WORLD: ALRC urges the Danish government an expansion in the policy on the elimination of torture and ill-treatment, to include the development of understandings about the primitive nature of criminal justice institutions in the developing nations.

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) has today written to the Prime Minister of Denmark, a letter, expressing appreciation of the Danish government’s commitment to the elimination of torture and ill-treatment in the world. In the letter, the ALRC has requested the Prime Minister and his government, to consider expansion of Danish policy relating elimination torture and ill-treatment, to include combating torture and ill-treatment as an issue arsing directly from the primitive nature of criminal justice systems in the developing countries, where torture and ill-treatment plays an integral part in crime investigations.

The ALRC, points out that this matter has not been clearly articulated yet by the European governments. However, given the magnitude of the problem, it has become necessary to urge for discussion on this matter in Europe and the declaration of European state policies on this area very clearly. Since the Danish government has clearly expressed its commitment to the elimination of torture than many other European governments, the ALRC has taken this initiate to enter into a dialogue with the Danish government on this matter. The ALRC has taken the opportunity also to articulate this problem.

The full text of the letter is reproduced below:

24 February 2017

Honourable Mr. Lars Løkke Rasmussen
Prime Minister
The Prime Minister’s Office
Christiansborg, Prins Jørgens Gård 11
1218 Copenhagen K

Honourable Prime Minister,

Re: An expression of appreciation and request for expansion of Denmark’s policy on elimination of torture

I am writing this to you on behalf of the Asian Legal Resource Centre, which is an Asian regional human rights organisation, committed among other things, to work towards the elimination of torture and ill treatment in Asia. Our organisation wishes to express appreciation to the Government of Denmark for adopting a policy of working towards the elimination of torture as a matter of priority. At the same time, I wish also to express appreciation for the support given by your government to our organisation through DANIDA as well through the DIGNITY (Formerly RCT) both of which have supported our work for elimination of torture in Asia.

The reason for addressing you is for the following specific reasons:

To urge your government emphasis in its policy implementation, particularly regarding the developing countries, an understanding that torture and ill-treatment arises from the very nature of the criminal justice system existing in all most all developing countries.

Encourage the improvement of Danish expertise in assessing the nature and problems of criminal justice systems in which torture and ill treatment is used as an integral part, so that such expertise could contribute to a better understanding of this problem, and to find effective ways for triggering substantial changes for the elimination of torture.

That your government to incorporate in its development-aid policy support for local civil society organisations that work towards generating understanding, and for a lasting change from the current state of criminal justice framework in developing countries where torture and ill treatment is an integral part.

In making these requests, we base ourselves on our deep appreciation of the unique Danish aid policy, that has over years promised commitment for the elimination of torture and ill-treatment in the world. We wish to bring to your notice some work we have undertaken with the support of Danish funds regarding the issue of torture free criminal justice frame work in the developing countries. We are attempting so, particularly to point out that with the limited funds provided to us by Denmark, we have achieved positive results, that could be credited as an achievement of your government.

After extensive work of promotion of human rights in 11 countries in Asia, our organisation came to the realisation that in the countries we work (Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Myanmar, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Cambodia) the criminal justice system of these states are of primitive nature, and they rely on the use of torture and ill treatment of suspects as an integral part of crime investigation. This is particularly so in investigations where the suspects are from low-income or otherwise economically backward and minority communities. We realised that unless we try to gain a comprehensive understanding of this problem and develop ways to work towards the improvement of these systems, our work on elimination of torture and the promotion of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) cannot achieve positive outcomes.

With this in view we embarked on a project which had following components:
Extensive documentation of actual complaints against torture, and also what happens to these complaints within the criminal justice framework and judicial process.

We subjected the data we collected into systematic analysis so as to be able to identify the causes of torture and particularly defects within the criminal justice systems which needs to rely on this practice.

With information we gathered, we developed a system for regular reporting to the UN Rapporteur on torture and other UN and international agencies working for the elimination of torture and the establishment of the rule of law.

We developed an extensive e-mail network to share this information with local as well as international interest groups with the view to develop effective advocacy for criminal justice reforms.

We engaged in developing local civil society leaders and organisations which would be specialised in dealing with this problem, and become effective agents of change within their own countries.

We embarked on the development of community groups to support torture victims and provide services to them for medical and psychological care as well as to obtain legal redress.

By the use of modern communication technology, we developed an extensive communication and media network with the hope that the information we provide will lead to a greater understanding of the problem by the public.

