As the world commemorates the International Day against Torture 2004, the countries of South Asia continue to be known only for their collective record of endemic torture. From the pre-colonial period to the present day, horrendous torture has been a characteristic of law enforcement throughout the region. In virtually every police station of every South Asian country, torture is today routinely practiced. Police stations remain in the dark ages: there is neither investment nor interest to modernise criminal investigation techniques, nor bring policing in South Asia as a whole into the twenty-first century. As a result, torture persists as the most common method of criminal investigation.
As the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) works to promote common interests and solve common problems, torture should receive the attention of all its member states and peoples. In fact, the foremost item on its agenda for social change should be to outlaw and eradicate torture, without which other ventures such as poverty alleviation will be all but meaningless. Therefore, the SAARC should
- Make a public declaration proclaiming the SAARC region a torture-free zone;
- Adopt a SAARC convention against torture, fully incorporating the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT);
- Encourage all member countries to ratify the CAT and make torture a serious crime, as required by the Convention, and also sign its Optional Protocol;
- Establish guidelines for compensating torture victims, and offering adequate medical and psychological care at hospitals and other facilities accessible to torture victims from any of the SAARC member countries;
- Form expert teams of judges, lawyers, doctors and human rights activists for the purpose of realising the CAT in the region;
- Encourage all national human rights commissions to develop effective means to implement the CAT; and
- Call for a conference immediately to discuss and devise effective strategies towards the above ends.