Thursday, 26 June 2014

PAKISTAN: Successive governments using torture as a means of oppressive governance

A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission
PAKISTAN: Successive governments using torture as a means of oppressive governance 
A statement on the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture
In Pakistan, torture has become a norm, for oppressive means of government by successive regimes; it is used mainly as a means of oppressing opposition and against youth irrespective of gender, in the suppression of their freedoms, their freedom of thought and expression, and in any attempts of struggle for freedom or for change.   It has become a tool to curb the voice of dissent and it has come to be the norm in Pakistan. Some critics point out that the purpose of torture has become the only means of governance, governance by state fear amongst the citizens of Pakistan, in particular adversely affecting the poorer and more fragile segments of the society. Therefore custodial torture is an integral part of the present system of governance based on such coercion and intimidation and for economic exploitation.

The Government of Pakistan has issued a carte blanche to the law enforcement agencies to torture any suspect, and it is widely used by them to extract confessions and statements in any type of crime investigation, and also as a means of obtaining bribes in more serious crimes i.e. murder, rape etc. AHRC's work in Pakistan has revealed that the majority of the torture victims are ordinary suspects, most often innocent. They undergo second degree torture throughout their detention and in prisons thereafter, which leads to victims suffering trauma which transforms into trans-generational proportions – and social stigma throughout their lives. This issue thus is a direct result of the policies of the government, and the blatant failure of the criminal justice administration system in Pakistan. Further, the blame does not rest purely on the government, it extends to the sheer inaction and convenient negligence of also the various arms of the government, the judiciary, the lawyers, the military and other top layers of the society, all of whom have collectively failed to address the issue of torture and its affects to the society as a whole and continue to do so.  To make matters worse, the judiciary who are the guardians of the rights of the people, on the contrary deliberately give no heed to the various complaints of torture victims who come before them to see justice nor have they assisted in conducting fair and impartial investigations when called upon in Courts. There are many instances in Pakistan where the lower judiciaries have openly colluded with the police in the extending period of remand of a suspect from five days to fifteen – knowing very well that this would extend the period of exposure to torture for these victims. The Judicial Council, which is the supreme body for judicial reforms, does not take an active interest in overseeing nor supervising the workings of the courts with regard to the illegality of some of the rules regulations and even laws and the judiciary's insensitivity to custodial torture - all of which are in gross violations of fundamental rights and the provisions of the Constitution itself.

The jurisprudence concerning domestic legislation with regard to the use of torture is grossly underdeveloped. The freedom to exercise the right, as envisaged under Article 14 (2) of the Constitution – which states the no person shall be subject to torture for the purpose of extracting evidence - has been virtually non – existent in practice since its inaction in 1973. To make matters worse, in a claim against torture, the burden of proof – beyond reasonable doubt - falls on the victim; and there are no independent agencies empowered to inquire into a complaint of torture in custody. The Pakistan Penal Code conspicuously avoids even mentioning the word 'torture' and instead terms it as  'hurt', which is hardly a  substitute to the word torture and does not specifically refer to hurt by state agent or a public official.

In 2010, Pakistan although being a signatory to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment (CAT) has to-date not ratified the Convention and has also not signed the optional protocol to the CAT. Convention is not made the part of the domestic law. Therefore torture, within the meaning attached to the 'act of torture' as prescribed in the Convention against Torture is not a specific crime in Pakistan.

Also in the year  2010  following immense pressure from both the civil society and international opinion Pakistan  ratified UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and pledged before the UN Human Rights Council that Pakistan will conform to its international and UN obligations defined in ICCPR and CAT and enact corresponding domestic laws relating to torture. To this date no such legislation has been enacted. Instead, the government of Pakistan has made several reservations particularly on the issue of torture claiming that such laws would be contrary to principles of Sharia law (Islamic laws). Thereafter , the government was not willing to take back the reservations despite more pressure exerted from the national and international communities till the European Union (EU) imposed a  trade embargo on Pakistan ,  until such time that Pakistan withdraws  the reservations to the ICCPR and CAT. This embargo prompted Pakistan to withdraw the reservations in September 2012.

The entire state machinery of Pakistan including successive governments uses all their efforts to retain torture, as a means from which they gain impunity from any actions and from any processes of accountability. Although several successive changes of  government may lead to some restrains in the rampant exercise of torture – the government as an institution remains as ruthless as in past , even more so. That is why all civilian governments – not to mention military governments, refuse to enact domestic legislation illegalizing torture.  The Asian Human Rights Commission is persistently approaching the government of Pakistan, its legislators and the judiciary to take all necessary measures to prevent these heinous acts of torture since the time Pakistan became an elected member of UN Human Rights Council in 2008. However all such calls have fallen on deaf ears and there has been no will from the Pakistan government nor otherwise to even consider the criminalization of torture by an act of Parliament.

