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Asia: Thorough police reform a prerequisite to end the culture of torture
Asian Human Rights Commission Statement - June 25, 2013
A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission marking the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, June 26
The following is a series of reflections by experts, of what has gone wrong in Asia, that despite attempts, torture continues to exist in most Asian states. The response is released marking the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, June 26.
Question 1: Is the use of torture widespread in your country?
In Bangladesh, torture is endemic. Every police station or office occupied by the police (or any of the law enforcement agencies) is a place where torture is used systematically, every day. Any place where a member of the law enforcement agencies or security forces stays, or passing through, or temporarily stationed, or the street – in either rural or urban setups – is a potential scene of torture.
Torture is widespread in Burma, mainly in two particular places (1) in detention centres, where police interrogate and keep persons, and (2) in ethnic minority dominated areas, where the Burmese military is present. Torture is also widespread in ordinary criminal inquiries and in crime control, where it most commonly takes the form of beatings and other blunt methods intended to cause pain and obtain a confession, such as twisting and bending limbs into unnatural positions and burning of limbs. In criminal cases like murder, rape, and robbery, police have to take immediate action and give a monthly report to the upper authority. If police cannot solve the problem or do not find the right person, they get into trouble and are under pressure from senior officers or from the government, so they arrest many suspects and torture them to extract a confession. They often write-up a confession for the accused and repeatedly make them read it or force them to memorize it. The police have so many torture methods and they use them as official procedure to obtain confessions. In places dominated by the ethnic minorities, torture seldom takes place in formal detention centres but is meted out in military bases or remote rural villages. Torture is not criminalised in law as a separate or special offense.
In Cambodia, torture is commonly used during police interrogations. The policing system is very primitive and no modernisation has taken place. Torture in prisons is also very common.
In India, not only is torture widespread, but the government intentionally promotes the misconception that a country like India cannot be administrated without the use of torture. Hence, the widespread use of torture in India is falsely justified by the creation of a perception, that fear is an essential component required to maintain law and order. In addition, even though torture is partially criminalised in the Penal Code 1860, the absence of an independent investigative mechanism that encourages the acceptance of complaints and prompts investigation and prosecution of these complaints facilitates the widespread use of torture. The use of force by state agents is the singular response with which the state reacts to all forms of political dissent. The use of force in investigations and crowd control occupies a prominent space in police training. Scientific investigation methods and psychological approaches for criminal investigation are not priorities in police training. Hence, police officers are trained and allowed to use force, including torture. They strongly believe that the use of force, including torture, is legally justified and expected of police officers in India.
In Indonesia, torture is widely practiced by the police against individuals – most of the time, individuals who are suspects in crimes. Several local NGOs in Indonesia have conducted research on this and they concluded that the police subject around 70-80% of suspects to torture and ill treatment. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, who visited Indonesia in 2007, also pointed this out, stating that torture is routine practice in Jakarta and other parts of Indonesia. In the last five years, the AHRC has also received a considerable number of reports on individual torture cases.
In Nepal, torture is widespread and it is believed to be an efficient crime investigation strategy. Torture is widespread because there is no effective law or mechanism, and resources insufficient to undertake criminal investigations. Hence, law enforcement agencies use torture or the threat of torture as a tool for criminal investigation. Crime investigators believe that they have a right to extract a confession from the suspect, based on which the investigation of the crime is often undertaken. The impression that law enforcement agencies are empowered to use force against suspects and witnesses in criminal investigation is widespread among the people also, since they do not know – or, in other words, they are often told – that the law enforcement agents are empowered to use all forms of torture upon suspects and even witnesses.
Yes, torture is very widespread and has become endemic in Pakistan. Every police station has at least one private torture cell; the reason is that the police then cannot be blamed for torture happening within their premises. The same issue is there with the armed forces, particularly the army, which runs torture cells in cantonment areas. The air force and navy are running cells too, even in their headquarters.
Torture is thought of as the best way to control crime.
Yes, in the Philippines, torture is the de facto standard procedure of the police and the military. In every arrest, interrogation, and detention, torture is applied in varying degrees, either physical or psychological torture. The police strongly consider the use of torture a necessity.
In Sri Lanka, police torture happens daily in almost every police station. Interrogation simply means torture. People are tortured even before they are asked any questions. AHRC is publishing a book of 400 cases of police torture in Sri Lanka. Methods of torture are extremely brutal.
In Thailand, torture is widely used by the police, army, and other state security forces as a tool of repression and routine form of punishment. Throughout the country, police torture suspects during interrogation and/or to obtain a confession. While the techniques vary from station to station, the use of torture is ubiquitous. In the nine years since martial law and the emergency decree have been in force in southern Thailand, citizens report that people who complain about torture and arbitrary detention are intimidated and punished. Rather than fighting terror, the state security forces have also become agents of it.
Question 2: In your country, are torture and extortion connected?
