Human Rights Issues

[op-ed snap] The importance of being humane


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: The ratification of anti-torture convention is related to Human Rights and India has not ratified it.



Custodial torture is global, old and stubborn. Opposition parties must make a new anti-torture legislation part of their common programme.

History of torture by Power

  • The Arthashastra prescribes mental torture through swear-words with or without physical assaults.
  • Death by a thousand cuts was ancient China’s speciality.
  • Their modern avatar in Japan’s World War II of biological and chemical experimentation on humans — prisoners, mainly Chinese — in Unit 731 stop the blood-flow to one’s heart.

Worldwide convention against Torture

  • Meeting on December 10, 1984, the UN General Assembly stirred the world’s conscience. It adopted the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Better known as the UN Convention against Torture, it sought to prevent torture around the world.
  • It “required states to take effective measures to prevent torture and forbade them from transporting people to any country where there is a reason to believe they will be tortured (refoulement)”.
  • Most significantly, the Convention made state parties to undertake that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever” will be “invoked to justify torture, including war, threat of war, internal political instability, public emergency, terrorist acts, violent crime, or any form of armed conflict”.

The Indian Case

  • India took 13 years to sign the Convention, but sign it did, on October 14, 1997,
  • Unless a convention is ratified and followed or preceded by domestic legislation that commits the ratifying party to compliance, the original signing carries no meaning. India has not ratified.
  • A state which signs the Convention has to have a domestic law on the subject to outlaw and prevent custodial torture. Without such a law, there is no meaning to signing the Convention.

History of Anti-torture legislation in India

  • UPA II government introduced a Prevention of Torture Bill in the Lok Sabha in 2010 and had it passed.
  • A select committee of the Rajya Sabha. The committee gave its report recommending the Bill’s adoption later the same year. Citing National Human Rights Commission figures of reported torture cases, the report said the figures showed custodial torture was rising.
  • It lapsed with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha.
  • In reply to a question (May 11, 2016) whether the government was planning to ratify the Convention, the Minister of State for Home did not answer either in the positive or negative but spoke of amending Sections 330 (voluntarily causing hurt to extort confession) and 331 of the Indian Penal Code.
  •  A PIL was moved in the Supreme Court in 2016 asking it to get Parliament to move forward in the matter. After a full day’s exclusive hearing in the case, the court has reserved its orders.

Way Forward

  • In a matter that concerns ‘life and liberty’, the Supreme Court is the guardian of the Constitution’s guarantees.
  • It is imperative that the democratic opposition makes the ratification of the Convention and a new anti-torture legislation part of its common programme.
  • The 17th Lok Sabha must take a stand on this matter. It has a choice: to join the civilised world in moving away from ancient barbarism or stay in the dungeons of blinding, benumbing brutality.

By Er S

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