LAHORE: The World Organisation against Torture (OMCT) and Justice Project Pakistan on Monday released a report titled “Criminalising Torture in Pakistan: The need for an effective legal framework”.

Published a day after a teenager was reported to have died in police custody in Peshawar, the aim of the report is to shed light on the lack of appropriate legislation on torture in Pakistan.

“Nothing can be accepted as a defence for the crime of torture,” said former senator and PPP leader Farhatullah Babar in the online panel discussion organised for launching the report.

“Torture in police custody is rampant in Pakistan. Even today, there was news of the death of a 14-year-old boy in police custody in Peshawar,” he said.

As a party to international treaties, Pakistan has an obligation to criminalise torture. However, attempts to do so have historically failed. A bill, tabled by Senator Sherry Rehman, is currently pending in the Senate. If passed, it would make torture by law enforcement agencies a crime for the first time in Pakistan.

Mr Babar also highlighted that it must be understood who was behind creating hurdles to this law, especially when his private member bill was approved unanimously across provinces and parties.

He said one of the reasons for the delay in the law was the lack of accountability that the law enforcement agencies (LEAs) preferred.

“In 2019, Peshawar High Court shot down all the convictions of all those who were detained at the internment centre, the reason, that the court observed, was that the confessions were extracted under torture,” he said.

“Under the UNCAT (UN Convention against Torture), it is an obligation for state parties to provide a definition of torture, which must be reflected in the criminal law of the state party,” said UNCAT member Diego Rodriguez-Pinzon.

“The principle of universal jurisdiction under the UNCAT means that there is no safe haven for perpetrators of torture where they can flee after committing the crime.”

“We hope that in a few weeks an anti-torture bill will be presented in front of the Cabinet,” assured Ministry of Human Rights Director General Muhammad Hassan Mangi.

“Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari brought up this issue with the prime minister.”

Meanwhile, Sarah Belal, the executive director of JPP, highlighted that “If you commit an act of violence, you will not have a safe haven and you can be tried and convicted anywhere for your crime. This principle under the UNCAT is truly extraordinary,” she said.

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2021

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