Criminalising torture

The human rights situation remains alarming in the country. The opposition has decried that its bills on human rights issues enter a ‘spiraling black hole’ and never make it to parliamentary procedures.

The Senate has passed a bill against torture and custodial deaths, stating that any public official involved in torture would face up to ten years imprisonment and a fine of Rs2million. Furthermore, anyone who abets to commit the offence of custodial death or sexual violence will be awarded life imprisonment. Regarding detention, the bill states that no one can be taken into custody to extract information about a suspect or gather evidence. Any statement extracted through torture would be inadmissible in court.

The objective of the bill was due to a worldwide phenomenon inflicted upon individuals irrespective of gender, religion, financial status, or health conditions.

The UN observes International Day in Support of Victims of Torture remind people that human torture is unacceptable and a crime. Yet, these type of violations is common in Pakistan, often perpetrated by police and law enforcement agencies. It was the need of the hour to criminalise torture and custodial deaths.

There are provisions in the Pakistan Penal Code stipulating penalties for certain types of torture but they are either vague or not comprehensive enough to criminalize torture. It is now the responsibility of the National Assembly to pass the bill so it becomes law and ensure its implementation. Pakistan is a signatory to international conventions against torture and under obligation to adopt measures to prevent and punish acts of torture, and also provide adequate redress to victims of torture.

The failure to criminalise torture has placed the lives and freedoms of vulnerable groups at risk including children, women, and people from disadvantaged backgrounds. It has plagued the judicial system with false testimonies taken under duress or intimidation and broken the trust between citizens and law enforcement mechanisms. It also sends a negative message abroad and the EU has threatened to suspend the GSP+ status if the human rights conditions are not met.

It is the duty of the state to safeguard the life and rights of citizens. The government should spread awareness about these laws and provide reparations to victims of torture apart from ensuring that the perpetrators are held accountable.