Bangladesh: Of course! Undoubtedly! The police to extort bribe from the people purposefully use torture. Irrespective of the law, including the Constitution, torture, and bribery exists. In reality, the state's agents never abide by the law while arresting persons. They torture and extort money from detainees. It continues endlessly. There are no proper authorities that function well, for the people to seek remedies. It is a country where the rule of law does not exist and the concept of justice has disappeared.
Burma: Torture and extortion carried out by police personnel is always connected. The basic problem in Burma is that the police are not paid enough – for example, many get only 40,000 MMK, which is approximately 40 USD, per month. Extortion is used to supplement their income.
Cambodia: Torture and extortion are very much connected. The corruption of the police is quite well known and there is no mechanism to control corruption and extortion.
India: Murderer police officers often enjoy celebrity status by being referred as "encounter specialists", even promoted so, by the media. These encounter specialists are those who shoot to kill persons whom they suspect to be criminals. It is natural, that in a country where torture is actively condoned and expected to be the defining character of all law enforcement agencies, the law enforcement agencies use this possibility of generating fear upon the people as a means for extortion. That corruption is widespread in India in all walks of public life does not help in reducing the possibility of state agencies using torture as the most common tool for extortion.
Indonesia: The two issues are related, as there have been many cases in which the police, as means to obtain money from suspects use torture. In Indonesia, the two issues are related also in the sense that torture and ill-treatment are often used to punish suspects who refuse or fail to provide money requested by the police officers. Typically, when somebody is being arrested and detained by the police, he or she will be asked to pay some money, which the police claim will be used for his or her meals or for other purposes. This practice is no doubt illegal as there is some money allocated by the government for all these things. Yet a suspect does not have many choices, as refusing to pay such money results in torture and ill treatment.
Nepal: Just as it is in any other jurisdiction where torture is not a crime, law enforcement agencies who engage in torture with impunity understandably use torture for extortion. The lack of discipline, poor wages, and rampant corruption are other factors that work as catalysts, encouraging state agents to extort favours in cash and kind from civilians. Private individuals to extort money from other citizens also utilize the threat of torture by the state agencies.
Pakistan: Torture and extortion are well connected. The aim of torture is not only about getting information; in general, the purpose is extortion. People pay bribes so that, even if they are still tortured, that torture is to a lesser degree. After taking accused persons into custody, police do not formally arrest him/her for some days and ask for bribes to file cases in which bail is possible (bailable offences) and, if the bribe is not paid, then the person is arrested under a heinous crime as the punishment for not bribing the police.
The Philippines: Partly yes. Historically, torture has been used for the suppression of dissent – notably against communists and Muslim rebels. After the fall of Marcos in 1986, in addition to politically motivated torture cases, more and more non-political torture cases are coming to the surface, like police torture for purposes of extorting money. I do think that there is a correlation between torture and extortion; however, an understanding of torture for the purposes of extortion is not well developed in the Filipinos' consciousness. It is not clearly understood. It explains why there is no sufficient documentation on this as well.
Sri Lanka: Torture and extortion are deeply linked. There is a heavy criminalisation of the police, who are suspected of kidnappings and murder for hire. By threatening to torture people, police can make money by conniving with complainants or taking money from relatives of the suspects. There is no efficient mechanism to deal with police extortion. Thailand: Police corruption is common. There are no effective means to combat corruption in general and, naturally, the policing system is seriously affected by corruption.
Question 3: In your country, does the government have the political will to stop torture?
Bangladesh: 'Political will' is absent in Bangladesh to end torture. The ruling political party have been ignoring the legislation entitled "Torture and Custodial Death (Prohibition) Bill-2011" since March 2011, despite the fact that the Parliamentary Committee on Private Members' Bills and Resolutions recommended the Parliament to pass the Bill. The ruling political party promised to end the on-going human rights abuses and claimed that they would bring the perpetrators to justice in their election manifesto in 2008, but has done nothing so far.
Burma: Yes, they say so, always mentioning that torture and inhuman treatment is illegal and against the Geneva Conventions. The Ministry of Home affairs renews the police discipline rules and regulations on paper, has some training with foreign government departments and receives training on international standards on interrogation. The police structure is somewhat changed. However, the District, State, and Division Police chiefs come from the army. That is why the practice of torture continues unabated in the country.
Cambodia: The Cambodian government has not shown any will to improve justice institutions, including the police. The political system resists reforms leading towards the rule of law.
India: In a political environment where corruption and the proceeds of corruption form the denominators with which political allegiances are forged and governments formed, having a civilian police that is capable of scientifically and impartially investigating crimes is not an environment that politicians and other policy-makers would want to prevail in India. Hence, they expect the law enforcement agencies to remain corrupt, to be brutal to the ordinary citizen and to enforce all forms of state writ upon the people. This leaves a narrow common space for politically questioning state actions.
In the absence of any policy to reform the police from what it is today in India, to a civilian police that is fit to serve the requirements of a fast-advancing democracy, torture will remain the single largest impediment to the establishment of the rule of law. Having no policy of reforms is the policy of the government.
