, I insist) that the functionaries of the state are legally bound in the way they discharge their responsibilities. The case I make is that those laws need to be changed to tackle terrorism. If tax, environmental and intellectual property laws can be changed to suit the times, why not criminal laws?

  22. Nitin,

    Nothing to do with your comment. My very ambivalence requires me to be in a listen-mode. Eg. if it is CSPSA that enables Dr.Binayak Sen to be imprisoned on some really flimsy charges (IMHO) there is a case against such super-law.

    Cupid, Pramod, jujung,

    Thanks for the spirited discussion here, and mostly you have better arguments than me.

    I just cant help this feeling though, that the current Govt goes out of its way to play up POTA as an anti-minority thing and uses it as cynically as the opposition (perhaps more) its utility being limited to votebanking, and little thought is given to actual prevention of terrorism.

    It seems to set out with what it will NOT do. It perhaps wishes to avoid even the perception that it antagonizes Muslims – which is weird considering the Malegaon, Mecca Masjid and Ajmer Dargah blasts – to the extent that it cant be seen as signing onto anything more than IPC.

    Please dont be surprised if we get a swing back to BJP soon 🙁
    May I suggest some form of superlaw and we first clap the Gujarat rioters into jail under this?

    Cupid,

    I’ve always believed as you state at #17 that a fair bit of police results is extracted thru dubious means and from possibly innocent suspects. Now, can we move from here onto the next step with some means to have reduce this and have better results?

    Everyone,

    Request this discussion is not viewed in mutually exclusive either-or terms.
    – Improving intelligence collection,
    – improving judicial process etc.
    – some kind of review panel / oversight
    are I think on *everybody’s* list here.

    And eagerly second Pramod? suggestion that we should have numbers for POTA or any superlaw.

    Thanks,
    Jai

  23. Nitin, I personally agree with the contention that the state be bound by different moralities than the individual, I was only outlining the philosophy of the human rights groups, who do not however accept that contention.
    But the question is why are you correct and they wrong? At the root, the problem is that of moral authorities.

    If we accept humanism, with its doctrines of inviolable rights, as the moral authority, then we would have to accede to the contention of the human rights groups. If we accept God and scriptures as the authority, and believe our kings/government share that authority, then it can be accepted that the raj-dharma be different from the individual-dharma.

    If we accept utilitarianism as the authority, then too the latter contention of raj-dharma being different can be accepted, and indeed, as you’ve outlined, is necessary.

    In effect then you’re rejecting the authority and moral-code of humanism; the very premiss of the human rights groups.

  24. 7*6,

    Seems to me the disagreement between the two camps here is not resolvable because the core contentions involved are not objective but axiomatic in nature.

    An axiom, by definition, can neither be proved or disproved. It has to be taken as given for a logically consistent system to then be built upon it. Much like theology is built on the axiomatic principle that ‘God exists’. Why even Eucledian mathematics is built on certain axiomatic principles.

    Coming back to the argument here, seems like which morality (the HR one or the opposingone) is the *true* authority is also axiomatic. Like two parallel lines in Euclidean geometry, there two need never meet.

    How then to resolve this impasse? Who is to decide which morality ‘wins’ or prevails? IMHO, let people by way of a fair democratic vote decide. Its not perfect, this solution, but to quote a cliche, its better than the alternatives. If both camps can agree on democracy as the answer, then there is no problem. Democratically elected governments make laws and do the protecting against terrorists. But as you’ll soon see, the HR camp rejects this egalitarian notion that one-man one vote can be an acceptable basis to resolve the impasse. This elitist camp has decided that their morality alone is the sole true one, period. The debate ends there because they have rejected the possibility of common ground.

    IMVVHOs etc.
    /Have a nice day, all.

  25. I agree that the state must be held to higher moral standards than are individuals held to. But how is that point relevant to human rights activism? I suppose the purpose of human rights activism is to defend human rights towards the objective of eradicating their abuse, NOT giving lessons in morality to the state (alone).

  26. Cupid,

    Do you blog? both at RealityCheck and here, you have IMHO some of the most substantive counter arguments and I like that it does not appear to be ideologically driven but more facts-based and informative.

    Eg:

    “Finally, it is important to also recognize that it is not true that POTA was repealed in toto. In fact, the government lifted Chapters 4, 5 and 6 straight out of it and incorporated them as an amendment into the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (1967).”

    IF you dont blog, could you pls provide links to the blogs that in your opinion most closely reflect your stand.

    Thanks,
    Jai
    PS: Nitin, sorry for some OT messaging on thread, hope its okay.

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