The audience gasped as they saw the graphic photographs of an ‘encounter’ victim discovered with torture marks during the session on “Torture in the Criminal Justice System in Pakistan”.
The seminar took place on the second day of the Hamdard School of Law’s International Conference, titled “The Criminal Justice System: Towards a Systematic Approach- Perspectives from Asia and the Pacific”.
The audience were shown another series of images where every part of the victim’s body had torture marks.
In a short presentation, Kamran Arif, of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan highlighted the widespread use of torture by the state and the impunity enjoyed by its practitioners.
He stressed on the need for a campaign to implement the conventions on torture and eradicate torture practices.
“Torture is continuously confused even in legal circles with violence,” said Arif. “It is usually perpetrated by state authorities and is often the only means of investigation by the police.”
While Arif lamented about the lack of academic research on torture in Pakistan, he highlighted a study in Faisalabad where 341 complaints on torture were registered against the police in just one year. The District Standing Board investigated and 87 per cent of the complaints were found to be genuine.
Arif also pointed out that the prisons in the country were overpopulated by at least 100 to 250 per cent. “The conviction rate is five per cent but if torture worked, this rate would have been higher.”
The police’s use of torture is also aided by medical officers who usually side with the law enforcers when it comes to examining the victims.
Arif was of the view that the Criminal Procedure Code also gives the police “vast powers of arrest” which is contravention with the convention against torture and needs to be amended. The police are also able to torture suspects because of the long period of remand and illegal detentions. “A check and balance in the form of the Police Complaints Commission and the Public Safety Commission are missing because these two forums do not exist anymore.”
The speaker also brought up how the use of torture tactics has instilled a sense of fear in people which makes them hesitant in approaching the police with complaints.
However, Arif ended the somewhat dark seminar on a hopeful note. “In 2010, the government ratified the conventions on civil and political rights and against torture. The 18th Amendment also introduced a new fundamental right – the right to a fair trial.”
Published In The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2012.