LAHORE: June 26: The large scale instances of torture in custody are a common practice in Pakistan and there is no law in the country to stop this menace. Parliament should enact law for criminalisation of torture.

These demands were made by speakers at a civil society seminar “Ending Torture: Protecting Human Rights”, organised by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), the South Asia Partnership-Pakistan (SAP-PK) and the Anti-Torture Alliance (ATA) Pakistan, on Wednesday in connection with the International Day in Support to Torture Victims at the HRCP Hall.

Speakers demanded the Pakistan government respect international treaties and ratify the optional protocol on torture. Despite prohibition of torture in the Constitution of Pakistan under article 14 (2), police and other law-enforcement agencies are running detention and torture cells. These centres must be immediately closed and the perpetrators of torture must be brought to justice.

HRCP Director IA Rehman said investigation through torture was a common practice of police in Pakistan.

“Torture is a colonial legacy, which has been continued in Pakistan for decades,” he said, adding: “Torture is generally used to extort confessional statements from detainees. It has become societal attitude. Most of jail inmates are under trial prisoners, which is tantamount to torture as well. Similarly handcuffing of under custody is illegal, but the police still use it. The state agents justify torture in good faith for national security.”

About Article 2 of UNCAT, he urged the states to incorporate admin, judicial and legal reforms in their respective legal systems. Even during war torture cannot be justified, he clarified. Under the UNCAT “No state shall hand over to another state any person, who might be tortured”.

He urged the state to develop mechanism to ensure protection and safety of human rights defenders. “It is imperative for the civil society to initiate solid steps to protect victims of torture by forging unity to stand up against the menace by involving rights-based groups, rights activists and individuals,” he said.

Anti-Torture Alliance Pakistan’s Bushra Khaliq said there were 1,300 police stations in Pakistan and it could assumed that at least 1,300 people are tortured every day. Two important conventions were ratified in 2010, which prohibits torture. She clarifies that Section 332-337 of PPC deals with hurt, and not torture.

She said at present there was no law to criminalize custodial torture in Pakistan, this reason giving rise to incidents of unabated torture in police custody. Thousands of cases of severe torture in police custody are reported every year. Sexual violence is reported by up to 70 per cent of women in police custody, along with the violation of their basic human rights. Making torture a criminal offence can stop this menace. She said there were no adequate and proper independent investigation procedures in Pakistan to investigate through modern and scientific methods such as forensic methods in the criminal justice system.

SAP-PK Director Muhammad Tehseen presented the civil society charter of demands that the government perform its constitutional responsibility and check the menace of custodial torture. He said Pakistan had ratified the UN Convention against Torture and other cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment in June 2010, but it had yet to take steps for the implementation of this convention. He said making torture a punishable crime could stop this practice.

He demanded legislation for an absolute ban on torture by police, law enforcement agencies and state or non-state actors. He demanded that provincial governments improve the condition of human rights standards at police stations, lock ups and jails. At least female SHOs can be appointed in the model police stations in different parts of the province.

Journalist Khawar Naeem Hashmi said Pakistan was not a free country and people suffered state torture daily. He said he was detained in Lahore Fort during the Zia regime, where he faced the worst form of inhuman torture. Hundreds of political activists were subjected to torture during martial law period, but the stories of these torture victims were not documented.

Political activist and torture victim Sajida Mir said in her testimony that in martial law regimes political workers and innocent people were arrested and subjected to state-sponsored torture. They did not spare even women, who dared to resist the regime. Police exploited political workers and women, which was another form of torture.

Zakia Arshad from SAP-PK said lack of public awareness on the human rights had also aggravated the issue of rising torture and ill treatment. Therefore there is a strong need for the sensitization of the lawmakers, judiciary and law enforcement bodies on the subject of torture.

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