Will anti-torture law have the desired effect?

April 12, 2010

Just days after 76 security personnel were killed by Maoist rebels in Chhattisgarh, a long-pending bill to prevent torture has been cleared by the cabinet for introduction in parliament, which aims to align Indian law with the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

Activists have for years demanded ratification of the 1984 U.N. convention, which India signed 13 years ago, to curb alleged brutalities by state agencies especially in disturbed areas like Jammu and Kashmir, the North East and the “red corridor” where Maoists operate.

But some cabinet members reportedly felt the bill was ill-timed in the wake of the Dantewada killings, arguing it could be demoralising for security forces who are trying to maintain security in hostile environments.

Protestors raise slogans during a strike in Srinagar to protest the alleged killing of youths in police custody in this November 3, 1997 file photo. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli/Files The police and security forces are often accused of using violence to extract confessions from suspects, and activists say hundreds of custodial deaths and other alleged human rights violations stoke separatist sentiments in Kashmir and contribute to the growth of Maoists in Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Orissa.

Special legislations like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which gives extra powers to the armed forces, have been blamed for many rights violations especially in the north-eastern state of Manipur, where protests demanding the repeal of the act are common.

The government’s proposed Prevention of Torture Bill, which is likely to be placed before parliament in the second phase of the budget session, prescribes a maximum of 10 years in jail for a person found guilty of torture.

Being the world’s largest democracy and a self-proclaimed emerging power, India needs a law which clearly defines physical and mental torture, to be regarded as a responsible nation.

But with recent heavy setbacks suffered by security forces against Maoists, where some felt false information led security forces into a trap by rebels, will a strict law against harsh interrogation of suspects come in for opposition from some quarters?

Even in the United States, some right-wing politicians have defended heavy-handed methods of extracting information from suspects.

Dick Cheney, who was vice-president when the Sept 11, 2001 attacks took place, defended harsh interrogation tactics like waterboarding used on terror suspects in 2002 and 2003, claiming authorities extracted information that helped protect the country and saved “thousands” of American lives.

But President Barack Obama said the present U.S. administration would not compromise its ideals to fight terrorism, thereby ruling out torture.

Activists also argue that torture is no guarantee for obtaining the right information as someone experiencing extreme pain will say whatever he is asked to say — true or not — to get relief.

The question then is where should security forces draw the line — should they follow the anti-torture law in letter and spirit or should they be given leeway in special cases where information could be vital?

And more importantly, will the anti-torture law actually have the desired effect on the ground, in the faraway tribal areas of Jharkhand or the tense mountains of Kashmir?


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To contend that because of recent reverses, this is an inopportune time for an anti torture law, seems to suggest that its ok to have it as long as it may not be necessary to use it! The recent reverses in no way negate the fact that police brutality in interrogations is rampant and that innocents are often forced to make confessions just to evade more pain.

That torture should be banned in any and every civilized country cannot be argued against. It is not a matter of convenience, but proof of being a State that believes in equitable juatice. I am with the activists on this one.

Whether it will have the desired result, is not a criteria. That depends entirely on how it is implemented. In India that is a major problem with every law. Just because traffic police prefer not to enforce or implement the helmet or seat belt law does not justify that the law be scrapped or that it is not for the benefit of society. Law and its proper implementation is not a matter of convenience but a necessity for a civilised society.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

I think we need the law on statute books regardless of its effectiveness because we boast of being a democracy. Bragging rights don’t come for free!

Posted by VipulTripathi | Report as abusive

It won’t have any effect on the ground

Posted by da_bet | Report as abusive