Press statement jointly issued by CHRI, OMCT and ICJ:
New Delhi, Oct 28: A two-day conference on anti-torture legislation in India has underscored that 11 years after signing the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT), India has still not ratified it nor passed a national law on the issue.
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), World Organisation against Torture (OMCT), People’s Watch, Quill Foundation, the International Commission of Jurists and Project 39 A from the National Law University, Delhi, conducted the conference “On Strengthening Legal Protection Against Torture in India” on October 26 and 27, 2018 with nearly 80 experts, lawyers, academics, journalists, and activists.
The conference, which saw the participation of Ambassador Claude Heller, Vice-President of the UN Committee Against Torture, aimed to mobilize civil society and to urge the Indian Government to ratify the UNCAT as well as legislate an effective domestic anti-torture law, which is to these days still lacking.
The UNCAT (Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment) is an international treaty that prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and creates an instrument to monitor the implementation of the UNCAT by its State parties.
The backdrop for this conference was a country that claims to consider torture “alien” to its culture, while turning a blind eye to the hundreds – perhaps thousands – of instances of torture and custodial deaths that surface every year. It must also be noted that that India re-committed to ratify CAT in its last Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
Justice (Retd.) A.P. Shah, the former Chairman of the 20th Law Commission of India, presently serving as Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists, joined other prominent speakers in condemning the tacit acceptance of the practice. “Some judges are convinced that without torture, evidence-gathering and subsequent conviction is not possible. This acceptance of torture in India is an open secret and [torturous] treatment meted out to certain communities is accepted as par for the course for “justice and safety” of the country.”
Stressing the absolute prohibition of torture, however, Frederick Rawski, Asia Pacific Director of the International Commission of Jurists said that " the abolition of torture unites people in their support for the police, the judiciary and other state mechanisms and thus serves to strengthen national security."
A major part of the discussions at the conference centred around the failure of India to criminalise torture and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. “There is a general lack of outrage against this institutionalized brutality by law enforcement agencies” said Jinee Lokaneeta, a rights activist, writer and professor at Drew University in New Jersey.
Torture in India almost always succeeds in going unreported – and part of the reason for this is the lack of medical documentation of victims. Stressing on the need for improving medical examination of victims and post-mortems, members of the Human Rights Watch showed with examples how glaringly obvious instances of death by torture are consistently denied by the medical establishment.
Indeed, senior Supreme Court advocate and human rights activist Colin Gonsalves took a very strong view of excesses by police and paramilitary forces across the country –especially in vulnerable areas such as Kashmir or Chhattisgarh, where torture is rampantly used by the state as a weapon against dissent.
“I have handled several murder cases – but not a single one where doctors found a case of torture. A common excuse is that the deceased died of cardiac arrest, but never will these doctors say that the heart attack was actually triggered by beating."
The consensus among the participants was that India badly needs a wider definition of torture than the one it uses right now, especially given that it has recently joined the UN Human Rights Council, and has, in the process, made an array of promises to defend human rights.
Panelists also emphasized that India, as the world’s largest democracy, must ratify the UNCAT. “The UNCAT is not the solution, but it is part of the solution. And it can be used as a starting point to arrive at the solution, ”said Gerald Staberock, Secretary General of the OMCT.
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