The ratification by Pakistan of the Covenant of Civil and Political Rights and the United Nations Convention against Torture must be welcomed. It is hoped these international instruments, particularly the convention against torture, will help check the increasingly brutal trends that are prevalent in society.
However, merely signing or ratifying treaties is not enough. The government must demonstrate it has the will to implement the spirit of this convention. Torture is commonplace in Pakistan, with the police and security agencies using it as an instrument of policy. The police normally extract confessions through torture while those picked up by intelligence outfits also receive deplorable treatment.
But it is not just organs of the state that are indulging in torture. Women and children are easy targets for abuse in this society, while corporal punishment in schools and madressahs, domestic violence and abuse of household staff also fall within the broad definition of torture.Torture is already prohibited by Article 14 of the constitution. Signing the convention should force the rulers to take practical steps to eliminate this evil practice. The government should harmonise the protocols of the convention with the country’s laws. But ending torture in Pakistan is an uphill task. The mindsets that encourage brutality have to change first before there can be any significant improvement. It is the state’s obligation to change the culture of brutality; only then can citizens be expected to behave differently.
It must be noted that Article II of the convention says that under “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever” can torture be justified. This includes “war, internal political instability or any other public emergency”. Considering the state is at war with militants, it is increasingly important that these guidelines be followed. If the government is serious about implementing the convention, then ‘forced disappearances’ and other such unsavoury practices must end. It is imperative that action is taken against those who use terror as a tactic. But even in these testing times the civil and human rights of all — including suspected militants — must be respected and legal channels must be used to bring the guilty to justice.