Indonesia: The Indonesian government does not have the will to stop the practice of torture. In addition to the fact that torture remains widespread as of today, the government's lack of will can be seen conclusively from the fact that torture is yet to be criminalised and the fact that there is no effective and adequate protection provided for victims or their families who wish to file a complaint against police officers engaged in such abuse. The government has been planning to revise the current Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code, which – if the current draft is enacted- may give some contribution towards the elimination of torture. Yet this revision plan has remained merely a plan for years without certainty about whether it will be enacted.
Nepal: The government does not have the capacity or the political will to contain any form of crime, including the practice of torture committed by law enforcement agencies. The government fears the possibility that law enforcement agents may collectively revolt against the state if the government tries to discipline state agencies. In addition, the scandalous corruption of politicians who play pivotal roles in conceiving and implementing state policies facilitates corruption in state offices.
Pakistan: We have not observed any serious effort from the authorities to stop torture. The present president was tortured severely. Yet, his political party has not initiated any effort to make a law against custodial torture throughout its five years in office.
The Philippines: Partly yes, but the government is also consciously aware that if they push too much, there will be strong resistance. Those in the police and the military are still very much the same people who were involved in widespread and systematic torture during the Marcos period. They remained unpunished. The Government knows the limit of their 'political will'.
Sri Lanka: The government connives to maintain a bad policing system as it benefits most politicians. There is no will at all to implement the law against torture. Investigations into allegations of torture have been stopped. There is no implementation of the recommendations of the CAT Committee or UN agencies.
Thailand: Despite repeated attempts by victims and human rights defenders to push the Thai government to take action to stop torture, to date they have not done so. The supposed independent institution tasked with redressing complaints of torture by state officials – the National Anti-Corruption Commission – lacks both the will and the capacity to complete carry out its work. The judiciary has actively foreclosed the rights of victims by allowing state officials who have had complaints of torture filed against them to press charges against victims for bringing the complaints.
Question 4: Is it correct to say that without through police reform torture will continue to exist?
Bangladesh: It is impossible to get protection from torture without a thorough reform of the policing system and judicial system in Bangladesh.
Burma: In order to eliminate torture in criminal cases in the long term, Burma's police force should undergo drastic reforms. The police force relies on the "systemic" practice of "extreme" torture of people held on criminal charges. The judiciary should be independent and strengthened.
Cambodia: Without a basic reform of the system of justice as a whole, there is no way to stop the use of torture at the police stations and in the prisons. Despite a new constitution being adopted in 1993, the old system of administration remains powerful and the separation of powers principle is not practically recognized, though it is in the constitution. Without basic reforms in this area, torture will continue to be practiced.
India: Yes Indonesia: It is certainly correct. The current legal setting in Indonesia gives much space for the police to torture individuals with impunity. The police can detain suspects for over 60 days without any judicial supervision. If any abuse happens during this period and the victims wish to file a complaint, they can only report it to the police, who are unlikely to do anything about it, as they themselves are the perpetrators.
The reforms needed are not only those, which are legalistic and formal, but also those that are able to address substantive issues. For instance, although today the police are institutionally separated from the prosecutors and the judiciary, and when it comes to torture cases their power seems to be extended up to the prosecution and trial stages. They can influence the prosecutors and the judges. In rare instances when police officers who practice torture are criminally prosecuted and tried, the punishment has been excessively lenient and the judgment does not reflect what actually happened.
Nepal: Reforming the police is a subject that must be approached from different perspectives. It includes resources, training, changes in the legal framework within which the police force operates, including accountability, and the criminalisation of torture. Since the status quo facilitates corruption and all forms of non-accountability in government, people in power do not want to bring in civilian policing in Nepal.
Pakistan: Torture will, to some extent, cease if police reforms are implemented. However, until the civil society resists and protests against the practice of torture, it cannot be stopped. When we fight against torture, it is actually fighting against the mind set in which it is thought that without this punishment society cannot be purified. Well-off persons bribe the police to torture their employees, servants or subordinates. Another issue is that police officers will lose their opportunity to demand and accept bribes. Other important reason for persistent use of torture is the fear of the powerful in Pakistan, that without the fear of torture, the people of Pakistan cannot be kept under oppression and that they will be free from fear that would help them think free.
The Philippines: Yes. It should start within the police establishment. Before 1986, our police and military functioned and operated as the same entity. They received similar training. After 1986, the police and military were structurally separated. However, despite formal separation, they still function as they did under Marcos. In theory, our policing is civilian, but in practice, it is not.
Sri Lanka: It is entirely correct. However, due to constitutional changes made by the government by adopting the 18th Amendment to the constitution, no police reform can happen without constitutional reform. Thus, until such reforms take place, police torture will remain a serious problem in Sri Lanka.
Thailand: What is required is a thorough police reform, concomitant reform of the judiciary, and extensive grassroots human rights education will be necessary. The police must radically shift their approach to fighting crime and dealing with alleged perpetrators. The accused is often treated as guilty until proven innocent, and this leads to a dangerous dehumanisation. This facilitates torture and simultaneously creates challenges for redressing it.
About Asian Human Rights Commission
The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.