July 2, 2019 | By Sikh Siyasat Bureau
Geneva: As the world observes the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on June 26, the SOS-Torture Asia Litigators Group strongly calls for an end to torture impunity on the continent and around the world. The group members include Advocacy Forum Nepal; Cross Cultural Foundation, Thailand; GongGam Human Rights Law Foundation; Human Rights Alert Manipur; Human Rights Office Kandy; Human Rights Organisation of Nepal (HURON); Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation; Justice Project Pakistan; KontraS; Maldivian Democracy Network; Odhikar; Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA); Quill Foundation; Right to Life; “Spravedlivost” (Justice) Jalal-Abad Human Rights Organization; Women in Struggle for Empowerment (WISE).
“Torture is politically, socially and morally accepted in many Asian countries as a tool for policing”, said Bushra Khaliq a lawyer from Pakistan and a member of the Group. “Torture in both police and judicial custody is deeply ingrained in our systems and culture”, added Mangla Verma, a lawyer from India. “The increased impunity with which such instances have been committed in the recent past poses a serious threat to basic Constitutional values, as the extraordinary use of force becomes the new normal. Such regressive practices across the region call for urgent, collective engagement and action. The Asia Litigators Group is a step in this direction.”
Last month, 17 litigators from 11 countries across Asia gathered in Manila, Philippines, and agreed on a joint way forward to step up the fight against torture and impunity. The initiative was spearheaded by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and follows the creation of two similar litigators groups in Africa and Latin America, earlier this year.
“The Asia Litigators Group is made of some of the bravest human rights lawyers in the region, lawyers who work under repressive regimes and lawyers who fight for justice for crimes committed in past armed conflicts or dictatorships”, said Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General. “They represent the most vulnerable victims, including women victims of sexual violence, religious minorities, indigenous people killed by armed forces, and children tortured to death in detention”, stressed for her part Rose Trajano, Secretary General of the Philippines Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA).
While successes in torture litigation are rare in Asia, some of the members of the Asia Litigators Group achieved landmark judgments that changed laws and policies in their countries, obtained compensation for victims of torture and even had perpetrators sentenced and imprisoned. Moreover, their advocacy efforts resulted in favorable decisions from various mechanisms at the United Nations. “Albeit a long shot, litigation is often the only tool for victims to get justice and to have violations and wrongdoings recognized”, said Said Upul Kumarapperuma, a lawyer from Sri Lanka.
“Putting an end to impunity for acts of torture is a moral obligation on the global level”, said Sardorbek Abdukhalilov, a lawyer from Kyrgyzstan. “The victims deserve and hope for justice. We must keep their hope alive.”