Legislative framework sought against use of torture

Updated November 09, 2019

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Farhatullah Babar, I.A. Rehman, Kamran Arif, Maliaka Raza and Fatima Bukhari at the HRCP consultation held on Friday.—White Star
Farhatullah Babar, I.A. Rehman, Kamran Arif, Maliaka Raza and Fatima Bukhari at the HRCP consultation held on Friday.—White Star

ISLAMABAD: Speakers at a national consultation on implementation of the ‘UN Convention Against Torture’ have called for a comprehensive legislative framework against the use of torture.

The event was organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in collaboration with the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) here on Friday. It was attended, among others, by members of civil society and parliament, police and prison officials from different parts of the country and women activists.

The daylong debate arrived at the conclusion that the state and society are equally responsible for the increasing incidents of torture in the country.

Speaking on the occasion, former senator and leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Farhatullah Babar said that lack of political will was the main cause that the country still did not have an anti-torture legislation which could end endemic torture in police stations, lock-ups and internment centres.

He said Pakistan had signed the UN Convention Against Torture in 2008 and ratified it in 2010 which had made it obligatory for the country to make domestic legislation in this regard. But the legislation had not yet been made despite unanimous adoption of a private member bill in March 2015 that was endorsed by the Ministry of Interior, all political parties and provinces.

HRCP holds national consultation on implementation of ‘UN Convention Against Torture’

He said the present government had promised to immediately introduce the anti-torture legislation, but it had failed to do so. Every time the matter was raised in the human rights committees of the Senate and the National Assembly, the standard response of the government was that the draft bill was under consideration and would be presented before the cabinet at its next meeting, he said, adding that next meeting had not yet come.

He said the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government recently promulgated a law to set up internment centres not only in the erstwhile tribal areas, but also throughout the province. The move had been challenged in the Supreme Court and it had been fixed for hearing on Wednesday next week, he said.

Mr Babar said that it appeared that the stumbling block were security agencies that did not want to be held accountable for torture and custodial death under their watch.

The national consultation was also addressed by Senator Sherry Rehman of the PPP and HRCP spokesperson I.A. Rehman.

Senator Rehman dilated upon her anti-torture bill recently submitted to the Senate Secretariat.

Mr Rehman talked about the role of civil society in advancing progressive legislation.

Instrument of coercion

HRCP spokesperson Rehman later told a news conference that the state used torture as instrument of coercion and this is proved by the fact that the adoption of anti-torture legislation has been delayed and not yet adopted.

He said speakers at Friday’s meeting had urged the government to heed recommendations made by the Committee on Torture in 2017.

Pakistan has to submit its annual report to the Committee on Torture in 2021.

“We have also taken notice of torture used by non-state actors as it was pointed out by the committee. The state has the responsibility to take notice of the incidents of torture and take action against elements behind them,” he said.

The HRCP spokesperson said the meeting had agreed to form a working group on torture to work on the issue, and it would meet as frequently as required.

The proposed working group will critically examine the proposed legislation being brought by the government and lobby with legislators and cross section of civil society to enact the anti-torture legislation.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2019