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EditorialLaw against torture

Law against torture

The Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Bill, 2022, was eventually approved by the Senate after approval from the National Assembly in August of this year. The issue of torture in detention became the talk of the town with the arrests of PTI leaders Shahbaz Gill and Azam Swati, both of whom claim to have been subjected to jail torture. Torture in detention is not a new thing in our part of the world, and for years, civil society and human rights organisations have voiced concerns about the widespread torture of detainees in the custody of police and/or other law-enforcement authorities.

Pakistan is also a signatory to international anti-torture treaties. However, we have seen how our criminal justice system operates and the gaps that allow for less forensic inquiry and more “confessional” comments that should not – and do not – stand up in court. It is critical for the government to safeguard its population. Nobody should be permitted to abuse their positions in order to punish and torment others, regardless of the offence claimed. Over the years, police safehouses for torture have also been discovered, but no action has been taken. This law should guarantee that individuals who help and abet and are complicit in such offences are held accountable.

Human Rights Watch stated in a recent statement addressing torture in Pakistan, “The first step to eliminating Pakistan’s endemic torture issue is to criminalise it… Pakistan will begin a long-overdue reform process by passing the torture bill, ensuring that future complaints of torture are thoroughly examined and those involved held accountable.” This is why it was critical to pass and sign this measure. Illegal methods of interrogation have practically become standard practice in the nation. Those who have been able to have shared horrible accounts of their time in jail – being stripped nude, denied sleep and subjected to various forms of assault. Despite several testimonials to the contrary, there has been no accountability. Now that a statute prohibiting torture and the death penalty has been approved, it is critical that the state and the government put it into effect in letter and spirit. Pakistan has many fine laws, but when it comes to enforcing them, only ‘difficult laws’ are enforced with vigour. Rights-based legislation has not only taken a back seat throughout the years but even constitutional rights have been ignored for years and decades by governments of all shades. There will be no progress toward an accountable police system unless the new law is implemented. Without laws, there was no method to investigate complaints of custodial torture by police and other law enforcement. Instead, victims were expected to seek help from the exact institutions that had mistreated them.

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