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Non-international armed conflict in India

Conflict type: Non-international armed conflict

The Indian Government is involved in a non-international armed conflict against the Communist Party of India – Maoist, a non-state armed group. This group is also frequently referred to as the Naxalites.

The Government of India is involved in a non-international armed conflict with the Communist Party of India-Maoist, a non-state armed group. Although various incarnations of this group have been involved in some form of insurgency since 1967; an increase in the intensity of violence in the late 2000s means that the situation currently qualifies as a non-international armed conflict. For an overview of the history of the conflict, see A. Bellal (ed), The War Report. Armed Conflict in 2014, Oxford University Press, 2015, pp 178ff.

Two criteria need to be assessed in order to answer the question whether a situation of armed violence amounts to a non-international armed conflict.

  • First, the level of armed violence must reach a certain degree of intensity that goes beyond internal disturbances and tensions.
  • Second, in every non-international armed conflict, at least one side to the conflict must be a non-state armed group which must exhibit a certain level of organisation. Government forces are presumed to satisfy the criteria of organisation. For further information, see ‘non-international armed conflict' in our classification section.

​​Intensity of the violence

Various indicative factors are used to assess whether a given situation has met the required intensity threshold, such as the number, duration and intensity of individual confrontations; the types of weapons and military equipment used; the number of persons and types of forces participating in the fighting; the number of casualties; the extent of material destruction; the number of civilians fleeing; and the involvement of the United Nations Security Council. For further information, see ‘non-international armed conflict – intensity of violence’ in our classification section.

The degree of the hostilities between the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-M) and the Indian Government and authorities satisfies the intensity criterion associated with non-international armed conflict. The territorial control exerted by the Naxalites, S. Prisana, ‘Red Belt, Green Hunt, Grey Law: India’s Naxalite-Maoist Insurgency and the Law of Non-International Armed Conflict’ 68 UCLA Law Review (2016) 517. and the significant armed response of the government are the most important factors to conclude that the intensity criterion is satisfied. Attacks are spread over time and territory, affecting the local population with daily attacks and disturbances. The Naxalites attack strategic structures and harm the security and police forces with various types of weapons and strategies. There have been a significant number of internally displaced persons (IDPs). The intensity of the violence is also illustrated by the number and nature of the armed clashes. Confrontations between the Government of India and the CPI-M, and attacks by the CPI-M, occur at a relatively consistent level of frequency. For example, the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project counted at least 198 ‘battle events’, ‘strategic developments’, and ‘remote violence’ incidents involving the CPI-M from January 2015 to January 2016, see ACLED, Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, Country File India, ACLED Asia Data Set. Fighting between the Government of India and the CPI-M also occurs across a large geographic area. For instance, in 2016 clashes were reported in twelve states. See ACLED, Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, Country File India, ACLED Asia Data Set. ACLED: Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, Country File ‘India’ 2015-2016, ACLED Asia data. Attacks frequently target infrastructure, such as road construction sites, rail tracks and trains as well as telecommunication buildings, and bridges. The CPI-M also regularly attack police stations, conduct ambushes on police stations and special task forces, damage police property (for example, police vehicles) and engage in open-fire confrontations with policemen and other security forces. ACLED, Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, Country File India, ACLED Asia Data Set. In addition, the group conducted several abductions, including a large-scale abduction of 250 villagers in 2015 for a one-day captivity. ‘Chhattisgarh "Hostage” Crisis: Maoists Kill 1 Tribal, Others Allowed to Return Home’, The Indian Express, 10 May 2015.

The intensity of the armed violence is also illustrated by the number of people displaced. For example, in 2015 at least 70,060 individuals were displaced in areas affected by the armed conflict. Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, Internal Displacement in India, April 2015.

In response, the Indian Government deployed a paramilitary police force, trained for counterinsurgency and jungle warfare, and equipped with standard infantry munitions. The principal force is the Commando Battalions for Resolution Action (COBRA), established in 2008. Human Rights Watch, Between Two Sets of Guns – Attacks on Civil Society Activists in India’s Maoist Conflict, 30 July 2012. By 2013, approximately 84,000 paramilitary police were stationed in the ‘Red Corridor’, i.e. areas subject to CPI-M influence. S. Prisana, ‘Red Belt, Green Hunt, Grey Law: India’s Naxalite-Maoist Insurgency and the Law of Non-International Armed Conflict’ 68 UCLA Law Review (2016) 519.

