The Government of Pakistan is set to be reviewed on 18th and 19th of April 2017 by the United Nations Committee Against Torture (hereafter the Committee or CAT) on its compliance with the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment (hereafter the Convention) during the Committee’s 60th session. The occasion is bound to be significant as this will be the first-time Pakistan is being reviewed by the CAT ever since Pakistan signed on and ratified the Convention in 2008 and 2010 respectively. Also noteworthy is the fact that the CAT review is only the first of three United Nations treaty body reviews, in addition to the Universal Periodic Review, the government of Pakistan faces in what is shaping out to be a very busy 2017.

The Convention Against Torture is one of nine core international human rights treaties or conventions adapted by the UN that set out universal standards and a legally binding framework of international human rights. After ratifying a convention, a state is legally obligated to implement its provisions and abide by them. Pakistan practices a “dualist system” of treaty implementation, whereby a ratified treaty does not automatically become part of the national legal system. Thus, to give the provisions of a treaty legal effect, Pakistan needs to pass domestic legislation.

The Committee reviewing Pakistan will be a body comprised of 10 independent experts that monitors the implementation of the various provisions of the Convention by its member state parties. All state parties are supposed to regularly submit its reports on their progress, and the Committee then examines each report and engages in a public dialogue with the state delegation. The Committee then issues its findings, known as Concluding Observations, outlining progress areas of concern and making concrete recommendations for reform. State parties are under a legal obligation to implement the Concluding Observations.

As mentioned above, after ratifying the Convention, Pakistan had to ensure that its domestic laws were in line with the treaty provisions. This means that Pakistan is obligated to properly define and criminalize torture, set out appropriate punishments for acts of torture, implement effective and impartial measures to prevent and investigate torture, and to set up mechanisms for rehabilitation and reparations of victims.

In its Initial State Report, submitted five years too late, to the Committee, Pakistan seems to be arguing that its pre-existing legal framework was already in line with the provisions of the Convention. The State Report claims, in other words, that torture is prohibited and prevented, with allegations of abuse effectively investigated and prosecuted. To support these claims, however, the report merely listed a litany of de jure statements about different legislations and articles in various, diffused procedural codes with only a tangential relationship with torture.

The bold claims of the State Report, and the likely line of arguments employed by the state delegation in Geneva, only serve to obfuscate the fact that nothing has been done to combat the endemic of torture in Pakistan. To pretend that torture in custody is not an accepted method of criminal investigation in Pakistan is a dangerous folly that fools no one.

In the seven years since the ratification of the Convention, Pakistan has failed to pass a single piece of legislation that comprehensively addresses the issue of torture. As such, torture remains ill-defined in the Pakistani jurisprudence as the only mention of torture in the Constitution, in Article 14(2), does not define the scope of torture. The two major penal codes of Pakistan do not mention torture by name, and the offences and punishments highlighted by the state in its report only concern the “hurt principle” which deals with the severest of bodily injuries resulting in permanent damage. Thus, the Pakistani law does not consider any act of mental torture, cultural humiliation, or any act of physical torture that does not leave any lasting marks a punishable offence.

This is to say nothing of the fact that investigation and prosecution of even the acts criminalized under the law is next to impossible because the sole body invested with the authority to register complaints of torture committed by the police is the police itself. For example, take ‘Policing as Torture: A Report on Systematic Brutality and Torture by the Police in Faisalabad, Pakistan’, a study conducted by Yale University and Justice Project Pakistan on a sample of 1,867 Medico-Legal certificates from the District of Faisalabad that documented an endemic of torture and a culture of widespread impunity. In 1,424 cases, allegations of torture were confirmed with physical evidence and yet not even one was pursued to a proper investigation and prosecution.

The practice of torture is so universally condemned that the prohibition on it is considered a fundamental international norm. It is important to keep in mind that international norms are our shared, human values and the state of Pakistan owes it to its citizens, not just to international treaty bodies, to protect them. The inability or unwillingness to combat the malaise of torture is a permanent stain on the capacity of Pakistan to provide its citizens a fair and just society. In a year of multiple international reviews, it is hoped that the government of Pakistan takes concrete steps to resolve its criminal justice problems, instead of stubbornly continuing to insist all is well at home.

The meeting between the government representatives and the CAT is public and webcasted. It takes place in the Palais Wilson in the same room as the NGO briefing and will start at 6:00 pm PST, 18 April. It can also be watched live under We deserve to know what is said by the state, when it accounts for our rights.