Custodial torture

DESPITE the passage of a law against custodial torture last year, allegations of the grisly practice still being followed continue to surface. The latest case is that of former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who told a court that he was `tortured physically and mentally` while in police custody under public order laws. Fellow PTI members including Azam Swati and Shahbaz Gill have in the past alleged similar treatment in custody. Regardless of the veracity of Mr Qureshi`s claims, the situation calls to attention a practice that is not only morally reprehensible but also legally proscribed under Pakistan`s Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Act, 2022.

However, there are shortcomings that must be addressed. For one, this law, while comprehensive in defining physical torture, omits the critical aspect of mental torture. Moreover, its failure to stipulate stand-alone punishment for torture, its reliance on the provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code which inadequately addresses the severity of torture and the lack of a mechanism for recompense for victims, point to a significant gap between legislative intent and practical enforcement. The involvement of the FIA and National Commission for Human Rights in investigations is a positive step, but without adequate resources and empowerment, these bodies cannot function effectively.

So what can be done to counter this? A consensus is needed among the government, judiciary, and security forces to oppose torture and related practices. Other steps include amending the law to address all forms of torture, ensuring rigorous training and sensitisation of all stakeholders, establishing clear mechanisms for accountability and compensation, and empowering independent investigative bodies. Pakistan, as party to the UN Convention Against Torture, is internationally bound to uphold the highest standards of human rights and dignity. The continued reports of custodial torture are a stain on our commitment to these principles. The dignity of every citizen, irrespective of political affiliation, must be safeguarded.

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