It is disappointing, to say the least, when well-drafted, important legislation is introduced in one house of the parliament, appears to almost become law, only to be ignored by the other house of the parliament, and then confined to purgatory. It is even more unfortunate when such legislation is written to counter human rights abuses and as a response to UN treaties.

The bill criminalising torture and deaths of suspects in custody, introduced in the Senate, is in risk of suffering a similar fate. There had been much talk about introducing a formal law against torture and police brutality for years, but in June, around the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, two incidents of alleged custodial torture and death, of two individuals in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, resulted in outrage, prompting the parliament to step into action. The bill was deliberated upon by the Senate and approved in late July. Titled the “Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Act, 2020”, it was lauded by human rights activists for expanding on the definition of torture to include mental suffering and held public officials, and those that abetted them, accountable for exerting illegal physical or mental suffering on suspects in custody.

Had the bill passed the lower house and become law, it would have Pakistan’s first step towards eliminating what has sadly become a regular heinous practice in our police custody; the use of torture to extract confessions is antithetical to due process and gravely undermines our justice system. Unfortunately, the bill appears to have fallen prey to parliamentary delay—more than a month has passed, and it has not been taken up by the National Assembly.

Luckily, Prime Minister Imran Khan in a tweet recently stressed the need for the Interior Ministry to speed up the tabling of an anti-torture bill. It is hoped that this will remind the Ministries of Interior and Human Rights to prioritise the bill and make it law. This is not an issue that can be delayed—the longer that custodial torture is not explicitly penalised, the more such horrific incidents and deprivation of human rights will occur.