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ASIA: Thorough police reform a prerequisite to end the culture of torture

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  • Sukla Sen
    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE AHRC-STM-115-2013 June 25, 2013 A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission marking the United Nations International Day in Support
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 25, 2013
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      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

      ASIA: Thorough police reform a prerequisite to end the culture of

      Click here to watch our video presention

      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

      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

      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

      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

      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

      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

      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

      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

      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

      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

      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 AHRC: 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.

      About the video: The video is produced by the AHRC in collaboration
      with Ms. Josefina Bergsten of http://www.picturesbythewayside.com

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