PAKISTAN: Government purposely avoids making law against the torture in country 

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission on the Occasion of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, June 26, 2011

Torture in custody is a serious problem affecting the rule of law in Pakistan. It is used as the most common means by which to obtain confessional statements and also for extracting bribes. Torture in custody has become endemic and on many occasions the police and members of the armed forces have demonstrated torture in open place to create fear in the general public.

The absence of proper complaint centres and no particular law to criminalise torture makes the menace of torture wide spread. The torture cases have to be reported to the police, therefore the police, being the main perpetrators of torture refuse to register the cases. This is the main reason why official data about the cases of torture is not available.

As yet, there has been no serious effort by the government to make torture a crime in the country. Rather, the state provides impunity to the perpetrators who are mostly either policemen or members of the armed forces. Furthermore, there is no means for the protection of witnesses. This discourages victims from making complaints. While international jurisprudence on the issue has evolved into very high standards, the situation in Pakistan resembles the Stone Age. Domestic jurisprudence concerning the use of torture is underdeveloped in Pakistan. The appreciation to exercise the right, as envisaged under Article 14 (2) of the Constitution, has thus far been minimal. To make matters worse, in claims against torture, victims bear the burden of proof, and there are no independent investigating agencies that are empowered to inquire into a complaint against torture.

In spite of the prohibition of torture in the Constitution, the Pakistani Army is running detention and torture cells in almost every city in the country. A report, by the Asian Human Rights Commission has identified 52 such detention centres run by the military where people who were arrested and disappeared are kept incommunicado and tortured for several months to extract the confessions. As of now there are no independent investigation procedures in Pakistan to investigate cases of torture. In addition, there is an alarming level of insensitivity among legal professionals, including the judiciary, regarding torture in Pakistan.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has documented evidence that the Pakistan Air Force and also the Pakistan Navy are also running detention and torture cells in private houses inside their headquarters compounds.

It is believed that the main reason for the recent attacks on the armed forces headquarters is the existence of these torture cells. In the attack on the Naval base in Karachi which took place in May the intention of the attackers was to release the prisoners held in the base’s torture cells. This particular torture cell was created to hold prisoners which had been sent into the country for interrogation by foreign forces with the collusion of the Pakistan military and government.

Pakistan refuses to legislate against torture

Pakistan has ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) in June 2010, but immediately after its signing the government has shown its reservations on almost all important articles of the UN Convention against Torture (CAT), which provides protection against torture by the state. The government has conveyed reservations on Articles 3, 4, 6, 8, 12, 13, 28, and 30. Inexplicably, these reservations are coming from a government whose president himself has been tortured in custody because of the absence of anti-torture law.

The government has shown its reluctance to make torture a criminal offence in its laws. Article 4 says that 1) each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person, which constitutes complicity or participation in torture. 2) Each State Party shall make these offences punishable by appropriate penalties, which take into account their grave nature.

Having reservations against this is an explicit demonstration of the denial of the protection from torture to people by the government through law.

The domestic jurisprudence concerning the use of torture is underdeveloped in Pakistan. The appreciation to exercise the right, as envisaged under Article 14 (2) of the Constitution, has thus far been minimal. To make matters further worse, in a claim against torture, the victims have the burden of proof, and there are no independent investigating agencies that are empowered to inquire on a complaint against torture.

The AHRC in conjunction with the Karachi Union of Journalists has drafted a bill against torture and it was supported by many civil society organisations in 2010. Several members of the Assemblies and ministers have committed themselves to work towards this bill however, after the passing of one year no response have been seen by the legislators and government.

Physical remand in police custody-a legal way of torture

The Pakistani judiciary and government have adopted a legal way of torture in custody through the method of physical remand in police custody. According to law the judicial magistrate can grant up to 15 days in police custody for further investigation of the case. This method is commonly practiced by the magistrates which provides a way to the police to complete its investigation and the easiest way is to torture the person. The law general known as police remand was introduced in the end of 19th century by colonial powers to get more confessional statement through torture and police brutal way of investigations. This law is continued which gives legal way to police and law enforcement authorities to get confessional statements through physical torture. Police torture is a colonial legacy, and red chili spray was one of the favorite tools by the police then, which used to extract confessions from the accused by applying this method. In fact, it’s a ready technique, still popular

The main source of torture in South Asia and particularly in Pakistan is the physical remand in custody. According to law the magistrate has to ask from the accused person whether he/she went through the torture in custody but this practice is generally not followed.

