Bipartisan support for criminalizing torture

Picture courtesy JPP

Parliamentarians from the opposition and the government issued a joint statement on Wednesday in support of legislation for criminalizing torture.

The statement was issued during a roundtable organized by Justice Project Pakistan in collaboration with Parliamentarians Commission on Human Rights. The roundtable was held to commemorate the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, observed each year on June 26. It was attended by former Senator Farhatullah Babar, Senator Fawzia Arshad, Zille Huma, Nafeesa Inayatullah Khattak, Dr. Shazia Sobia Aslam Soomro, Samana Malaika Raza, Chaudhary Shafique.

Currently, two anti-torture bills are under consideration in the National Assembly. In July 2021, Senator Sherry Rehman introduced a bill which was passed unanimously by the Senate. Two months later in September 2021, former minister of Interior Sheikh Rasheed proposed another bill to outlaw torture. The joint statement appreciated both bills and proposed clubbing the two, with the best elements from each making up the final legislation.

Furthermore, the statement proposed that the government report to the UN Committee against Torture, submitted in June 2022, be debated in parliament. “Torture is endemic and under-reported in Pakistan and its perpetrators enjoy total immunity,” said former Senator Farhatullah Babar while addressing the roundtable.

The government of Pakistan has yet to enact comprehensive legislation criminalizing torture despite ratifying the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 2010. An independent investigation mechanism to inquire into allegations of torture and specify punishments is severely missing in the country. Due to procedural and legal loopholes, lack of oversight, and the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators, torture by police remains widespread across Pakistan.

“The joint statement by parliamentarians indicates broad bipartisan support for a bill criminalizing torture. In the past year, we have witnessed a concerted effort to bring forth legislation criminalizing torture. We are hopeful that such legislation, that goes to the very heart of upholding fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution, is passed by parliament,” added Justice Project Pakistan’s Executive Director Sarah Belal.

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