Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) and the World Organisation against Torture welcome the unanimous adoption of the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Bill, 2021 by the Senate of Pakistan. This is the first step towards making torture a crime in the country.
The Senate of Pakistan adopted the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Bill 2021. If passed by the National Assembly, this bill would make torture a criminal offence for the first time in Pakistan. The text defines torture and prescribes penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of two million rupees for any public servant convicted of torture. Proper implementation of an anti-torture law would still require other institutional reforms in order to ensure effective oversight of law enforcement agencies, credibility of investigations, and independence of accountability mechanisms.
The use of torture by police is widespread in Pakistan. A recent report by JPP and the OMCT shed light on the large extent of torture in the country and the widespread impunity that torturers benefit from. “Torture is accepted as an inevitable part of law enforcement and perpetrators typically go unpunished,” says Sarah Belal, Founder and Executive Director of Justice Project Pakistan (JPP). “If adopted, the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Bill, 2021 will, for the first time in history, provide victims with a real legal remedy,” she adds.
Pakistan ratified the UN Convention against Torture in 2010 and committed itself to enact an effective legal framework preventing and criminalising torture. In 2017, the UN Committee against Torture, the monitoring body of the UN Convention against Torture, reviewed Pakistan’s implementation of said Convention and raised concerns about Pakistan’s failures to explicitly criminalise torture. Twenty-one years after accepting the international obligation to criminalise torture, Pakistan remains a safe place for torture perpetrators.
“A law that provides victims with the right to complain, that obliges law enforcement to investigate and prosecute the crime of torture and punishes perpetrators is key in the fight against torture,” says Hina Jilani, President of the World Organisation against Torture. “Without domestic legislation, the UN Convention against Torture remains an empty promise for victims and their families.”
Over the last decade, several states in Asia have enacted anti-torture legislation. “It is time that Pakistan joins the countries that provide specific laws and policies to eradicate torture,” declares Gerald Staberock, Secretary General of the World Organisation against Torture. “We thus urge the National Assembly of Pakistan to adopt the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Bill, 2021 and advance the rights of millions of people.”