The Senate Standing Committee on Interior and Narcotics Control on Wednesday passed three draft bills including Anti-Honour killings Bill, Anti-Torture Bill and Motor Vehicles Bill with certain amendments. The anti-torture bill is aimed at prevention and accountability of cases related to custodial death and rape. Despite the fact that Pakistan has signed and ratified UN conventions on torture, every year hundreds of cases involving mental and physical torture of suspects are reported in the media and there is little accountability. The bill proposes harsher punishments for those convicted for custodial death and rape and seeks to make evidence obtained from torture inadmissible in a court of law. Since Pakistan has failed to evolve its criminal justice system, its law enforcement agencies are heavily reliant on extracting information and confessions through torture. It doesn’t require putting in serious hours in conducting investigations, relying on forensic evidence and employing modern techniques employed by LEAs around the world. It is traditional, cheap and much easier.

While the committee members are right in attempting to introduce legislation to curb the menace, the desired results will not be achieved unless the system that relies on and promotes such practices is not reformed. Legislation alone that criminalizes what is essentially regular practice never suffices until someone addresses the underlying cause of the problem. Is it not true that the LEAs are poorly trained and poorly equipped? Does that justify torture? Never. Does it justify it in the eyes of those who carry it out? Of course. Another reason to be skeptical over the impact of the bill is the complete disregard for procedure. For example, the bill proposes that investigations into complaints pertaining to torture will have to be completed within three weeks and the accused will either have to be suspended or transferred prior to commencement. Uniforms protect uniforms. Violating procedure to save a colleague’s skin is considered noble and praiseworthy in a culture that has little respect for the sanctity of law. Therefore, it would be useful to propose strict punishments for investigators found guilty of violating procedure in order to ensure successful implementation and accountability.

The bill pertaining to honour killings in the country will prove helpful, especially because it seeks to make them a non-compoundable offence. Most incidents of honour killing involve a victim, usually a female, and the aggressors, typically male members of her family. Several cases are closed with the accused being forgiven by members of the same family for killing one of their own due to the compoundable nature of the offence under law as interpreted in practice, especially at lower courts. Legislation fixing these legal lacunae is essential for it will substantially raise the stakes for those who exploit them to their advantage. Again, honour killing isn’t solely a legal issue, but it is a societal problem, which means that only a multi-dimensional approach will lead to gradual eradication.