Thereby torture and the infamous torture cells remain in existence and is increasing in numbers every year. In the past, there were maintained torture cells at police stations, in military cantonments and armed forces maintained separate ones. Today, in addition to these,  every police station is running at least one private torture cell and the situation is the same with the  armed forces who are free to form torture cells at any given place and even within public places. Further, in a new twist police and military showcase torture in open places to instigate fear among the people of Pakistan.

The Pakistan army is running 57 torture cells, including many in the cantonment areas; the Pakistan Air Force has good numbers of torture cells in their bases, including one in their headquarters in Islamabad; and the Pakistan Navy is also running torture cells in Islamabad and Karachi, including at Mehran Base, Karachi.

There is a strong need for basic structural reforms in the criminal administration and the policing system in Pakistan, in order to eradicate torture. Reforming the policing system as well as the criminal justice administration system as a civilian policing system has never been a priority of any government institution in Pakistan. For these reforms would means losing control of the subterfuge activities of the military, the police and even of some of the politicians in Pakistan, who have benefitted from such a malfunctioning system. The implementation of law in Pakistan wholly depends on the police and the responsibility of the police has been to implement the rule of law by sheer force. Although the judiciary has maintained their role it is often dependent on the police to implement the rule of law especially with regard to criminal matters and instances of torture.

The essence and the very means by which the criminal justice system is administered in Pakistan are through the use of torture and ill-treatment, which, for the government, is the ideal system. For the government, there is no real need to neither develop nor reform the present system as it yields the required results and in quick time. The reason for this has been seen as that  it is mostly the poor people who are victims of torture and, most often  powerful persons with political patronage as well as persons from affluent middle class  can force the police even bribe officers  to torture suspects of theft, etc. A general consensus exists in Pakistan that, there are no confessions without torture.

The recent brutality of the police on a peaceful demonstration and torture in an open public area was demonstrated on the 17 of June when police attacked a house of a religious and political leader to clear the barricades outside his house. The police operation was continued for 11 hours during which more than 14 persons including two women were killed as a result of direct police shooting and more than 100 others were seriously injured. Police were seen chasing and beating with sticks, every woman and man who were at that peaceful demonstration.

The cases of Torture during past one year
Our work has revealed that with the passage of time, the brutality of torture by the law enforcement agencies has become graver and more ruthless than before as if Pakistan has been suddenly dragged into the medieval era. In an example of this brutality, police poured acid into the anus of a young labourer because he was unable to pay a bribe. Two young men, Mohammad Nawaz Lashari, 22, and Aijaz Lashari 25, were making and selling handmade "Reed made curtains" (sarkando ki Chiq) and hardly earning enough money to survive. On March 14, both the brothers were taken into custody on the charges of stealing a camel. They were detained in Sorah Police Station. During two days they went through severe torture, during which the police poured acid into the anus of Mohammad Nawaz Lashari who died as a result of this heinous method of torture in the early hours of March 17 this year. The police shifted his body to the civil hospital (government hospital) of Khairpur Mirs in an attempt to show that he had died there.

In another incident of brutality, a young three wheeler driver, Mr. Amin Malano, was abducted by plain clothed persons and was taken in a gray coloured car which bore an official government number plate. He was blindfolded and taken to an unknown place where he was kept for three days in illegal detention. After his ordeal he was dumped on the road side and related the details of his ordeal with media persons, please see the link of video.

In this video he narrates his story that he was taken into custody by unknown persons. He was certain, however, that they were from one of the intelligence agencies as they had asking about the JSMM and about his affiliation with the organization. He told his captors that he was not a regular member but a supporter. The captors tortured him by using cigarette butts on all parts of his body, particularly his right hand which bore ten cigarette burns in order to get confirmation that the JSMM obtains money from an enemy country. At another time as he was thirsty he had asked for water and was given acid mixed with water. His tongue was severely injured and had begun to bleed. The abductors continuously cursed the Sindhi speaking people and said that they are enemies of Pakistan. One night the Punjabi speaking abductors engraved the word 'Pakistan' on his chest. They used an electric drill into which they had inserted a knife blade. They urinated on his head on several occasions. They threw him on the road side after deciding that they had no further use for him. A farmer took him to hospital on his motor bike. Please see the link;
Balochistan is the most affected province of disappearances, torture and extra judicial killings. The family members of hundreds of victims and even the victims of disappearances and torture, who were thrown on the road sides, testified before the courts that victims were abducted by the persons from military and its spy agencies, tortured severely and their bodies were found with torture marks. Many are still missing still since 2001.

