ISLAMABAD                -          The Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights Tuesday approved a long-awaited bill that criminalizes torture and death of suspects in custody.  

The committee that met under the chair of Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar passed the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Bill, 2020 with some amendments.

PPP parliamentary leader in Senate Sherry Rehman had introduced the bill in the house in February this year. The committee approved important legislation “criminalizing torture and fulfilling our treaty obligations under CAT (convention against torture), said Khokkar in a twitter post after the meeting.

The civil society and human rights organizations have lauded the decision of the committee to approve the proposed law. 

The main objective of the proposed law is to “criminalize and prevent custodial torture and death, which are both a widespread and common occurrence in the criminal justice system of Pakistan”, according to the statement of objects and reasons of the bill. 

The law “also aims to facilitate redress to victims and survivors of custodial torture, who predominantly belong to economically and socially disadvantaged groups in our society,” says the statement.

It adds that the growing occurrence of custodial torture and custodial deaths has affected the credibility of the rule of law and criminal justice system of Pakistan. 

There is no specific criminal law penalty against torture in Pakistan in the existing legal framework, says the bill moved by Senator Rehman. 

According to the original bill introduced in the house, any public servant or any other person, “whoever commits, or abets or conspires to commit torture shall be punished with imprisonment” for a term, not less than three years, and with fine, which may extend to Rs 2 million. 

The draft law says that any public servant, or any other person who has a duty to prevent, and either intentionally or negligently fails to prevent the commission of torture shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, not less than three years which may extend to five years and with fine, which may extend to Rs 1 million.

Regarding the punishment for custodial death or custodial sexual violence, the bill says that “whoever commits, or abets or conspires to commit the offence of custodial death or custodial sexual violence, shall be punished” with imprisonment for life and with fine, which may extend to Rs 3 million.

Under the proposed law, no person shall be detained in order to extract information regarding the whereabouts of a person accused of any offence or to extract evidence from such person. No female shall be taken or held in custody by a male, and only a female public servant would have powers to take a female into custody.

A complainant against such offences shall lodge a complaint with the sessions court of territorial jurisdiction concerned. If a person brought before a court complains that he has been subjected to torture, the court shall record the statement of the person and direct that the person be medically and psychologically examined immediately.

The court shall decide the case within sixty days and for any delay, sufficient reasons shall be recorded in writing. An appeal against the decision can be made in the high court within 30 days. The complainant will also be provided security during all court proceedings.

The bill says the “Custodial Death” includes death occurring in police, private or medical premises, in a public place or in a police or other vehicle or in jail. It also includes death occurring while a person is being arrested or taken into detention or being questioned.

Pakistan has ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 2010. Both these conventions prohibit torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. 

On the issue of delay in issuance of a formal notification on cabinet’s decision declaring employment of domestic workers under the age of 14 as illegal, the committee summoned secretary interior and secretary law for a briefing on Wednesday (today). The committee observed that this notification should be issued at earliest.