July 28th, 2021
By Hamid Riaz
In a recent letter written to Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations (UN) and Other International Organizations in Geneva, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment has requested the Government of Pakistan to expedite the passage of the proposed Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Bill 2020, citing the fact that the country’s current legal framework is insufficient for prosecuting torture. The Bill was unanimously passed by the Senate on July 12, 2021, and is currently pending passage from the National Assembly.
The Bill was introduced in the Upper House by Senator Sherry Rehman as a private member bill and received overwhelming support from both the treasury and the opposition benches, with Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari calling it “much needed, necessary and urgent.”
Delay in the passage of the Bill
While the UN has commended the efforts of the government and parliament of Pakistan in bringing about this piece of legislation, they have also pointed out the consistent and seemingly unnecessary delays for this process to finally reach its current junction, and have urged the Government of Pakistan that similar delays do not impede the passage of the Bill any further. Until the Bill becomes law, the letter maintained, Pakistan’s legal framework will remain devoid of a meaningful definition of torture, making persecution of such crimes virtually impossible.
According to the letter, in February 2016, the then Federal Minister of Human Rights Zahid Hamid introduced the National Action Plan for Human Rights, which set a six-month deadline for the passage of an anti-torture law.
The plan, though promising, never materialized.
In 2019, the new Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari once again floated the idea of introducing a law aimed at curbing torture i.e. the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Bill. Then a year later, in 2020, the Bill was finally tabled in the Senate as a private member bill by Senator Sherry Rehman. The Bill is currently awaiting review and consideration in the National Assembly.
The Anti-Torture Bill stipulates that any public servant who commits abets or conspires to commit torture shall be punished with imprisonment which can extend from three to ten years or a fine of up to Rs2 million. The Bill defines a public servant as “any person who is in actual or purported of a public office” and custody as “all situations where a person is detained or deprived of their liberty irrespective of the legality, nature and place of such detention.”
The proposed law criminalizes torture for purposes of obtaining confessions, information during an investigation and for recovery of property.
According to the Bill, complainants are eligible to submit a complaint at any court of jurisdictional territory if evidence suggests that any form of torture has occurred. The court (via a sessions court with jurisdictional authority) will direct the concerned authorities to carry out an investigation of the incident under the supervision of the court itself.
Similarly, the Bill also stipulates that if a public servant fails to take cognizance of or neglects to prevent torture either intentionally or negligently is liable for punishment.