Torture is the most serious obstacle to the advancement of human rights in Asia, whether civil and political rights or economic, social and cultural rights. This is because torture is the prime generator of fear, which inhibits people’s ability to react when other rights are threatened. Where large numbers of people decline to participate in ordinary social affairs because of this fear, there is no social progress.
Torture is violence. So long as torture is used by state agencies, the global fight against violence will not succeed. When the officers of police stations or other government security agencies routinely use torture, they are sending a strong message that the state justifies the use of violence. Under these circumstances, the state cannot take a moral stand against violence among the population. And without a moral position, violence cannot be overcome. Thus, if states in Asia are serious about eliminating violence in their societies, they must begin by ensuring that state agencies do not resort to torture under any circumstances.
Torture is absolutely prohibited under international law. By consenting to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or by ratifying either the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the state accepts this absolute prohibition. However, very little action has been taken in Asia to see this prohibition implemented. In most countries, torture has not been made a serious crime. Even where it has been made a crime the law has not been enforced to ensure that torturers are punished. There are hardly any independent and credible agencies to investigate complaints of torture. Prosecutors are often unable and unwilling to fully implement the law. Other government departments lack genuine commitment to the principle that torture is absolutely prohibited.
Internationally there have been serious setbacks in the fight against torture. Powerful countries are relegating the absolute prohibition of torture to secondary importance. The use of torture is in some quarters being openly advocated as a means to eradicate terrorism. These attempts to diminish the absolute prohibition of torture are extremely dangerous. They encourage violence, and polarise and undermine sensible discourse aimed at obtaining peace.
Together we must put up a strong defense of the absolute prohibition of torture. We must take firm steps to see torture eradicated, lest we be prepared to suffer the disastrous consequences if the principle is altogether breached.
Victims of torture must be assured of justice. In Asia, we must work together to get all countries to ratify the Convention against Torture, and implement it fully. This means every country of Asia declaring torture a serious crime, and establishing competent and independent investigative agencies to deal with cases of torture. It means prosecutors and judges being educated about the absolute prohibition on torture, and the history of the struggle to eliminate torture, to ensure that they act without reservation to properly and fully enforce the law. It means ensuring that the police and other law enforcement agencies understand that the use of torture in criminal investigations is completely prohibited.
Victims of torture must be given proper care. This means establishing and allocating facilities for their physical and psychological recovery. Such facilities do not exist in most parts of Asia. Prompt and effective action should be taken to improve the quality of available treatment. The professional integrity of doctors is also vital in eradicating torture. Doctors can contribute enormously by providing proper medical certificates upon which legal action against torturers can stand.
Above all, victims of torture need our solidarity. Only with strong solidarity will victims of torture develop the confidence to protest against what they have suffered. Only with strong solidarity will victims of torture be sustained through long struggles to obtain justice in courts. Only with strong solidarity will victims of torture overcome their physical and psychological injuries. Only strong solidarity can rekindle trust in the hearts and minds of persons who have been brutalised by torture. And only strong solidarity can stand up to attempts to undermine the absolute prohibition of torture, upon which our common humanity rests.