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26 June: International Day in support of victims of torture

June 26, 2013 | By

Ludhiana, India (June 26, 2013): 26 June is observed as “United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture”.

Torture victim from Mauritania, undergoing rehabilitation at the African Centre for the Prevention and Resolution of Conflicts, Vivre Caprec, in Senegal. The centre is funded by the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Torture. (OHCHR Photo)

Torture victim from Mauritania, undergoing rehabilitation at the African Centre for the Prevention and Resolution of Conflicts, Vivre Caprec, in Senegal. The centre is funded by the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Torture. (OHCHR Photo)

Torture seeks to annihilate the victim’s personality and denies the inherent dignity of the human being. The United Nations has condemned torture from the outset as one of the vilest acts perpetrated by human beings on their fellow human beings.

Torture is a crime under international law. According to all relevant instruments, it is absolutely prohibited and cannot be justified under any circumstances. This prohibition forms part of customary international law, which means that it is binding on every member of the international community, regardless of whether a State has ratified international treaties in which torture is expressly prohibited. The systematic or widespread practice of torture constitutes a crime against humanity.

On 12 December 1997, by resolution 52/149, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 26 June the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, with a view to the total eradication of torture and the effective functioning of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, (resolution 39/46), annex, which entered into force on 26 June 1987.

“I urge all Member States to accede to and fully implement the Convention against Torture and support the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. Let us work together to end torture throughout the world and ensure that countries provide reparation for victims.”

– Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Torture is widespread and frequent in India

In India torture is so frequent and widespread that its being considered an integral part of “administration of justice”. Recently “Tehelka”, an investigative weekly, has noted that: “[f]our undertrials die in police custody every day in India — a disturbing number for one of the oldest judicial systems in the world. Between 2001 and 2010 the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) registered 14,231 custodial deaths. And this is just the tip of the iceberg, as custodial torture not leading to death seldom makes news. Nonetheless, once the police dismiss the death as a suicide, result of sudden medical complication or self-inflicted injuries, justice eludes the deceased’s relatives as the entire system works to shield the torturers”.

A write-up by Suhas Chakma, Published in Tehelka, titled: “State-Sanctioned Violation” reads: “India’s law enforcement agencies have perfected the use of torture to extract confessions. By legislating laws like the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act that made confessions made to police officers admissible as evidence, India has gone a step further in providing State sanction to make torture an integral part of its judicial process”.

The write-up that highlights that “[i]n India, custodial torture has become an accepted tool to administer justice” further notes: “India has no explanation for rampant use of torture by investigating agencies and for the absence of an anti-torture law. After being censured by the UN Human Rights Commission in May 2008 for human rights violations — including torture and enforced disappearances — India promised to enact a law against torture and ratify the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT). The government subsequently drafted the Prevention of Torture Bill, 2008. Though the Lok Sabha passed the Bill without any debate, it had to be referred to a Parliamentary Select Committee following objections in the Rajya Sabha. The committee submitted a revised version of the Bill in December 2010 but this Bill has effectively been shelved. India had nothing to report when it appeared for the UN scrutiny again in May 2012″.

Evaluating the role of Supreme Court of India in this regard the auther has noted that “[e]ven the Supreme Court, despite making the right noises, has failed to stamp out torture. Although it issued a set of guidelines in 1996 for the police to follow in all cases of arrest or detention as a measure to prevent custodial violence, these guidelines have had no deterrent effect on investigating agencies. But the SC has so far, however, shied away from ruling that torture does not form part of official duty, thereby insulating investigating personnel from legal scrutiny. Under existing laws, law enforcement personnel cannot be prosecuted without prior sanction from the government. In fact, contradictory judgments by the SC on the requirement of prior sanction for prosecuting erring officials have also not helped the fight against torture”.

As regards the performance of India’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the write up published by Tehelka notes: “[t]he NHRC too has equally failed in controlling custodial deaths, not to mention torture. It rarely recommends prosecution of the guilty and limits its recommendations to compensating the victim. In the past 20 years, the NHRC has not intervened in a single torture case being tried in the courts. Although, since 1993, it has made it mandatory to submit video records of the post-mortem examination in case of a custodial death, to date it has not established a medical advisory board to examine these videos”.

“Internationally, India’s track record remains extremely poor. Of the 193 member states of the UN, 153 nations have ratified the UNCAT. India remains among the handful of countries that haven’t. In June 2011, the Danish High Court rejected the extradition of Kim Davy, the prime accused in the 1995 Purulia arms drop case — in which a large consignment of arms and ammunition were dropped from an aircraft in Purulia district of West Bengal — on the ground that he would risk ‘torture or other inhuman treatment’ as India has not ratified the UNCAT. The two countries are yet to find a way to resolve Davy’s extradition”, Suhas Chakma has noted.

He further noted that: “India has so far maintained its silence both on tabling the Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010, as drafted by the Parliamentary Select Committee and the ratification of the UNCAT. But silence is not an option for India before the courts in Europe. A number of extradition requests by India relating to terror suspects are currently pending before courts in UK and possibility of torture in Indian prisons figures as the key issue against extradition. It is difficult to see how extradition can be allowed when India’s own NHRC registers four deaths in custody every day, and the government by its omission permits the use of torture for administering justice”.

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