Senate passes bill 'criminalising' torture, custodial deaths

Published July 12, 2021
In this file photo, PPP Senator Sherry Rehman speaks in the upper house of parliament. — DawnNewsTV
In this file photo, PPP Senator Sherry Rehman speaks in the upper house of parliament. — DawnNewsTV

The Senate on Monday passed The Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Bill, 2021, less than a month after the opposition expressed alarm over its key human rights bills disappearing in a black hole.

The bill, which was presented by PPP Senator Sherry Rehman and supported by Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari, states that any public servant involved in torture would face up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs2 million.

If a public servant, whose duty it is to prevent torture, either intentionally or negligently fails to prevent it, he/she will face up to five years imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs1m, it adds.

"Whoever commits, abets or conspires to commit the offence of custodial death or custodial sexual violence, shall be punished with imprisonment for life and with fine, which may extend to Rs3m," it further states.

In addition, if a public servant, whose duty it is to prevent custodial death and custodial sexual violence either intentionally or negligently fails to do so, he/she will be punished with at least seven years imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs1m.

The fine will be paid to the victim or their legal heirs, according to the bill. If the fine is not paid, the public servant involved would face additional imprisonment of up to three years and five years, respectively, the bill states.

Regarding detention, the bill states that no one may be taken into custody to "extract information regarding the whereabouts of a person accused of any offence or to extract evidence", adding that women may only be taken into custody by a female official.

A statement extracted through torture would be inadmissible in court, it states.

"Every offence punishable under this Act shall be non-compoundable and non-bailable," the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Bill, 2021 states.

The bill also lays out the procedure for filing a complaint in case of custodial torture. The court, which receives a complaint, would record the person's statement and direct that a medical and psychological examination be conducted, the result of which would have to be presented to the court within 24 hours.

If evidence is found that torture may have occurred, the court concerned will then refer the matter to a sessions court for further action. The sessions court, in turn, will direct for an investigation to be conducted and the report submitted within 15 days. The sessions court will hear the complaint on a daily basis and announce a verdict within 60 days, the bill states.

Reacting to the bill's approval, Senator Rehman said Pakistan was "finally on [the] way to criminalising torture".

She said she was "jubilant" that the bill was passed. Rehman also thanked all senators, the human rights minister and former chairman of the Senate committee on human rights, Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, for the "work they put into this bill with me in the committee".

CPEC Authority

Earlier in the day, PPP Senator Mian Raza Rabbani presented the China Pakistan Economic Corridor Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which was referred by Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani to a sub-committee of the upper house of parliament.

The bill proposes a number of amendments, including giving control of the administration of the CPEC Authority to its board of directors. According to the amendment bill, the federal government would issue policy directives to the Authority which it would have to follow.

Sharing details of the bill, Rabbani said that previously, all control over the CPEC Authority was exercised by its chief executive officer but if the bill was approved, the control would be instead exercised by the Authority's board of directors which would include representatives from the provinces.

However, the bill was opposed by the government, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan said, adding "The number of amendments Raza Rabbani is bringing [...] it cannot be that CPEC is packed."

Ordinances

Senator Rabbani also presented the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2021, related to the promulgation of ordinances.

Opposing the bill, Khan said the president of the country had the authority to promulgate an ordinance. "We should be confident in the president. If the president feels there is a need, he promulgates an ordinance."

The ordinance came to an end if it was not approved by the parliament, he noted, adding "we do not support this [restriction] on the Constitution."

Rabbani retorted that "it would be better if Pandora's box related to the president was not opened."

He said the president was "not above the parliament", asking Khan to mention the reason why the president was exercising powers vested in the legislative body.

"Be thankful that only the reason is being asked and a [charge] is not being brought against the president," he added.

The Senate chairman referred the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2021 to a sub-committee as well.

Saleem Mandviwala moved the Civil Aviation (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which would direct pilots not to fast during flights. The chairman instructed Mandviwala to present the bill in the parliament again after amending it.

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