Prevention of Torture Bill OR Impunity for Torturers Bill
In a belated but welcome move, the Government of India has now given the nod for an anti-torture Bill that is aimed at harmonising our laws with UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT), a condition that is necessary for its ratification. The Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in May 2010 and is to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha in the monsoon session starting July 26.
The main intention behind the Bill is to enable it to ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) 1 . In the 2010 Bill’s Statement of Object and Reasons, the Home Minister has stated that the passing of an anti-torture law is aimed towards ratification of the UNCAT.
However the Bill is a disappointment. It falls exceedingly short of national and international human rights standards. Not only are the present provisions wholly insufficient to address, much less punish, the full scale of torture that is practiced in the country; there are critical omissions. If the Government’s sole objective is to pass a piece of legislation to ratify the UN Convention, irrespective of the public interest and national importance of an Act such as this, the Government has already failed. The Bill in its current form does not bring India’s domestic law in conformity with the UN Convention. The Bill fails to establish a strong, credible legal framework for the prevention of torture. In sum, it dilutes the standards set in the UNCAT, it entirely neglects domestic human rights and jurisprudential standards, and it actually protects public servants more than victims of torture.
The definition of torture as provided in the Bill does not conform to the UNCAT. It will include only extremely serious injuries such as permanent loss of eye or ear, emasculation, bone fractures, or hurt which causes severe and debilitating pain for twenty days or more. In other words, it lays down a very high threshold for an act to qualify as “torture”.
The Bill even lays down a limitation period within which requires that a court can entertain a complaint only if it is made within six months of the date of the offence. As a general rule, criminal laws tend to prescribe no time limits whatsoever, let alone one as short as six months.
Finally there is a clause that prohibits a court from taking cognisance of a complaint without the ever-elusive prior sanction to prosecute from the government. A combination of all these provisions will ensure that no official guilty of torture will ever be brought to book. In short it may suffice to say that the Bill in its present form seems to be designed more to address the diplomatic embarrassment over the inordinate delay in ratifying UNCAT, rather than to increase the accountability of law enforcement personnel for resorting to torture.
To read CHRI’s full critique of the Prevention of Torture Bill please click here: Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010 – A Critique.