On January 25, three mass graves were found after one of them was discovered by a shepherd who saw pieces of human bodies and bones. He informed the Levies, a private armed force organised by tribal leaders, and according to Assistant Commissioner, district Khuzdar, Mr. Afzal Supra, Balochistan, the grave was excavated and 15 bodies were found.

As the news of the mass grave spread throughout the district people gathered there and started digging in the nearby area where they found two more mass graves. In total 103 bodies were recovered from the graves. The bodies were too decomposed to be identified. From the three mass graves 17, 8 and 78 bodies were found respectively. People have witnessed more than 100 human bodies in Tootak while they were digging the area. However, Pakistani military forces stopped the local people from unearthing the mass graves and took control of the area. Now, no one is allowed access to the location except military personnel.

The government has announced the investigation of the finding of mass graves but still no report has come. For the investigators it is difficult for them to come out with outcome as it will create a big question about the military operation in Balochistan.

In another incident, two young sisters, Najma (18) and Asma (20), daughters of the late Ali Hasan Rajput, were taken into custody in the late hours of October 8, 2013 by Sub Inspector Abdullah Awan, the SHO of Khambarha police station, district Ghotki, Sindh province. On the first night of abduction, both sisters were raped in the police station and during the next two days they were raped in a private house. One sister was spared for one day as her monthly menses started. The women were released in the afternoon of October 11 following which they told their uncle that they had been gang raped both at the police station and in a private house.

Mr. Afzal Ali Panhwar, the son of Munawar Ali Panhwar, a student of Biochemistry, Sindh University, Jamshoro. Afzal remained in the custody of the MI and ISI for almost one year during which time he was tortured severely. He suffered kidney damage and contracted tuberculosis. He was arrested by police and plain clothed persons on June 26, 2011 from the Hyder Chowk, near Rabia plaza, a crowded market place, at 6.00 pm when he was returning from the university. On June 12, 2012, after unbearable physical as well as mental torture which took place during the period of one year (352 days), he was found in terrible condition in a garbage dump in Dadu city of Sindh, where his captors had left him. After his release he underwent several months of medical treatment.

Mr. Afzal was elected vice chairperson of the Jeay Sindh Student Federation and four months before his extrajudicial killing he suffered a kidnap attempt by the ISI and MI. He was seriously injured in the attempt but managed to save himself from being returned to the hell of the torture cells. The following morning he got his statement recorded in the Press Club of Hydrabad, saying he had security reservations about the ISI and MI, as he had suffered a kidnap attempt for the second time the previous night. He, in his statement made it clear before the press club that his life was under threat and the Pakistani agencies, the ISI and MI wanted to kill him. At that time he applied to international human rights organizations to take some action against the uninterrupted brutality being perpetrated against him.

After release he told the journalists at Hyderabad press club about his illegal custody in military torture cell which has created more problem for him as he was told by the captors that if he tells any person about his illegal detention and torture he will be killed. And this happened when on 15 August 2013, Mr. Afzal Panhwar was again abducted by plain clothed persons in the same jeep with no registration plate and was then brutally put to death in a fake encounter in Kotri city, Dadu district. It was announced as an encounter with police when attempting to attack a train. However, the weapon which was fired at the train was an AK47, and the weapon which the police revealed in the encounter with Afzal with is a 32 caliber pistol.
Those were some of the horrifying ordeals of torture, which victims in most cases innocent had to undergo at the hands of the law enforcement agencies and it is continuing unabated in Pakistan.
The Asian Human Rights Commission urges the Government of Pakistan, and its Parliament to bring a law without further delay, making torture a crime.  The government must immediately make basic reforms to the policing system the criminal justice administration system and put in place credible mechanisms for witness protection laws. The rules regarding the handling of torture cases by the lower judiciary also needs complete change to provide fair trials to torture victims.
The government must respect and give due regard to its international obligations and follow the International treaties, and ratify the UN Optional Protocol.
The government must also close down all private torture cells maintained at every police station across Pakistan, close down all torture cells run by the armed forces and we call for perpetrators to be prosecuted with the civilian laws. Further, Rehabilitation centers must be established for torture victims and prosecutors must be trained to be able to deal with torture cases.
The Pakistan government must make a strong effort, and all-out effort backed with political will to protect the people of Pakistan from torture so that future generations would know and understand that a society that permits endemic torture is a society which has no respect for the inherent rights and dignity of a human being – which is the safeguard and respect for all human rights and especially freedom from torture.
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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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