Human Rights Issues

[oped of the day] A specific anti-torture law needs to be detailed, comprehensive and conform to international standards

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Convention on Torture

Mains level : Anti Torture legislation

Op-ed of the day is the most important editorial of the day. This will cover a key issue that came in the news and for which students must pay attention. This will also take care of certain key issues students have to cover in respective GS papers.

CONTEXT

Recently the home minister pronounced that the days of third-degree torture are gone. It is an acknowledgment about something that everyone knows — that torture is an endemic characteristic of Indian policing.

State of torture in India

    • Common cause survey – Common Cause’s recent large national-level survey on the Status of Policing in India affirms violent means
      • 3 out of 5 personnel believe there is nothing wrong with beating up criminals.
      • 4 out of 5 think it’s okay to bash them up to extract a confession. 
      • 1 in 5 even believes that killing dangerous criminals is better than a legal trial. 
    • These show the poor orientation towards working within the law; the deep sub-culture of ferocious machismo; and the tolerance for illegality within the supervisory cadre.
    • These results show the confidence of torturers that no consequences will flow from even extreme acts of cruelty. 
    • When instances of torture become known, a pocketful of ready excuses are used to defend the – necessity, poor working conditions, no other means, mental tension, and pressure from within and without.
    • Poor capacity – generations of active policemen don’t know that any assault and victimisation of anyone that is not entirely in self-defense is prohibited by law.

What should be done – police

    • Not for the police to decide – though the people who come into the police net are cruel, vicious and cunning, their criminality is not for the police to punish. 
    • Role of police – it is to bring alleged criminals before the courts.

Issues persist

    • No detailed provisions – At present, only a few sections of the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Indian Penal Code criminalise torture and custodial deaths. 
    • Small changes not useful – A few amendments tucked away in a large code are unlikely to have the visibility or effect that a comprehensive standalone law would. 
    • Convention – India signed the UN Convention Against Torture in 1997. But ratification needs us to pass laws at home that reflect the articles in the UN law.
    • In 2017, under the Universal Periodic Review process 29 countries made 37 recommendations that India take urgent steps to stop the torture.
    • 2010 law – the Prevention of Torture Bill lapsed.
    • 2016 – Law Commission drafted a more diluted version. 
    • 2019 – NHRC has registered over 400 cases of alleged deaths in police custody and over 5,000 cases pertaining to deaths in judicial custody. For the past three years alone, these have regularly clocked in at over a thousand a year.
    • At present, the national infrastructure is sorely wanting.

Way ahead

  • A specific anti-torture law needs to be detailed, comprehensive and conform to international standards. 
  • It will need to have a broad descriptive definition of torture that includes mental torture.
  • It should make it easier to prove as has been done in the case of custodial rape.
  • Fix responsibility not only on the perpetrator but on those who allow it to happen under their watch.
  • Make punishment more stringent especially where there has been sexual violence and ensure the state compensates and cares for its victims. 
  • Bypass the hurdles of Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code which requires permission before public servants can be prosecuted for actions done in the course of his duty. 
  • The new legislation is only a beginning. Actualisation will take much more. 
  • Exhortations will not stop the torture. Having policies, practices and performance in place to demonstrate implementation, will. 
  • The police force has to be reoriented, investigators have to be skilled up with modern techniques of detection and forensic capacities across the country to be ramped up. 
  • It needs long-delayed human rights courts to be set up with specially trained judges in place. 
  • It needs agencies like local legal aid authorities to have clear guidelines to assist where there are allegations of torture. 
  • It requires overseeing bodies like the many human rights commissions and police complaints authorities to do the same. 
  • The police force should have zero-tolerance. It should reinvent its purpose — not as an oppressive force, but as a service whose main work is the protection of the lives and liberties of each of us.
  • The Common Cause survey of 12,000 personnel at police stations uncovers the truth we all know — that political interference in the investigation is near omnipresent. 

Conclusion

Supreme Court has made it clear that torture is not part of anyone’s duty. Still, prosecution and convictions continue to be difficult.

 


Back2Basics

The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (commonly known as the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT)) is an international human rights treaty, under the review of the United Nations, that aims to prevent torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment around the world.

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