The poor training of the police force is one reason for the perpetuation of the use of torture in custody. Because of the lack of awareness and training, investigation officers do not use the basic tools that can help point the investigation in the correct direction. They resort to outdated techniques, which leads to inefficient, slow or even unlawful proceedings. The claim that there is no need to change century-old ‘traditions’ thus helps the perpetuation of mistakes and abuses, such as torture. There is therefore a great need for better training, awareness-raising and equipping of Pakistani police forces in order to put an end to human rights abuses. A large and thorough reform of the policing system must be implemented

On compensation:

According to the existing legal framework in Pakistan, a claim for compensation for an act of torture could be settled under the Shari’ah law, an opportunity often subject to absolute misuse in the country. Under the existing circumstances in the country, this procedure often benefits the perpetrator. Often the terms of the compensation are decided by the perpetrator, given the fact that in Pakistan, the law-enforcement officers enjoy a higher degree of authority in the society. By far, the courts in the country have been avoiding dealing with the question of torture. This undermines the possibility of using the civilian court proceedings to obtain compensation, as often the compensation proceedings also require a police report to substantiate a claim against torture.

The magnitude of the problem:

It is in the day-to-day work of the lower judiciary that this underdevelopment is mostly visible. One example is the practice of the lower court judges allowing remand custody of the detainees with ease while it is clear that anyone detained will be subjected to torture in Pakistan. The courts even fails to make use of the little space available in the Criminal Procedure Code of Pakistan, where a judge could demand a reason from the investigating agency for demanding the custody of an accused than transferring the accused into judicial custody.

According to research for gauging the total number of police tortures during the last five years in Lahore, capital of Punjab province, alone, 16.42 percent of youth aged between 15 to 19, 25.38 percent adults aged between 20 to 24 and 18.9 percent of adults aged between 25 to 29 years, were tortured by the police, during the period of research. Similarly, 18.62 percent of detainees were subjected to some sort of mechanical torture, including all forms of violence, besides domestic violence and blunt-tools were most commonly used. A similar study on prisons has further noted with concern that 91.54 percent of detained men and 8.46 percent detained women were victims of physical torture by the police therein. Moreover, 12.14 percent of detained women were subjected to psychological torture by the police. Because of their socio-economical helplessness, labor community, followed by the business community, was an easy prey of the police. It was also pointed out that body parts most frequently targeted for battering included buttocks, foot soles, back, front and back of thighs, palms and wrists. The most common tool used to inflict severe pain is the cane-stick and a broad flat leather slipper (dipped in mustard oil to inflict maximum pain) more commonly known as Chhithar.

This full-sized fury is a big symbol of fear for the many. Actually, the post-9/11 scenario is embroiled with a situation marred with violence & torture and the violation of public rights in war against terror is not an uncommon phenomenon. The developed nations of the world have incorporated various institutional methods for safeguarding public rights and their media is also playing an important role in upholding this check. Western media gives importance to societal issues like public rights and no government agency can dare to flout it. However unlike them, protection of public rights was not given any priority by the past governments in Pakistan. And, it’s a welcome step that Shahbaz Sharif government is going to introduce sufficient checks to remove public complaints against the gubernatorial police. Actually, lawyers’ movement has given impetus to the issue of rule of law and now the democratic regime should develop necessary paraphernalia to implement this manifest desire of the nation. This situation requires immediate steps-both administrative as well as political, to put some institutional check and balance in it.

The judiciary is also desensitized to the menace of torture and its impact on the very people the government and the judiciary are meant to protect. According to the laws of Pakistan the courts should inquire of the prisoners brought before them as to whether they have been tortured or not but this practice is generally ignored by the courts and particularly the lower judiciary. This is particularly so in cases where the prisoner has been held incommunicado for months or even longer. When the prisoners testify that they have been tortured while in custody the courts ignore the testimony and no action is taken. This provides legal impunity to the perpetrators of torture.

In the cases of habeas corpus it is generally found that the courts do not go beyond the production of the prisoners or the denial of the authorities that they have illegally held the prisoner. The courts use the excuse that the purpose of the hearing was to produce the prisoner, not to go into detail about the mistreatment they have suffered.

There is therefore a strong need for the sensitization of the judiciary on the subject of torture. It is also observed that legislators are the least interested party in making a law against torture. They have consistently refused to make the law against torture.

Following are the some reports and videos of torture in custody which are documented. The victims can not report the torture because the ultimately police have to investigate the cases. Therefore victims are scared to go through another way of torture by reporting it.

On this occasion of the International Day in Support of Victims or Torture the Asian Human Rights Commission calls on the government of Pakistan to heed the calls for the legislation of an effective law against torture and to ensure that once this law is propagated that it will be vigorously enforced. The government must respect the obligation it undertook when it ratified the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture.

For further information please see the links for the video presentations below.

Video clippings about torture in custody army officers torturing in open place police torture young men in before masses police torture in open place a media person was tortured in police station women are beaten

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-088-2011
Countries : Pakistan,
Campaigns : No Torture
Issues : Torture,