Pakistan’s grim tales of custodial torture and coerced confessions

The COAS ordered an inquiry into Aftab Ahmed’s death. What is there to inquire now; the fact that he was tortured?

Amnah Mohasin May 11, 2016
Did Aftab Ahmed’s death bring custodial torture into the limelight or did a can of worms just open up in Pakistan? What puzzles me is the inquiry ordered by the Chief of Army Staff. What is there to inquire now; the fact that he was tortured? Yes, he was. Isn’t it too obvious from all the marks on his body and report of the medico-legal officer (MLO)? Will the inquiry probe into reasons why the Rangers deemed it necessary to torture him? Are there any reasons which necessitate torture in the first place?

These are questions our government should have been addressing way before this incident. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), World Organisation against Torture (OMCT), Amnesty International and various other international human rights organisations have raised serious concerns over the use of torture in Pakistan by the law enforcement agencies during interrogation and pre-trial detention of the suspects. Yet, there are no specific laws in place to criminalise torture.

When the CIA torture report was published in 2014, Pakistan condemned the “systematic torture” of terror suspects but what about the systematic torture in Pakistan? In fact torture is so ingrained that police officers believe that slapping the suspect, pushing him or her around and chittars (beating with shoes) do not even classify as degrading or inhumane treatment. It is as if these practices are codified in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and are an integral part of carrying out arrests, interrogations and detentions. Indeed torture is the most common tactic used to coerce confessions out of suspects and one of the leading causes behind false convictions in Pakistan.

Legally, torture is prohibited in Pakistan as per Article 14 (2) of the Constitution of Pakistan,
“No person shall be subjected to torture for the purpose of extracting evidence”.

Pakistan has also ratified Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). The Convention explains:
“The term ‘torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

Article 2 of the Convention requires each State Party to,
“Take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.”

However, even after six years since ratification, Pakistan has not yet enacted legislation necessary to implement the Convention. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has been advocating anti-torture legislation since 2009. In January 2015, the Senate Standing Committee on Interior and Narcotics unanimously adopted a draft anti-torture bill, but it is pending in the National Assembly.

Sadly, this is true at a time when there are debates around the world regarding such issues and decisions by international courts and tribunals for example, distinction between degrading and inhumane treatment and torture, if forceful medical intervention during detention can be classified as torture; whether torture can be justified in the “ticking-bomb” scenario etc. keep making the headlines.

Torture is prohibited under all circumstances.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) assesses the severity and intensity of the suffering inflicted under torture by taking into account factors such as the victim’s sex, age, state of health as well as the duration, physical and mental effects, and the manner and method of the execution of torture. In case of an injury during detention as a result of physical force, the authorities are under an obligation to show that the force “was necessitated by the detainee’s own conduct and that only such force as was absolutely necessary was used”, (Ribitsch v Austria, ECHR). In fact, the ECHR has even ruled that certain conditions of detention can also amount to inhuman or degrading treatment for example, absence of ventilation and sleeping facilities and overcrowding, (Dougoz v Greece; Peers v Greece, ECHR).

A lack of similar debate and absence of legislation and policies in Pakistan therefore remains a worrying notion. There might be many reasons behind this. Incompetency of legislators, unwillingness of the executive or merely the red tape involved, it is anyone’s guess.

However, what is not just a guess but the cold hard truth is that precisely due to these reasons torture is an institutionalised practice in Pakistan. There are no safeguards and procedural guarantees against torture. Pakistan’s criminal justice system is like a vicious cycle. Poor criminal investigation leads to reliance on confessions which are usually coerced by use of torture, to get convictions, many of which are therefore false convictions and hence the real perpetrator gets away and eventually the crime rate is not controlled.

The only way forward therefore is that torture should be defined and criminalised by national legislation as soon as possible. Moreover the right to rehabilitation as per Article 14 of CAT must be implemented, which directs each State Party to,
“Ensure in its legal system that the victim of an act of torture obtains redress and has an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation, including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible. In the event of the death of the victim as a result of an act of torture, his dependents shall be entitled to compensation.”

