PAKISTAN: Civil society resolves to form a greater alliance against State torture

Pakistan rights-based organizations, groups and human rights defenders to synergize efforts to combat torture.

(Hong Kong, Lahore October 21, 2011) Forty human rights defenders held a joint consultation on the issue of torture and ill-treatment at Lahore, capital of Punjab province and decided to become part of a regional alliance against custodial torture and ill-treatment. The civil society groups observed that there is a strong need to strive for a law criminalizing torture in Pakistan. The consultative meeting was organized jointly by the Women in Struggle for Empowerment (WISE) and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) to focus on the menace of torture which remains an endemic issue in Pakistan. (photo: representatives from different human rights organizations at alliance’s initiation event)

Speakers observed that jurisprudence concerning the use of torture is underdeveloped in Pakistan. The possibility to realize the rights guaranteed by Article 14 (2) of the Constitution that prohibits torture has thus been limited in Pakistan due to the absence of a law criminalizing torture. Making that right a further distant dream, the burden of proof falls upon the victims claiming to have been tortured and they have no independent investigating agencies that are empowered to investigate into allegations of torture to turn to. 

The meeting criticized the government for placing reservations on numerous articles of the UN Convention against Torture (CAT) and on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) when it ratified in June 2010. Those reservations contributed to denature the purpose and rationale of those instruments and reflect the authorities’ indifferent attitude to the protection of the citizens from torture in custody and to their fundamental right to life. This action also illustrates that the government’s willingness to provide impunity to the law enforcement agencies in the context of violations of human rights.
The participants observed that there is a strong need to form an alliance broadening the efforts to all over Pakistan and decided to become part of the Asian Alliance Against Torture and Ill-Treatment.
Please find the press release issued after the meeting here: 
LAHORE: By law torture in police custody and law enforcement agencies is no crime in Pakistan. A broad based civil society alliance against Torture and ill Treatment should be formed in Pakistan in order to better protect the rights of the victims and to pressurize the government to enact law against torture and ill treatment in line with UN Convention Against Torture (CAT).

This was resolved here at a consultation meeting, chaired by I.A. Rehman and organized by Women in Struggle for Empowerment (WISE) – an NGO, in collaboration with Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), at the HRCP office on Thursday. Over 40 rights-based civil society organizations, groups and human rights defenders got together to join the provincial level consultation “Synergizing Efforts for Ending Torture and Ill Treatment in Pakistan”. A number of several civil society representatives and rights activists addressed the meeting.

Speaking on the occasion I.A. Rehman, General Secretary Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said state-sponsored violence is on the rise in different shapes in Pakistan including torture in custody, extra-judicial killings and disappearances in violation of local as well as international laws. Soon after ratifying the convention against torture (CAT) last year, Pakistan had shown reservations against important articles of CAT which provide protection against state torture. He urged the need to form civil society alliance against torture and for the purpose a position paper should be developed and circulated, he added. Bushra Khaliq, Executive Director Women in Struggle for Empowerment (WISE) was assigned to coordinate and develop the position paper on torture.

He said not condemning the act of torture is tantamount to indirectly approving it. Pakistan`s reservations about CAT were causing serious concern in the international community, he said adding that Pakistani parliament had also not been taken into confidence on CAT. The government had withdrawn some reservations but the main ones still existed. He said state torture had also been encouraging private torture, making society more violent and intolerant. Studies showed that the incidents of Karo-Kari had increased in Pakistan.

Justice (Retd) Nasira Javed Iqbal addressing on the occasion said judicial remand of the accused in Pakistan had become a joke as many of them are killed when they are taken out of jails under the pretext of getting evidence. Accused persons are also routinely tortured against the law to get forced confessions, she added. According to law the judge or magistrate who allows remand into police custody has to ask the accused whether he or she was subjected to torture, but this practice is generally not followed, she added.

She deplored that gun had taken over discourse and dialogue in society. There was no remedy to extra-judicial killing despite the ratification of the UN Convention against Torture (CAT) by Pakistan. Normally killing is considered as last form of torture but it has become the first resort in Pakistan. She urged the government to frame laws and make rules in the line of CAT and withdraw all reservations against it. “We need to make rules and create forums for effective enforcement of related laws,” she said.
Bushra Khaliq, Executive Director, WISE said torture had become an attitude in Pakistani society, adding that people tend to exploit workers, children and women which is another form of torture. Thana culture never changed and police stations had become hubs of torture and bribery, she added. She urged the government to enact laws in the light of CAT to check torture.

She said during the last 10 years, over 10,421 cases of torture in police custody have been reported in Pakistan.  Out of which 695 cases of torture against women in police custody were reported during the first six months of 2009. Sexual violence is reported by up to 70 per cent of women in police custody, along with the violation of their basic human rights. She said it is imperative to initiate solid steps to protect victims of torture by forging unity among civil society to stand up against the menace by involving rights-based groups/organizations, HR activists and individuals. An effective alliance of civil society against Torture is need of the hour, she added.

Maliha Hussain from Mehargarh- an NGO, said torture in custody is a serious problem affecting the rule of law in Pakistan. It is used as the most common means to obtain confessional statements. The absence of proper complaint centers and no particular law to criminalize torture has made the menace of torture wide spread. She stressed the need to forge unity among civil society to combat state-sponsored torture and as well as undertake advocacy and lobbying for legislation against torture in custody.

Salman Abid regional manager SPO highlighted the issue of non-state violence in the name of religion, culture and social customs that was adding to the miseries of citizens. The state torture and organized non-state violence always affected the society negatively. Highlighting the different forms of social and cultural torture, she said torture against women, children and minorities is also a dangerous trend in Pakistan. He said lack of public awareness on the human rights has also aggravated the issue of rising torture and ill-treatment. Therefore there is a strong need for the sensitization of the law makers, judiciary and law enforcement bodies on the subject of torture.

Munawwar Ali Shahid, provincial partner of AHRC and other discussants demanded a consistent and collective voice against torture. They also demanded the government make laws according to the CAT of the United Nations and implement the laws in letter and spirit to decrease the dangerous trends of violence by state and non-state actors

Senior lawyer Rabbiya Bajwa demanded of the state to enact laws that could hold intelligence agencies accountable for picking up or torturing people on mere suspicion or in the name of national security. The victims of such torture are generally so harassed that they refused to share their plight with others after their release, she added.She said there is an alarming level of insensitivity among legal professionals, including the judiciary, regarding torture in Pakistan. It is also observed that legislators are the least interested in making a law against torture.

Participant observed that space for HR practitioners in Pakistanis already fast squeezing in the face of rising onslaughts of law enforcement agencies against the rights defenders, in the name of state security. In view of the need for a joint platform the participating organizations resolved to form an alliance against Torture and Ill-treatment.

Document Type : Press Release
Document ID : AHRC-PRL-043-2011
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Torture,