Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Prevention of Torture Bill 2010: Designed to Fail

This blog has, in an earlier post, discussed the draft Prevention of Torture Bill 2008 [See the Asian Centre for Human Rights Report on this draft Bill]. In the last session of Parliament, the government has finally introduced the Prevention of Torture Bill 2010 in Lok Sabha. Although the Bill has invited some optimistic comments, I have argued in this opinion piece in The Hindu that the Bill is an example of cynical law making at its worst. An analysis of its provisions suggests that it is highly unlikely there will be a successful prosecution under it. Routine conviction of torturers can most certainly be ruled out. As I have argued in the article, the sole motivation of the Bill appears to be to polish India's international image and get over the embarrassment that its non-ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman And Degrading Treatment and Punishment causes. Indeed, enabling the ratification of the Convention is the primary reason mentioned in the official 'Statement of Objects and Reasons' appended to the Bill: there is not even an acknowledgment of the scale of the problem of torture in India. Parliament will do well to reject the proposal which does worse than pay lip-service to an important human rights concern.

Update: A reader has just alerted me that the Prevention of Torture Bill 2010 was indeed passed by Lok Sabha after a brief, late-evening debate in which not a single member of the main opposition parties (BJP, RJD, BSP, CPI, NC, Shiv Sena) said anything. Noteworthy are Shashi Tharoor's introductory and concluding remarks in his speech:

I have often felt that the issues here go to two fundamental problems in our country. The first is, how we treat our own people; and the second is the image of our country in the world at large.
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Indeed, the next time if somebody wants to make an Oscar-winning movie showing an Indian policeman behaving in that way [i.e. torturing a citizen, as in SlumDog Millionnnaire], we can surely hope that they will also show him being punished and sentenced for his actions. That is indeed what India should stand for and be seen as standing for around the world.

The Bill, sadly, caters only to one of these two objectives. It remains for Rajya Sabha to emphasise the importance of the other.
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