Torture legislation

November 10, 2019


AT a recent event in the capital, speakers from civil society, the legislature and law enforcement regretted the absence of domestic anti-torture laws. Despite endorsing the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and despite the presence of (the albeit limited) Article 14 (2) of the Constitution, which states that “no person shall be subjected to torture for the purpose of extracting evidence”, Pakistan is yet to create effective laws to put the spirit of the convention and Constitution into effect. It was only recently that the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Act, 2019, was submitted to the Senate Secretariat. If passed, the bill will criminalise torture in police custody. Unfortunately, brutality and abuse continue to be endemic in policing in this country, and are only strengthened by the lack of accountability. This was recently brought to our attention by the tragic and highly publicised death of young Salahuddin Ayubi, who was accused of theft and then tortured to death at the hands of the Punjab police. “Where did you learn to hit like that?” a bewildered Ayubi asked the official behind the camera phone that recorded his last moments. However, instead of investigating what was clear abuse of power, officials announced a ban on the use of smartphones inside police stations across the province.

In 2016, a Human Rights Watch report documented the use of torture by police officials in Pakistan and found a serious need for reform. Amongst other issues, it pointed to flaws in the colonial-era laws that govern policing and deficiencies in the training of law enforcers. Officials confessed to not knowing any way of extracting ‘confessions’ from suspects other than the use of brute force. Torture is also widespread inside prisons and is employed to subdue or punish inmates, many of whom are still awaiting trial. There is an urgent need for reform and rethinking the old ways of enforcing the law.

Published in Dawn, November 10th, 2019