Saturday April 20, 2024

Torture bill

By Editorial Board
July 14, 2021

Torture and custodial deaths are not an uncommon phenomenon in Pakistan. Civil society and human-rights organisations have been trying for a law to prevent such practices. Now, the Senate of Pakistan has adopted the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Bill 2021, generating hope that this crime will no more be condoned for lack of an appropriate law. Torture and custodial killings are now criminal offences. The law makes police and other government officials accountable if they perpetrate torture on people in their custody. The PPP’s Senator Sherry Rehman, and Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari supported the Bill and managed to get the required votes in the Senate. The Bill states that any public servant involved in torture would face up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of Rs2 million. If public servants either intentionally or unintentionally fail to prevent torture they will face up to five years imprisonment and a fine of up to one million rupees. The Bill further stipulates that ‘whoever commits, abets, or conspires to commit the offence of custodial death or custodial sexual violence’, will receive punishment of imprisonment for life and fine which may extend to Rs3 million.

The Bill is a welcome move towards eliminating, or at least reducing, the level of violence that law-enforcement and other public authorities employ to extract confessions or to subjugate, sometimes even innocent people. Up until now, most victims and their families did not get any compensation for the harsh treatment that they receive from officers of the law who mete out such unlawful torture. In countries such as Pakistan, unlawful arrests and abductions are a common practice to extract information regarding the whereabouts of a person accused of any offence. Public and security officers also use torture to extract evidence; now there is hope that this practice will come to an end. The new Bill is also fairly clear that no male officer can take a woman into custody, and only female officials will be able to exercise this power – and that too with proper legal formalities.

The protection of individuals from torture and custodial deaths is a primary responsibility of any state. Such protection must be offered to all citizens’ – irrespective of their financial status, gender, health conditions, or religion. This law has made many other already existing provisions pretty clear and has tried to eliminate vagueness in them. With this comprehensive law – if the government implements it in letter and spirit – we can hope that there will be a marked reduction in such cases. We must also point out that just by enacting such legislation this practice will not end, and there is a need to train all public and security officials about fundamental rights of citizens.