Also, forensic staff should also be trained as per the guidelines of Istanbul Protocol which is a manual on the effective investigation and documentation of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Only these measures can increase the credibility of interrogation in Pakistan and in turn lead to reduced crime rates and most importantly protect the rights of the citizens especially against the use of arbitrary power, extra judicial killings and punishments, and ultimately strengthen the rule of law.
Amnah Mohasin The author is a Law graduate, currently pursuing her Masters in Forensics, Criminology and Law in The Netherlands. When she is not ranting about the socio-economic issues from a subjective point of view in her blog articles, she blogs on behalf of Qaaf se Qanoon - SZABIST's legal and research clinic and legal literacy radio show
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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S.R.H. Hashmi | 4 years ago | Reply | Recommend It is l clear case of exercise of unbridled powers leading to inevitable abuse which caused the death of Aftab Ahmed, a senior member of MQM and Dr. Farooq Sattar's aide in the official custody of Rangers. Also, civilian government's cowardly surrender was a contributing factors, with neither of them being in an enviable situation. The fact that despite MQM offering no physical resistance, Aftab Ahmed was subjected to extreme torture, including pulling out of nails and teeth, and wounds inflicted all over his body, and doing it at a time when he was officially in Rangers custody shows that they were least concerned about the consequences. In fact, the Rangers had already almost closed the case by issuing a press release which ascribed the death to a severe heart attack. It was only on army chief's intervention that some Rangers officials got suspended and an inquiry announced with a Sector Commander heading it who would definitely be many notches lower than the DG Rangers and the Corp Commander, Karachi. However, considering all circumstances of the case, as well as allegations by MQM of disappearances and even extra-judicial killing of their workers, an inquiry of the gory incident by subordinates of D.G. Rangers is too little, and too late and liable to be seen as little more than a cover up attempt. Surprisingly, the emergence of PSP, supposedly sponsored by a wealth, unscrupulous operator known to spread his tentacles through bribery and ruthlessness has added imensely to MQM's misfortune. Perhaps some officials while nominally woking for their institutions have transferred their loyalty to the new paymaster in return for generous inducements. The brutal killing of a senior MQM member may be their message to other officials of the MQM to switch over to PSP fast or else be ready to face the same fate. To have some credibility, the inquiry must have a sufficiently broad agenda, including investigation of the PSP factor and include high-level, independent and capable individuals. Also, for the duration of the inquiry, Maj-Gen. Bilal Akbar and Lt-Gen. Naveed Mukhtar must stay away from their positions either by going on long leaves, being transferred to other locations which is a routine matter with the army, or even by suspension. By opposing the creation of much talked about committee to oversee the operation, despite efforts by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Ishaq Dar (the de-facto deputy PM) among others, the two officers share a responsibility for the death which was not just a one-off incident but was preceded by several protests for disappearances and extra-judicial killing of dozens of MQM workers Karachi
Syed A Zafar | 4 years ago | Reply | Recommend I commend the writer for valuable light and courage to write on this issue which is not only avoided by the majority of Pakistan but also most reporters and analysts are not willing to write and report on this issue, because, it goes against the 'Mighties and Dominants of Pakistan. Having said that, I have to disagree with the writer that defining the 'Torture' through national legislation is the the only way forward. Well, it is one of the important steps towards educating and ending this inhuman practice, but more important thing is to find out what other bigger factors are behind this evil practice, who is causing and practicing it and why? Although on some issues/cases Human rights commission of Pakistan, government institutions and Law enforcement agencies show some concerns time to time as a formality, but in fact they are not willing to take concrete steps and solid stand against such inhuman and unlawful practice, because, most of the time such evil practices take place against certain minorities, etnicities and communities in Pakistan which are hated, discriminated, deprived, suppressed and victimized by the dominant and bias majority, provinces, institutions, governments and Law enforcement agencies of Pakistan in my opinion. The majority of Bengalis in East Pakistan and what took place against them even after winning the general elections is the clear proof of what I am trying to highlight. In this particular case the victim is not only from Karachi but also belongs to Urdu speaking community and on the top he was a member of MQM party which is most and favorite targets of bias law enforcement agencies (non Urdu speaking), PPP's Sindh Government, Federal Government of PMLN and all the political parties who are deadly against MQM including PTI and JI who have been defeated in general and local elections by MQM over and over. It is historic and hard fact that certain Pakistani ethnicities, minorities communities, especially Urdu speaking migrants from India who sacrificed every thing for the cause of making Pakistan are the favorite target of bias and mindset law enforcement agencies. Think about it, what if the majority of Bengalis were given their due rights to rule and they have victimized other provinces/ethnicities of Pakistan just because they had power and control over resources, institutions and those who are different from them, what would have been the feelings and reactions of the victims and what kind of labels they would have awarded, faced and lived with? In order to put an end to this cruel and inhuman practice for ever and provide equal justice and opportunities for all Pakistanis regardless of their color, race, religion and background, we need to treat the disease not symptoms and the disease is hatred, discrimination, deprivation and suppression against certain ethnicities/communities (other than Punjab and KPK) of Pakistan and the dominance of some over national resources and institutions. The solution is simple, let the local people of any province and city rule, solve their own problem and manage their government and most importantly make as many provinces in Pakistan as possible, because too big provinces and the monopoly, control and rule of some over others is the root cause and recipe of many ills including discrimination, divide and hatred between ethnicites and provinces of Pakistan. It takes equality, justice and love for all. Selective justice and operations means what? Can the Rangers go and do the same kind of treatment, sudden, stormy and continued operations in Jati Umrah, Raiwind, Achra and Banigala? If not why not? Which party of Pakistan including JI, PTI and PMLN does not violate laws, have illegal weapons, militant wings and not corrupt? [email protected]
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