PAKISTAN: Torture in custody has spread like a cancer in the country 

On the eve of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, established by the United Nations on June 26, a bleak statement is to be made on the state of torture in Pakistan. More cases of torture are being reported every year. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) also noted that torture has become more systematic, more heinous, and more pernicious and has spread like a cancer in the country. This situation is a further sign of the total collapse of the rule of law in Pakistan and shows the need for strong political will to engage in drastic reforms.

Throughout the year, reported cases of torture have become more numerous. Perpetrators have an endless imagination to increase the pain and trauma of their victims. Families are often targeted, as a way to threaten people or extract bribes from them. In September 2009, a parliamentarian arranged the arrest and torture of a man’s mother and relatives because he was unhappy with this man’s love marriage [AHRC-UAC-120-2009].

More torture cases occur in public places, thus perpetuating the culture of terror maintained by the police. In regions where the Army is conducting operations against nationalist and secular movements, the military publicly tortures victims to intimidate the local population and discourage them from protesting. In March 2010, the whole country watched through many television channels the public beating and torture of seven accused persons by the police officials in district Chiniot, Punjab province. Torture scenes are often filmed by cell phones and published on the internet.

Rape in custody is almost systematically used against arrested women. A 13 year-old girl was recently continuously gang-raped, mentally, and physically tortured by police officials during 21 days of illegal detention. Another young girl has been raped in custody by police officers, while her sister was kept nude in lock up and forced to watch. [AHRC-UAC-164-2008]

Earlier this month, the President of Pakistan, Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, ratified the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). These political gestures by the President will not be sufficient to put an end to the use of torture, as this practice is deeply entrenched in the policing system.

Pakistan does not have any specific law relating to torture, though Article 14 (2) of the Constitution expressly prohibits the use of torture for extracting evidence. However, the definition of ‘torture’ is not satisfying and does not comply with that stated in the CAT and in practice torture is not a specific crime. There is therefore a great need for criminalizing torture. The Penal Code must be reformed to efficiently punish torture as a heinous crime and provide compensation and reparation to the victims.

Moreover, Pakistan has no independent agency whose mandate is to inquire on complaints against crimes of torture. The government must create such an agency and further ratify the Optional Protocol to the CAT (OPCAT), which binds state parties to allow visits by international and national independent bodies to places of detention.

The Pakistani legislation also lacks a law on witness and victim protection. People who dare to testify are often threatened or killed by the perpetrators, sometimes even within the court premises. Police officers also usually refuse to file a First Information Report (FIR) against their colleagues and thus obstruct justice. Victims and witnesses also have to face social pressure, as torture is still a taboo. A law must therefore be enacted to establish an independent witness and victim protection agency.

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.

In spite of the prohibition of torture in the Constitution, the military and state intelligence agencies like Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), the Military intelligence agency (MI), the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), the Pakistan Navy, and the Frontier Constabulary (FC), are prominent agencies among others that are notorious for torturing people in custody. The AHRC identified 52 detention and torture centres run by the military all over the country. The military uses the so-called ‘war on terror’ to illegally arrest people and torture them to force them to confess their involvement in anti-state activities. It is especially used in provinces with separatist claims, such as Baluchistan. Hundreds of men, women and children have been abducted and are at risk of being tortured.

The country was shocked to learn that an entire family had been detained and tortured by the Air Force in a torture cell at its headquarter, because one of the daughters, who was working at an officer’s house, had been accused of theft [AHRC-STM-074-2010]. The girl lost the use of her legs and her brother will never be able to walk properly either, due to the torture they suffered. The family, poor Christian people, has been unable to take any action against the perpetrators. This is ample proof that courts are still under the influence of the armed forces and are unable to implement the law equally and to provide justice to the citizens. In order to put an end to the impunity of the Pakistani Army, all military intelligence agencies must be placed under civilian control to monitor their activities and fairly punish perpetrators of torture.

The ratification of the ICCPR and the CAT must be the start of a large reform movement in Pakistan. This will be achieved through a change of mindset in the society and a strong political will from the government. Only deep reforms of the legislation, the policing system, the judiciary and the military, along with adequate funding to implement much needed changes, will allow putting an end to the heinous crime that is torture, and restore justice and the rule of law.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-134-2010
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Torture,