Organization

A series of indicative factors are used to assess whether armed groups exhibit the required degree of organisation, such as the existence of a command structure and disciplinary rules and mechanisms, the ability to procure, transport, and distribute arms, the ability to plan, coordinate and carry out military operations, the ability to negotiate and conclude agreements, e.g. cease fire or peace agreements. If the criterion of a minimum organisation of the armed groups is not fulfilled, there is no armed conflict. For further information, see ‘non-international armed conflict – organization’ in our classification section.

The Communist Party of India – Maoist (CPI-M) satisfies the organisation criterion. First, the armed group has an extensive hierarchical command structure with the upper tiers promulgating orders and delegating tasks to subordinate groups and individuals. S. Prisana, ‘Red Belt, Green Hunt, Grey Law: India’s Naxalite-Maoist Insurgency and the Law of Non-International Armed Conflict’ 68 UCLA Law Review (2016) 517-8, 523. Orders are given by the Central Committee which controls the entire operations of the Naxalites. To give effect to these orders, and those of state- and local-level Committees, a Central Military Commission has been established which coordinates the orders on the ground. Commentators have acknowledged that the command structure of the Naxalites, while sophisticated, leaves considerable operational autonomy to the lower level militias. A Sinha and M Vaishnav, ‘The Naxalite Insurgency in India’, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 14 November 2012.

Second, the CPI-M exercises significant territorial control, namely in the “Red Corridor” of 10 states through Central and Eastern India. S. Prisana, ‘Red Belt, Green Hunt, Grey Law: India’s Naxalite-Maoist Insurgency and the Law of Non-International Armed Conflict’ 68 UCLA Law Review (2016) 522. However, this territorial control is not exercised exclusively by the CPI-M. S. Prisana, ‘Red Belt, Green Hunt, Grey Law: India’s Naxalite-Maoist Insurgency and the Law of Non-International Armed Conflict’ 68 UCLA Law Review (2016) 522. Within that territory, the Naxalites store most of their weapons and train their recruits. S. Prisana, ‘Red Belt, Green Hunt, Grey Law: India’s Naxalite-Maoist Insurgency and the Law of Non-International Armed Conflict’ 68 UCLA Law Review (2016) 517.

Third, the Naxalites carry out their attacks across a geographically diverse area, indicating an ability to plan, coordinate and carry out military operations. Examples of such operations are a number of successful attacks disrupting important railway lines in 2015. See the information provided by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, ‘Terrorist Attacks on Railways in India’, 2015. They obtain weapons in targeted attacks and from battlefield victories. ‘Naxals amassing hi-tech weapons, Chhattisgarh Police worried’, The Economic Times, 13 September 2013.

Finally, the CPI-M have also disseminated internal regulations, such as the ‘Strategy and Tactics of the Indian Revolution’. S. Prisana, ‘Red Belt, Green Hunt, Grey Law: India’s Naxalite-Maoist Insurgency and the Law of Non-International Armed Conflict’ 68 UCLA Law Review (2016) 523.

All parties to the conflict are bound by Article 3 common to the 1949 Geneva Conventions that provides for the minimum standard to be respected and requires humane treatment without adverse distinction of all persons not or no longer taking active parts in hostilities. It prohibits murder, mutilation, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, hostage taking and unfair trials.

All parties are bound by customary international humanitarian law applicable to non-international armed conflicts. Customary international law consists of unwritten rules that come from a general practice accepted as law. Based on extensive study, the International Committee of the Red Cross maintains a database of customary international humanitarian law.

In addition to international humanitarian law, international human rights law continues to apply during times of armed conflict. Under human rights law, the territorial state has an obligation to prevent and investigate alleged violations, including by non-state actors. Non-state armed groups are increasingly considered to be bound by international human rights law if they exercise de facto control over some areas.

State parties

India

Non-state parties

The group that is now the Communist Party of India - Maoist (CPI-M) first emerged as a rebel group in 1967 following a peasant uprising in the West Bengali village of Naxalbari. A. Buncombe, ‘The Big Question: Who Are the Naxalites and Will They Topple the Indian Government?’, The Independent, 7 April 2010.  In its current incarnation, it was formed in 2004 from the merging of the People’s War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre. The group is frequently referred to as the Naxalites. S. Prisana, ‘Red Belt, Green Hunt, Grey Law: India’s Naxalite-Maoist Insurgency and the Law of Non-International Armed Conflict’ 68 UCLA Law Review (2016) 493. See also A. Bellal (ed), The War Report. Armed Conflict in 2014, Oxford University Press, 2015, p 181.

Last updated: Monday 23rd October 2017