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    Posted on 23 November 2011
    Suhas Chakma

    Parliament needs to open the rights door

    Suhas Chakma examines the need for passing an anti-torture bill in India

    Illustration: Sanjoy Naorem

    Asian Centre for Human Rights in its recently released report, Torture in India 2011, brought the nation’s extremely poor human rights record to the fore. The findings will put any government that claims to be democratic to shame: a total of 14,231 persons, i.e., more than four persons per day died in police and judicial custody in India from 2001 to 2010 according to official figures of the National Human Rights Commission. Majority of the victims are poor, the Dalits, the indigenous peoples and it can be safely asserted that 99.99 per cent of the deaths in police custody are as a result of torture and these deaths take place within 48 hours of the victims being taken into custody. These deaths are often passed off as suicides, sudden medical complications, self-inflicted injuries and natural deaths. While torture is used to extract confession, settle personal scores, etc., many are killed simply for not being able to pay bribes.

    According to the Annual Reports of the Ministry of Home Affairs, 15,809 persons including security forces, civilians and alleged terrorists were killed in the conflict in J&K; while 9,060 persons including security forces, civilians and alleged terrorists were killed in the Naxal conflict. With talks being held with various armed groups, the number of killings in all the seven States of the North East is much less than the Naxal conflict. Despite such murders, the government remains opposed to any anti-torture law. Amongst the list of bills to be placed before the current winter session of parliament, the Prevention of Torture Bill drafted by the Rajya Sabha Select Committee does not figure. The committee had submitted the Bill in December 2010. Since then it has been gathering dust at the MHA which opposes a strong anti-torture Bill.

    In fact, when I appeared before the committee in November 2010, the concerns of the MHA were raised. I sought to justify the need for a strong anti-Torture Act based on the Anti-Torture Act of 2009 of the Philippines which complies with the UN Convention Against Torture.

    India is overwhelmingly concerned against internationalisation of Kashmir. However, Indonesia, Malaysia, the US, Japan and UK have been mediating the talks between Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Government of Philippines. India is concerned about the abuse of an antitorture Act by the Naxalites without realising the Communist Party of Philippines remains the oldest Maoists armed group in Asia; and Indian newspapers occasionally report about Filipino communists allegedly training the Indian Maoists.

    While India remains concerned about Islamic terrorism, the Abu Sayaf group in Mindanao, the second largest and easternmost island in the Philippines, had made kidnapping the cottage industry. If Philippines could have a strong anti-torture law, what prevents the largest democratic country from enacting such a law? The result has been drafting of the Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010 by the committee that can be described as close to India meeting obligations under international law but problematic for the MHA. Apart from gross violations of the rights of the citizens, the government of India and its security establishment are yet to realise the cost of not having anti-torture law. Torture remains one of the non-dirigible rights under all circumstances including in war and a number of governments especially those in Europe cannot allow extradition to India without necessary guarantees against torture. India is losing key extradition cases as a result of its unwillingness to stamp out torture.

    ON 30 June 2011, the Danish High Court rejected extradition of Kim Davy, the prime accused of the Purulia arms drop case on the ground that he would risk “torture or other inhuman treatment” as India has not ratified the UNCAT. India has possible reason for pussyfooting on Davy’s extradition as it does not want the public to know under what circumstances Davy actually escaped from the custody of the Indian security forces after being taken into custody at Mumbai airport. However, can India take the same approach with other extradition cases? The Bangladeshi courts may not raise the issue of torture over expected extradition of ULFA leader Anup Chetia. But India ought to realise that even the United States had to alter its interrogation techniques including prohibiting water boarding. Former US President George Bush had to cancel his visit to Switzerland in February 2011 after a complaint was filed for condoning and justifying torture in his autobiography, ‘Decision Points’. If the United States and Bush cannot get away, it is foolish to think India and its officials can get away

    Suhas Chakma is the Director of Asian Centre for Human Rights, New Delhi
    [email protected]

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    Posted on 23 November 2011



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