Respect Human Dignity

Till a generation ago the emphasis of human rights was primarily defined as an essential duty and responsibility of every modern State. This reasoning was based on the perception that the State was the only form of legal institution with the monopoly to use ‘legitimate force’ and simultaneously the sole custodian of rights, with equal responsibility for any violations committed. From this viewpoint, any form of physical or structural violence perpetuated by the State was defined as the primary source of violence; while violence committed by non-State actors was termed as secondary violence. It has been adequately established that human rights violations is the first casualty of armed conflict.   

Though the State continues to be the primary institution responsible and accountable for human rights, the international community has increasingly been persuaded by developments in the last three decades to broaden the definition of what constitutes a violation, and to hold responsible both State and non-State groups engaged in armed conflict. Yet, this process has struggled to make considerable inroads in the discourse, since the fact remains that secondary violence is occurring within a historical and political context of a specific conflict. The primary violence by the State has remained the overriding concern.

Hence, even though non-State human rights violations are recognized as a predicament, demanding political and legal redressal, the procedures and mechanisms to address them are far from adequate. The weakness stems from existing state-centric frameworks which are grossly insufficient to hold even governments responsible and accountable for human rights violations. In essence, the only way to hold non-State actors responsible for human rights violations is to first ensure that the primary violence perpetuated by State actors is avoided. 

Many non-state groups are genuinely engaged in a struggle for independence and political recognition from existing states, and often any formal dealings with them results in diplomatic controversy. Since they lack formal political status they are not susceptible to the same political pressures as governments and are not bound by the same sort of treaties, laws and institutions. Furthermore, since non-state groups often do not seek the same international or national legitimacy as states or governments, the ploy of international humiliation does not have the same effect as it does on States.  

The existing State-centered system which is premised on sharp distinctions between State and non-State groups causes a serious obstacle in addressing issues of rights. Though this predicts a widening contradiction, numerous overlap exist between State and non-State groups. In some cases, non-State groups look and behave like would-be States; in some other cases, non-State groups have de facto control and dismantled existing bureaucracies to create alternatives. In some cases, the only difference between State and non-State groups is international recognition.     

Political violence on the ground operates along a continuum and hence a comprehensive approach that reflects and addresses this reality is required. It implies moving beyond the sharp distinction between domestic and international affairs and between political violence and violence per se. In a future where domestic and international jurisdiction is fluid and contested and where sovereignty is fragmented, the most effective and sustainable approach of preventing human rights violations in armed conflict, is to address core issues through a political process of negotiation and diplomacy. 

The challenge will be for non-State groups to muster the political will and moral courage to take responsibility, without justifications, in addressing violations committed from within its own ranks. Justice ought to be restorative and not punitive which is dispensed through a public process, whereby making it possible to initiate steps for healing to be become real in the context of societal transformation and political liberation. Within this context, it is imperative the Naga political organizations must take proactive initiatives to ensure that human right violations are not committed by its cadres. The best remedy is to prevent such incidents in the first place.