Monday July 22, 2024

How torture thrives

Despite all evidence against torture, practice remains widespread with governments and security agencies across world

By Editorial Board
June 26, 2024
A representational image of a person resisting torture. —
A representational image of a person resisting torture. —

In December 1997, UN General Assembly proclaimed June 26 as the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, aiming to emphasize the total eradication of torture and the effective implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. As such, torture is a crime under international law and the UN and most other global and national legal and humanitarian bodies all hold that there is never an excuse to justify the use of cruel, degrading and unusual punishment. This stand is backed up by the fact that torture is not an effective tool at extracting reliable information. As per the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, at least one former US counterterror official has stated that torture is worse than ineffective and is actually counterproductive given that the information it produces is often corrupted and can lead to flawed decisions and policies at the highest levels. Other officials such as the lead investigative interviewer of Anders Breivik, who in 2011 carried out a terrorist attack in Norway that killed 77 people, have claimed that creating a safe and comfortable environment makes suspects more talkative and increases the likelihood that they will reveal incriminating information.

Despite all the evidence against torture, the practice remains widespread with governments and security and law-enforcement agencies across the world reluctant to kick it out of their arsenal and often bending or breaking both national and international laws to employ it. Amnesty International has reported torture in at least 141 countries and, based on a global survey of torture from 2014, found that 44 per cent of respondents from 21 countries across all continents feared they would be at risk of torture if taken into custody in their country. One would not be surprised if Pakistan was among those 21 countries. The practice is so commonplace that there is almost a routine matter-of-factness surrounding the use of torture. We take it for granted that those detained over an extended period and/or for serious offences have likely been tortured. Though efforts to eradicate this practice have been expedited in recent years, with the passage of the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Act in 2022, the practice endures and its victims are often from poor and marginalized backgrounds. As recently as February, five cops were punished for illegally detaining and torturing a citizen in Bahawalnagar. The incident shows how torture thrives in an institutional climate where other illicit practices are common such as illegal detention and hints at a climate of impunity. If one is not supposed to be in custody in the first place, how can they avail the legal protections that they have on paper?

However, pinning all the blame for this problem on police and other security agencies would be wrong. In a 2016 report by Human Rights Watch on ‘Police Abuse and Reform’ in Pakistan, senior officials claimed that lack of training in advanced investigation methods and forensic analysis compelled the police to use torture as an investigation tool. The report noted that “institutional constraints” and the inability of the state to initiate appropriate reforms have compromised the ability of the police to do their job without violating human rights. While none of this justifies the use of torture, it indicates that it will be difficult to get rid of the practice unless we improve the funds, training and resources available to our law-enforcement agencies. Also, given how widespread torture has been over the years, providing justice and continued assistance to its victims is also important. Aside from rehabilitating the victims, recognizing and helping the victims of torture is an important step towards punishing those who carry out this brutal and illegal practice, without which the barrier of impunity around torture will never be broken.