ASIA: Parliamentarians and human rights defenders urge effective measures to curb custodial torture 

The following is a statement by participants of the 2nd Conference of Asian Parliamentarians and Human Rights Defenders, 11-13 November, Hong Kong, organised by the Asian Alliance Against Torture and Ill-Treatment:

Parliamentarians and human rights defenders from Sri Lanka, India, Burma, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, Canada, Hong Kong, and Denmark have attended a meeting to discuss challenges in curbing widespread practice of torture in Asia. Discussions have been conducted with factors, environment, procedure, national law, as well as the United Nations Convention against Torture & Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) in mind. Upon deliberation, participants agree to draw the following conclusions, for attention of Asian governments and civil society, in particular the rights community:

  1. The participants appreciate the passing of a law criminalising torture by the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Bangladesh joins Hong Kong (SAR), Sri Lanka, and the Philippines in possessing legislation criminalising torture. Similar initiatives are at varying stages of fruition in India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Indonesia. While acknowledging the importance of domestic law criminalising torture, the participants note that such legislation pose challenges of implementation;
  2. The participants express concern with regard to defects within the legal framework of Asian states. Without addressing these defects, the possibility of implementing law prohibiting torture by police, military, and other security agencies is bleak;
  3. The participants find one important reason for widespread use of torture in ASIA: faulty / dysfunctional criminal justice systems. Participants note with dismay that due to inadequate budget allocation, continual neglect, and lack of reform, police and other law enforcement agencies lack human and technical resources for proper functioning. Prioritisation of available resources to set-up scientific crime investigation processes, including forensic laboratories, is in dire need;
  4. The participants agree that government failure to fulfil obligations and provide for institutional development has led to the use of torture and ill-treatment as the central component in investigation into crime;
  5. The participants note that the obligation of states under common Article 2 of the ICCPR and the CAT is to provide effective remedies to victims of torture; most Asian states are in no position to fulfil these obligations;
  6. The participants are concerned about the absence of credible safeguards, such as witness protection. Such lacunae have narrowed the possibility for victims to make complaints of torture. Asian states like Sri Lanka, India, Burma, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the Philippines have failed to curb corruption in recruitment, transfer, and promotion of officers. Challenges posed to citizens who complain against torture, and the failure of governments to institute credible investigation into torture allegations, means that governments are complicit in maintaining conditions of widespread torture and ill-treatment;
  7. The participants are concerned about the crisis of confidence in law enforcement agencies that exist in these states;
  8. The participants agree that when law enforcement officers become torturers, perceived by the public as persons committing crimes including torture, no confidence in law enforcement agencies can result;
  9. The participants find that a weak and non-disciplined law-enforcement framework dents economic development in Asian states. Endemic torture affects not just the immediate family of victims, but the entire society, and multiple generations. The participants agree that in cases where the victim is a woman or a child, the impact of the incident on the victim can be more traumatic, due to gender bias and exclusionary social conditions in Asia. The participants express solidarity with victim groups that have formed across Asia;
  10. The participants note with alarm the shrinking space for public debate on torture in Asia. The tiny space that exists is adversely affected by the presence of militant non-state actors;
  11. The participants view the question of endemic torture and ill-treatment as a symptom of a deeper institutional problems in the basic structure of governance in these countries;
  12. The participants, therefore, urge the governments, along with civil society organisations, and in particular the human rights community, to consider the endemic practice of torture and ill-treatment as one betraying a crisis within law-enforcement institutions, which needs to be addressed with urgency.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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