14-year old Muhammad Asim and Shahzaib recently lost their lives in police custody along with 17 others as Pakistan fails to criminalise torture and meet its international human rights obligations under the GSP+ status and other international human rights conventions.
Pakistan is a signatory to both the Convention against Torture, and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Pakistan is under obligation to adopt all measures to prevent and punish acts of torture. Under these treaties, states also have an obligation to provide adequate redress to victims of torture.
Failing to criminalise torture has put the lives, the freedoms and the rights of vulnerable groups including children, women and people from disadvantaged backgrounds. It has plagued and corrupted the criminal justice system with false convictions and broken the trust between the law enforcement mechanism and citizens.
Justice Project Pakistan has recorded 17 cases of custodial deaths since June 26, 2020 – these are only those cases that reach public attention through the media. Numerous other cases still go unreported.
Parliament must uphold its duty as enshrined in Article 14 (2) of the Constitution to protect the right of the very citizens who elected it.
In the absence of a legal framework to define and criminalise torture, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan is concerned about the use of torture in various forms by various state agencies, both civilian and military. Apart from active instances of torture in police lockups and prisons, there has been no letup in extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, honour killings, persecution of religious minorities, sectarian attacks and domestic violence. Moreover, HRCP is concerned that the safeguards against torture initiated by the government through the National Commission for Human Rights and National Commission on the Status of Women have been rendered dysfunctional in recent years.
Let us pledge on this International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, commemorated every year on June 26, to end the culture of impunity and finally enact comprehensive legislation to outlaw this inhumane practice.
Torture is criminal, make it a crime.
Sarah Belal, executive director of Justice Project Pakistan, adds: Earlier this week, a suspect was found hanging in the custody of the Federal Investigation Agency. Custodial deaths are the most brutal outcome of torture, which not only corrupts the criminal justice system but also perpetuates a cycle of violence. It often leads to wrongful imprisonment and even capital punishment. Unless torture is expressly criminalized, this culture of impunity will continue to infringe upon the fundamental right to life and dignity that must be accorded to each citizen regardless of their ethnicity, gender, or social status.
Harris Khalique, secretary-general of HRCP, adds: The government must promptly address the lack of awareness of international standards prohibiting the use of torture under any circumstance. Moreover, victims of torture should be entitled to reparations in addition to seeing the perpetrator held accountable.