Sunday, May 10, 2009

A step forward against torture

It's good that after 11 years of dithering the government has actually drafted the Prevention of Torture Bill, 2008. It's taken all this time since India signed the United Nations Convention against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Punishment. The draft bill prescribes a maximum punishment of 10 years to police and other government servants responsible for causing grievous hurt or danger to the life, limb or health of any person. The proposed legislation is quite wide in its scope, covering torture on the grounds of race, religion, place of birth, residence, language, caste and community. Public servants torturing anybody for extracting information or extra-judicial confession will be punishable under the proposed legislation. Inflicting mental torture would also become punishable.

The draft meets internationally recognised standards of human rights and civilised jurisprudence, but requires really independent panels committed to investigating complaints with a great deal of rigour, as custodial torture situations rarely have independent eyewitnesses. Moreover, state agents are smart enough to tamper with procedure and record through skilful means, for instance by wrongly entering the date, time and place of arrest.

Not only this, the Prevention of Torture Bill, 2008, which the Government has drafted also includes torture by Government servants, including police officials, within the ambit of punishable offences.
Under the proposed law, public servants and others responsible for causing grievous hurt or danger to life, limb or health of any person would be liable for being punished for torture. Incidentally, the draft legislation also makes inflicting mental torture a punishable offence.

Public servants torturing anybody for the purpose of extracting information or extra-judicial confession from any accused would also attract penal action under the proposed law.
Torturing anybody on the ground of his race, religion, place of birth, residence, language, caste and community would also be a punishable offence.
"We are hoping to give the necessary notice to the Lok Sabha Secretariat about our intention to introduce the Bill in the ongoing Session itself. After that, it would a matter of timing before the law becomes a reality," said a senior functionary associated with the entire process.
India signed the Convention in October 1997, but has not ratified the same despite repeated calls by human rights organisations and NGOs. Ratification is necessary for appropriate changes to be made in the prevailing laws. Once ratified and a new law is in place, it would enable institutions and authorities to be committed and be accountable to tackle instances of widespread torture, especially in police custody.
It would also make it mandatory for the Government of India to submit regular reports to the UN on measures it has taken to implement the convention. The convention also says that persons accused of torture would have to be extradited if an extradition treaty has been signed by member countries.
"We will also set up independent panels to deal with complaints of torture, both at the central level as well as the state level. All complaints in torture matters would automatically be forwarded to these panels," said the officer.

PVCHR in the collaboration of Danish organization RCT launched the initiative for psychological well-being of survivors of torture and organized violence. It is noted that we called the Government to accept the psychological torture as crime against humanity also.

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