Reforming the policing culture

February 20,2019

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There is no single true version of reality. The policeman has a story to tell of his misfortunes. The victim has a story of brutality to share. The only question which we need to ask is: why do the strong get the carrot but the common citizen always a stick?

It seems obvious that our police force is not working to protect the citizens of Pakistan, but to serve their own interests. There exists no code of policing principles and standards of professional behavior when it comes to carrying out policing duties. Is the draconian custom of police torture so deeply instilled in our system that even criminal law procedures can be overridden? Can a layperson actually pursue a case against a police official who commits a wrong? Torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment are prohibited under various international covenants.

As a state party to the Convention against Torture and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Pakistan is under an obligation to prohibit and prevent torture in all its forms. Article 14(2) of the constitution prohibits torture for the purposes of extracting evidence. It is surprising to note that there is no comprehensive legislation which outlaws police torture or even defines the word ‘torture’ in Pakistan, and the constitution only prohibits torture to the extent of extracting evidence. On the other hand, Article 156 (d) of Police Order, 2002 provides penalty against a police official for inflicting torture to any person in his custody but the law’s application remains to be seen.

Custodial torture in Pakistan is rampant, mostly acceptable in our socio-political culture because of a lack of awareness of fundamental rights and basic procedures/laws. There is a misconception prevalent due to reporting on electronic media that physical remand gives an inherent right to police of torture. The state of Pakistan has failed at many fronts, including educating the masses about basic rights and procedures. In its first state report to the United Nations Committee against Torture (UNCAT), Pakistan claimed that it was a torture-free country by relying on the constitutional provisions mentioned above and penal offences dealing with “hurt” just to give the impression that torture has been eliminated in practice in Pakistan. The situation on the ground is contrary to the impression given in Pakistan’s official report.

The National Commission for Human Rights initiated an independent inquiry into 1424 cases of police torture on a complaint filed by Justice Project Pakistan. The inquiry was the first of its kind in the history of Pakistan as no independent inquiry was ever lodged on such an issue. The complaint was based on data mainly comprising medico-legal certificates compiled by the Faisalabad District Medical Board (a government-notified medical board) on the directions of relevant courts in response to allegations of torture. The Police Order, 2002 provides the establishment of public safety commissions and complaints authorities both at the provincial and district levels, but such mechanisms are nowhere to be seen.

The NCHR lodged an inquiry wherein numerous hearings were held, and testimonies of victims as well as statements of alleged police officials were recorded. The NCHR’s findings are based on national and international obligations of the state of Pakistan being party to various conventions including the Convention against Torture. The findings of the inquiry and the recommendations thereof could result into meaningful reforms regarding accountability, investigation, administration, capacity-building of officials, policy and legislation if there is political will in the newly-formed parliament and executive.

The newly-elected government has on numerous occasions made statements regarding prohibition of torture by the police. The prime minister’s aide on political affairs termed ‘torture’ an un-Islamic and unconstitutional act. The minister for human rights of the new government has at different occasions stated that an Anti-Torture Bill has been drafted and is pending due to our slow bureaucratic procedures. Six months in, the only achievement with regard to torture can be seen on the 100-day performance report of the Ministry of Human Rights wherein it is stated that an Anti-Torture Bill has been drafted.

This really raises questions over the political will of the current government. People have lost faith in the police as there are cases where people seeking police protection end up being harassed and tortured physically. Part of the problem is a culture of impunity for public servants that has deepened its roots in our society. No action was ever taken against a police official and if a victim dares to file a complaint against a police official, he or she has to face consequences; this has been revealed by the NCHR’s inquiry report.

The practice of police torture cannot be eradicated by just introducing new legislation; we need to educate our masses about basic fundamental rights, law and procedures. Apart from that, administrative reforms are mandatory in order to sensitise and educate police officials along with an investigation mechanism compliant with international standards, and equip them with resources. There is also a need to review the Police Rules in order to redistribute the workload and reduce the burden keeping in view the actual number of police personnel deployed against a certain post.

The writer is a lawyer who works as a consultant at the National Commission for Human Rights. Twitter: razii.asad


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