Safeguarding prisoners’ rights: Call for legislation to end custodial torture

Speakers lament that a proposed anti-torture law pending since 2010.

Mariam Shafqat July 30, 2015
Speakers lament that a proposed anti-torture law pending since 2010. DESIGN: FAIZAN DAWOOD


Rights campaigners and experts at a seminar on Thursday called for legislation to end torture in custody.

They said though Pakistan had ratified the UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT), it had failed to make law for its implementation. A proposed anti-torture law has been pending in the parliament since 2010.

The seminar was organised by the Potohar Organisation for Development Advocacy (PODA).

“Torture is frequently practiced in our country, even against human right activists, lawyers, journalists and civil society members,” said Waqar Mustafa, a project coordinator at the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

“The state’s resort to torture has been institutionalised and there seems a series of attempts to save perpetrators on a regular basis,” he said.

A study conducted by the Democratic Commission for Human Development (DCHD) was also shared at the seminar, according to which more than 50 per cent inmates are tortured while in custody in Pakistan.

The commission’s executive director, Tanveer Jahan said over 50 per cent prisoners interviewed categorically said they were tortured during custody. “Many prisoners interviewed said the only way for them to avoid torture was to bribe the police or through some kind of political influence,” Jahan said.

She said there was a need to look at torture as a social issue, apart from being a legal one.

Punjab Medical College Faisalabad Head of Forensic Medicine Dr Khurram Sohail Raja shared grim photos and medical cases of victims of police torture.

PODA Executive Director and Punjab Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) Member Sameena Nazir called for protecting prisoners rights.

Anti-Torture Alliance (ATA) focal person Bushra Kahliq said that if one person was tortured in every police station in a day, it would be 0.4 million individuals getting tortured daily.

She said undocumented torture cells operated by police or other agencies make it difficult to realise the full picture. “During our work with police stations, police officials admitted of setting up private torture cells,” she said.

“It is something that police officials feel entitled to do so. They feel it a part of their duty,” said National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) Chair person Kahwar Mumtaz.

Parliamentarians Commission for Human Rights former chairperson Riaz Fatyana said the government had failed to create awareness of the issue among police force. He said the country was violating UNCAT while fighting the war against terrorism.

“One of the aspects that need to be highlighted is that the torture doesn’t work and renders the whole process useless,” said Johan Sorensen, head of political section at EU delegation.

He suggested training and equipping the police with tools that help them to investigate suspects without torturing them.

National Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Dr Ali Nawaz Chohan, in his keynote address, said there was a need for amendments in the police laws. “Unless there is a law against torture, it is very difficult to prevent it,” he said.

“There is complete mistrust between police and the public,” he said and called for improving police recruitment and simplifying FIR registration.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 31st, 2015.


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