ASIA: We need anti-torture legislation in Pakistan
Speech given by Abbasi Nusrat Bano, a member of the Provincial Assembly, at the meeting of Asian Parliamentarians
On Sunday afternoon, (July 22), Abbasi Nusrat Bano, a member of the Provincial Assembly of Sindh, delivered this speech to great applaus as part of the Meeting of Asian Parliamentarians in the Asian Alliance against Torture and Ill-treatment. Eight Parliamentarians from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Philippines, Pakistan and Sri Lanka as well as several prominent human rights activists participated in this four day meeting.
Dear friends and delegates from the different Asian countries.
I am thankful to Asian Human Rights Commission for inviting me to this conference on torture and ill-treatment and I am happy to represent the legislators from my province of Sindh.
Sindh is the first province in Pakistan that wished for independence from India and passed a resolution in favour of an independent Pakistan. The people of Sindh have remained at the vanguard defending democracy, rule of law and human rights. But with continuous interruptions from unconstitutional forces the dream of democracy and equal rights has not been fulfilled.
As a member of the Provincial Assembly of Sindh, I was honored to be named the third most active member of the Provincial Assembly. It is something that I and my party can be very proud of.
After this short introduction, I wil now focus on the bad practice of torture in my country. Torture and ill-treatment of detainees by law enforcement agencies is an endemic problem in Pakistan. In recent years, the perpetrators in most of the reported cases of torture and other ill-treatment are law enforcement agencies. Most often the torture and ill-treatment occurs in pre-trial detention centres.
In Pakistan, law enforcement officials perceive torture as the easiest and fastest way to achieve their goal of extracting information from the accused. Third degrees is commonly practiced at police stations, judicial lockups and in jails. If the accused is male torture is more likely to happen, but also Pakistani women face the worst forms of physical and psychological abuse from police officials. This abuse often takes place in the police stations.
From January 2000 to June 2009, 10.241cases of police torture against women were reported in Pakistan. Around 70 percent of the women in detention were subject to physical and sexual abuse by law enforcement officials. In Pakistan, women are not completely safe in jails. Even in shelter homes they are vulnerable. Most of the women in prisons and shelter homes are abused by the police - the very people who are supposed to protect them. Although there are more reported cases of custodial torture against men, women in Pakistan are very vulnerable to abuse by law enforcement agencies, because of a discriminatory society where women and men are not equal.
A recent report on torture reveals that incidences of torture, especially in pre-trial detention, is on rise. From January to November 2010 a total of 1198 cases of torture during pre-trial detention were reported.
My purpose is not to discriminate by only mentioning women’s issues, but as you know only two female Parlimentarians are presenting at this conference and I therefore wish to highlight women’s issues. Torture in custody is expressly prohibited by the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan, Pakistan’s Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure code. In 2010 Pakistan ratified United Nations Convention on Civil and Political Rights and United Nations Convention against Torture (CAT). But the country has not enacted any law against torture in custody nor has it taken any other initiative to sensitize the law enforcement officials.
Under the martial laws, the police and other agencies gained tremendous powers and it resulted in fast growing practices of torture, disappearances, extra-judicial killings, rape in custody, child abuse, bribery and corruption. Torture has permeated into everyday life and aversely affects any attempt to boost genuine human development in Pakistan. The negative consequences can hardly be underestimated. The effects of torture and ill-treatment hamper broader developmental goals and tragically influences the daily life of individuals, families and communities. Torture is an instrument especially targetting the poor, the excluded and the voiceless people, but it is also an instrument of terror wielded against the progressieve forces of the society to incite fear. There are cases where physical and mental torture is used in public targetting high ranking officers in the judiciary, parliamentarians from opposition parties and to deter courageous lawyers and the media.
My party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional, is very concerned with torture that takes place in custody. We affirm that we will support any initiative for the eradication of torture in police custody or in the custody of other law enforcement agencies.
I want to remind you that according to the 18th amendment of the constitution, the provinces were granted the power to legislate. Therefore, I’d like to announce that I will propose a bill in the provincial assembly combating torture and ill-treatment with the help of other colleagues in the assembly and inshaallah Sindh will be the first province in the country with legislation against torture.
I also participated in the roundtable conference on torture in Karachi organized by Hamdard University and the Asian Human Rights Commission. At this conference I suggested some changes to the proposed bill on torture drafted by the AHRC. In September 2012, we will have another roundtable conference where the bill will be finalized. I would like to make the commitment that when the bill if finalized I will submit it to the assembly as a private bill and get it passed as early as possible.
I will also work on the issue of rehabilitation of torture victims together with my party.