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Custodial torture in Asia has to be addressed

Published 05.10.2015
Parliamentarians, former ministers, civil society leaders and bureaucrats representing Asian states will meet this week to seek a political consensus and a firm commitment of adequate resources for justice institution reforms to end torture.

The 4th Asian Alliance against Torture and Ill-treatment & for Fair Trial - Conference of Asian Parliamentarians will be held from 5 to 7 October, 2015 in Hong Kong. The conference is jointly organised by DIGNITY and the Asian Legal Resource Centre, in Hong Kong (ALRC). Go to conference site

"Endemic torture in Asia portrays how medieval and underdeveloped are justice institutions in Asia. That there are only three countries in Asia that has criminalised the practice proves that even today prevention of torture is not state policy…" said Mr. Basil Fernando, Director of Policies and Programmes at ALRC.

"Torture negates the foundations of fair trial. Often law-enforcement agencies resort to torture since it is the only tool they have at their disposal to investigate crimes. Said this, we (ALRC) have also documented hundreds of cases where torture is used for extortion of bribes and to silence the people." Mr. Fernando added.

In Asia, state agencies use torture, in some of its worst forms, against civilians in the excuse of combating terrorism. Countries like Pakistan allow its agencies to engage in widespread torture, for which persons are held incommunicado, in secret detention centres, and are tortured for weeks. The ALRC has documented cases from Pakistan where dead bodies are discarded in isolated locations by these agencies once the person they have taken into illegal custody dies whilst in detention.

"Torture today is used with impunity for social control" said Mr. Fernando.

Across Asia, justice institutions receive the last priority in government budgets. Often paltry sums are allocated for the day-to-day running of the justice institutions, most importantly the police, prosecution and the judiciary. This, when translated into practice means lack of adequate resources for the institutions to function, and long periods of delays in adjudication. In countries like Sri Lanka and India for instance, court procedures could take decades to complete. Such delays have resulted in the loss of trust of the people in their justice institutions.

"One of the serious problems that affect the justice process in Asia is the absence of any policy by Asian governments to reform the existing justice institution framework in the region. What is in fact required is a substantial reengineering of the justice institutions in Asia…" said Mr. Fernando.

"Meaningful engagement to reform the justice framework in Asia requires a firm commitment by Asian governments to provide adequate resources that are required to undertake this process…" "Some political leaders in the region have expressed this concern which I shared. We hope to achieve a consensus through conferences like this, from Asian parliamentarians and their governments, on this subject…" Mr. Fernando said.

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) works towards the radical rethinking & fundamental redesigning of justice institutions in Asia, to ensure relief and redress for victims of human rights violations, as per Common Article 2 of the International Conventions. Sister organisation to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the ALRC is based in Hong Kong & holds general consultative status with the Economic & Social Council of the United Nations.

TORTURE IS A DRAG ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY

Torture has been called ‘the mother of all human rights violations’. As long as a country practices or tolerates torture, people will be reluctant to speak, assemble and participate in the political life. Stopping torture is the first step towards improving human rights in general.

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