We engaged with the governments wherever possible and continued to create a space for engagement where it did not exist, encouraging governments to recognise the defects of the criminal justice system and to undertake reforms.

With all the material we gathered in the cause of this work, we undertook regular print and electronic publication of materials of this work, with the hope to create a regional hub and source of knowledge on this subject, and has made available all these materials in our websites so that it could be used by anybody.

We have created local and international discourses on the subject, in order to gain recognition of the problem and to find solutions to this issue.

We wish to state that it was with the limited financial resources made available through the Danish government and through other European donors including governments that we were able to carry out this comprehensive program. Danish contribution has thus become a worthwhile investment contributing positively towards finding a solution to one of the greatest problems in the developing countries which affects not only victims of torture and ill-treatment but entire populations. Defective criminal justice systems are an obstacle for the promotion of human rights and the development of democratic institutions.

Our work as narrated above, though successful, is only an initiative which is at its early stage. Now with the lessons learned with this work it has to be expanded and duplicated in as many countries as possible. For such expansion, clearer policy statements by European governments and also by the Danish government in particular would be of great significance.

In the Asian countries, our work was the first serious attempt undertaken to deal with the issue of torture and ill treatment resulting from the nature of criminal justice systems. Prior work by others had mainly been on medical and psychological treatment of torture victims and to a very limited degree the development of forensic techniques of identification of the use of torture and ill-treatment.

With the knowledge we have acquired over the past 15 years, we are in a position to categorically state that in developing countries the criminal justice systems themselves are the main source of the use of torture and ill-treatment and the denial of other basic human rights. The conclusion we arrived at has been confirmed by others working in the field, like for instance Mr. Garry A. Haugen and Mr. Vitor Butros in their book The Locust Effect, has summed up their experience on how defective criminal justice institutions result in negating all efforts made to guarantee human rights.

We are firmly of the conviction that there need to be further enrichment of the work done by European governments for the elimination of torture and ill-treatment. The work so far by European governments has not shown adequate understanding of the practice of torture arising from the very nature of the criminal justice systems that exist in developing countries.

Some European states in the past, including Denmark, has tried to make a contribution in solving this problem by promoting education and training programs for the law enforcement agencies. However, the ultimate result of such programs were negative as stated by those who have evaluated such programs. The reasons for the failures are not difficult to understand. Police training without police reform ends up only in reaffirming the same old defective criminal justice systems.

European policy:

Therefore, what the European governments should engage is a different approach which should have following components:
(a) Gaining understanding of the problem of criminal justice in contexts that are different to those that prevail in the developed world;

(b) Developing European (also Danish) expertise on criminal justice systems of the developing countries since the expertise available today in Europe is not adequate;

(c) Developing cooperation with the countries by assisting reform related and education related work on criminal justice;

(d) Finally and most importantly, support civil society initiatives in developing countries that specialises in specific areas of criminal justice reforms and engaging in public opinion building and education for the same.

All these aspects require further development and refinement of policies in Europe regarding the elimination of torture and ill-treatment in the world. There needs to be a comprehensive policy that emphasises on dealing with reforms of criminal justice systems so that these institutions can engage in their work with a modern understanding of criminal justice dispensation and scientific and modern means of crime investigation.

Naturally such a change of policy should be accompanied with the allocation of resources for this work.

Given the strongly stated policy of Danish commitment for elimination of torture and ill-treatment, we eagerly hope that your Excellency would consider our request and take all actions that are appropriate within the framework of international law and the law in Denmark. I also enclose the manuscript of the latest book authored by Mr. Basil Fernando, former Executive Director and currently Director of Policies & Programmes at our institution which will illustrate in detail all aspects of the problem, and ways to work towards resolving it based on our experience so far.

Thank you.

Sincerely Yours

Bijo Francis                                    Basil Fernando
Executive Director                          Right Livelihood Award Laureate, 2014

Copy to:

1. Honourable Mr. Anders Samuelsen
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs 
Asiatisk Plads 2
DK -1448 Copenhagen

2. Honourable Ms. Ulla Tørnæs
Minister for Development Cooperation
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Asiatisk Plads 2
DK – 1448 Copenhagen

3. Mr. Ulrik Vestergaard Knudsen
Permanent Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
Asiatisk Plads 2
DK-1448 Copenhagen

For media contact:

Mr. Basil Fernando: +94 11 2657089
Mr. Bijo Francis: +852 95452424

Document ID : ALRC-STM-001-2017
Countries : World,