UN concerned over widespread torture by police in Pakistan

Geneva [Switzerland], May 14 : The United Nations Committee against Torture has expressed its serious concerns over the consistent reports about the widespread torture by police in Pakistan.

The UN Committee in its report said that police in Pakistan are reportedly threatening and not responding to people, who seek to register First Information Reports (FIR) alleging official misconduct that police are charged with investigating allegations of torture committed by their colleagues and the Federal Investigation Agency is not sufficiently independent to ensure that criminal cases against police officers are effectively pursued.

The UN Committee called upon Pakistan to ensure that officials at the highest levels unambiguously reaffirm the absolute prohibition of torture and publicly condemn all practices of torture, accompanied by a clear warning that anyone committing such acts or otherwise complicit or participating in torture, will be held personally responsible before the law and will be subjected to criminal prosecution and appropriate penalties.

The Committee asked Islamabad to take measures to ensure that all police within the state are prohibited by law from engaging in torture under the 2002 Police Order applicable.

The Committee urged the Pakistan authorities to take effective measures to ensure that persons who file complaints concerning conduct amounting to torture, witnesses to torture and their families, are protected against harassment and intimidation in retaliation for making a complaint.

The UN Committee also expressed concerns at reports that members of Pakistan's military forces, intelligence forces, such as the Inter-Service Intelligence Agency (ISI) and paramilitary forces, such as the Frontier Corps and the Pakistan Rangers, have been implicated in a significant number of cases of extra-judicial executions involving torture and enforced disappearances.

The report noted the possibility that laws in Pakistan provide retroactive immunity for torture by members of the military and paramilitary forces under provisions of the Actions in Aid of Civil Power Regulation of 2011 for events after February 2008 as well as the amendment to the Army Act of 2015 which grants all personnel associated with military courts complete retrospective immunity from prosecution for actions taken in good faith.

"The Committee is also concerned by the exclusive jurisdiction of the military justice system over soldiers accused of offences against civilians.

It regrets that the State party provided no information suggesting that members of the military, intelligence services, or paramilitary forces have been prosecuted and punished for acts amounting to torture as defined by the Convention," said the report.

The Committee has asked Pakistan to amend the Actions in Aid of Civil Power Regulations and the amendments to the Army Act of 2015 to eliminate retrospective immunity and clarify that anyone committing acts of torture, or otherwise complicit, acquiescent or participating in torture, will be subject to criminal prosecution and upon conviction, appropriate penalties.

The report also pointed out that Pakistan's counter-terrorism legislation, particularly the Anti- Terrorism Act, 1997 (ATA), eliminates legal safeguards against torture that are otherwise provided to persons deprived of their liberty by allowing security agencies and civil armed forces to detain any person suspected of committing an offence under the Act for up to three months without review or the possibility of a habeas petition and allowing the detention without trial of up to a year of any person suspected of being involved in the activities of a proscribed organisation.

The Committee urged the Government of Pakistan to repeal or amend the Anti-Terrorism Act and other relevant legislation to ensure that all persons, deprived of their liberty, have access to legal safeguards against torture.

It also asked Islamabad to end the resort to military courts for terrorism-related prosecutions, transfer criminal cases against civilians from military courts to civilian courts and provide the opportunity for appeal in civilian courts of cases involving civilians already adjudicated under military jurisdiction.

The UN Committee said that Pakistan should ensure in law and in practice that all detainees are afforded all fundamental legal safeguards from the outset of the deprivation of liberty.

It also said that all persons deprived of their liberty should be given prompt access to a lawyer, especially during police interrogations to notify a relative or other person of the detainee's choice of the reasons for and place of detention.

It has urged Pakistan authorities to regularly verify that law enforcement officials respect legal safeguards, and penalize any failure by officials to do so.

The Committee called on the Pakistan establishment to ensure that decisions of all judicial and extrajudicial bodies in the country act to uphold the provisions of the convention.

It also asked them to review practices that inhibit all victims of torture from lodging complaints and ensure that all complaints of torture are promptly and impartially examined by competent authorities.

"While welcoming the State party's creation of a National Commission for Human Rights in 2015, the Committee is seriously concerned that the Chairman of the Commission did not receive the authorization which is reportedly required in Pakistan, and as a result the National Commission for Human Rights could not travel to participate in a private meeting with the Committee just prior to the interactive dialogue with the State party, the report said.

The report added that Pakistan should take immediate measures to ensure that the National Commission for Human Rights is able to carry out its mandate fully and in an effective and independent manner.

The committee also expressed concerns over the reports that cases of death in custody due to torture and allegations of sexual abuse of minor prisoners by prisoners and prison staff have not been subject to effective investigations and perpetrators of such acts have not been punished.

The findings of the UN Committee against Torture cover positive aspects of how the respective country is implementing the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and also main matters of concern and recommendations.

The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (known as the United Nations Convention against Torture) is the most important international human rights treaty that deals with torture.

The Convention obligates countries, who are parties to the treaty, to prohibit and prevent torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in all circumstances.

The Convention entered into force on June 26, 1987 and currently has 161 states parties. Thus, the vast majority of the member states of the UN (193) have voluntarily agreed to prohibit any form of torture.

Members of the CAT are independent human rights experts drawn from around the world, who serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of states parties.

The Committee's concluding observations are an independent assessment of states' compliance with their human rights obligations under the treaty.

Source: ANI