India’s top court ruled on Tuesday that police killings must be independently investigated, seeking to hold the force accountable for a high incidence of extra-judicial killings across the country.
Indian police have long come under fire from human rights groups for so-called “encounter killings”, in which they gun down an alleged criminal to sidestep court procedures and claim the victim fired first.
The Supreme Court said every death at police hands must now be recorded and investigated by an independent agency or a police unit not involved in the case.
Each death must also be examined by a magistrate, said the court.
Amnesty International welcomed the ruling and called for an end to impunity.
“Too often, investigations into alleged fake encounters are neither independent nor impartial and lead to impunity for these crimes,” it said in a statement.
The court gave its ruling after the People’s Union for Civil Liberties filed a petition asking it to investigate the matter.
Exact figures are not available, but human rights groups say hundreds of people have been killed in clandestine offensives launched by the police and armed forces over the years.
A 2009 Human Rights Watch report quoted an Indian police officer as saying that almost every so-called encounter killing was in fact deliberate.
“In 99.1 per cent (of cases), it’s fake... in a real encounter, the police would also get injured,” said the unnamed officer.
Many such cases occur in parts of central and eastern India battling a long-running Maoist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives, and in northern regions where secessionist activities are rife.
In one high-profile case in 2005, police in Gujarat gunned down a Muslim man, Sohrabuddin Sheikh. They claimed he planned to assassinate the then-chief minister Narendra Modi, now India’s prime minister.
The state later admitted in court that police had killed Sheikh in a staged gunbattle.
The announcement at COP28 in Dubai puts Turkey in the race against Australia