India and United Nations Convention against Torture

United Nations Convention against Torture {full name: Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment} is an international human rights instrument aimed to prevent torture and cruel, inhuman degrading treatment or punishment around the world. This convention is in force since 1987. India had signed it in October 1997 but till date has not yet ratified it.

Important Articles

As per Article 2 of the convention against torture, the main objective is to prevent torture and to ensure that effective remedies are available to the victims. Some other important articles of the convention are as follows:

  • Article 3: prohibition on deportation or extradition to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
  • Article 4: criminal liability for torture. States need to ensure that all acts of torture are offence under their criminal law.
  • Article 10: education and information for prevention of torture
  • Article 12: procedures of investigation, injury and trial
  • Article 13: protection to victims and witnesses.
  • Article 14: compensation to and rehabilitation of victims of torture.
  • Article 15: criminal offence of utilizing information from torture.

Obligation of States

The states which are party to this convention are required to take the following steps:

  • Take preventive actions against torture like criminalizing acts of torture an enacting domestic laws and regulations to respect human rights of the alleged victim and the accused.
  • Need to outlaw torture and refrain from using ‘higher orders’ or exceptional circumstances’ as excuses for committing acts of torture.

According to some critics, State is also responsible for torture committed by private individuals like racist attacks, domestic violence. But the convention does not impose enough obligations on the state parties to prevent such abuses.

The Torture Convention and India

India signed this convention on October 14, 1997, however, so far has not ratified it. India has expressed its reservations against few provisions of the convention such as – Inquiry by the CAT (Article 20); state complaints (Article 21) and individual complaints (Article 22).

International Pressure

The International Commission of Jurists has criticized India’s failure to tackle issues of torture and unaccountability of armed forces. It has asked India to adopt the reforms suggested by the convention. Out of the 80 countries which participated in the second Universal Periodic Review of human rights record, 22 States urged India to immediately ratify the torture convention. The Universal Periodic Review is an interactive process carried out every four years. Under this framework, UN member states are reviewed for their human rights record.

According to the Report of the Working Group on Human Rights in India, torture and ill-treatment are widespread in India. The report has also called for immediate intervention by the government against torture.

Government stand

Government says that it has already criminalized torture under Indian Penal Code. We note here that India had introduced the Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010 in the Lok Sabha during UPA Government tenure. This bill was passed in Lok Sabha and was referred to a Select Committee of Rajya Sabha. Select committee had proposed to amend the bill to make it more complaint with the torture convention. However, the bill lapsed with dissolution of Lok Sabha and currently, there appears to be no urgency to pass this bill. This apart, India has also refused to repeal AFSPA, which is alleged for perpetration of human rights in NE and Kashmir.

As far as IPC is concerned, sections 330 and 348 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 do not particularly criminalize torture instead it penalizes certain acts that involve torture. In addition, the provisions grant immunity to the police officers, armed forces personnel and public servants unless the government approves their prosecution.

Way Forward

The Government may again introduce the Prevention of Torture Bill in Parliament and make it as far as possible compliant with UN Convention. The Courts and Legal Services Authority should come forward to use their suo-motu powers to punish those guilty of torture. The government should come up with minimum investigation standards to prevent issues of torture and human rights abuse.

As far as ratification of the convention is concerned, the decision in this context should be take cautiously keeping in view the constraints of India regarding its special laws and problem it faces from internal disturbance and external proxy war from state and non-state actors.

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