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Rights activists demand anti-torture law

June 27, 2014

KARACHI: “The current state of Balochistan is such that if we dig a hole anywhere we discover a mass grave there,” said Kareema Baloch, vice chairperson of the Baloch Students Organisation (Azad), while presiding over a seminar on Thursday.

“The bodies include women’s, too. And each body tells a different story of torture. Some have the skin of their face peeled off as what happened to Tariq Karim or an arm missing such as Rasool Bakhsh Mengal’s. Others are found with their internal organs taken out or something or the other. When we find them we don’t even find our dead in one piece,” she said.

The seminar titled ‘Enact Law Against Torture’ was organised by the Karachi Press Club (KPC) in collaboration with Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Asian Human Rights Commission, High Court Bar Association, Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF), and the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler).

Ms Baloch said: “Some of our people who have been picked up by agencies have still not been returned and we are running from pillar to post to find them. You can’t even begin to imagine the mental torture and agony that we are going through during all this.”

Asad Iqbal Butt of the HRCP said that thousands of people had been picked up by the agencies and when they died after being tortured, their bodies were dumped anywhere.

“There are courts to punish culprits. Why are we kidnapping who we need to be tried in court? We must train law-enforcement agencies not to torture people,” he said. Hassan Athar of the Asian Human Rights Commission said that they had been trying to present an anti-torture bill in the assembly since 2006. “As compared to other countries of the world, human rights atrocities are mostly seen in the seven South Asian countries that used to be British colonies. But they have bills against these things in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Here in Pakistan we have been trying since 2006 and on the issue we even prepared in 2012 a bill that is yet to be presented in the parliament,” he said.

Zulfiqar Shah of Piler said it was unfortunate that in this country, attempts were made to finish ‘criminals’ instead of their ‘crime’.

“And torturing the people we believe to be criminals hurts their dignity and will, damaging their self confidence. It is an inhumane practice. But to stop all this there is a need to impose an anti-torture law. That would be the first step,” he said.

MQM coordination committee member Haider Abbas Rizvi said that torture had been used as a tool by successive governments. “I have myself been tortured many times due to which my front teeth are fake, my fingers have been broken,” he said.

“I am one of the authors of the 18th Amendment. When reviewing Article 10 in the amendment, I begged our senior legislators to kindly make it in a way that this country’s constitution followed the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ rule but it didn’t happen. Instead they added ‘due process’,” he continued.

“MQM is not very big in the parliament or senate but even today if we can get together and draft an anti-torture bill with the Asian Human Rights Commission, I promise you that even if we can’t guarantee passing it we will table it at least in the National Assembly and the Senate,” he said.

Senior PPP leader Taj Haider asked what good was torturing someone in lock-ups to make them admit to a crime? “This kind of admission is dropped in court anyway,” he said.

“Today, we have the science of forensics to catch criminals. But recently when our home was burgled and the thieves had left behind some 200 fingerprints, the police kept asking us to tell them if we suspected anyone like our maid or cook so that they could torture them into admitting the crime. They could have easily traced the culprits by matching their fingerprints in the Nadra database, which they didn’t do as they are used to rely on the method of beating up people,” he said.

Saeed Baloch of the PFF raised the issue of the fishermen who cross boundaries at sea by mistake to find themselves in hot waters. “It is torture itself to imprison innocent people for long durations. It is thought by the Indian government that the Pakistani fishermen invading their waters are spies as the Pakistani authorities think the Indian fishermen in our jails are spies. But so far they haven’t found a single fisherman who may be a spy on either side,” he said.

Meanwhile, well-known psychologist Prof Dr Haroon Ahmed said torture crushes the personality of a person giving him or her low self-esteem. “The person may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or insomnia and depression,” he concluded.

KPC president Imtiaz Khan Faran also spoke.

Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2014