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Unformatted text preview: COMMENTARY Economic & Political Weekly EPW june 19, 2010 vol xlv no 25 25 Prevention of Torture Bill: A Feeble Attempt Ravi Nair Despite signing the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment in 1997, India is ratifying it only now with parliamentary consideration of the Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010. However, the bill fails to comply with the basic requirements of the UN Convention. In fact, it shows up the government’s reluctance to give effect to the Convention and resolutely address the endemic problem of torture. The bill needs serious reworking if a new law has to have any effect on the widespread use of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment routinely meted out to suspects and detainees by law enforcement officials. I ndia signed the United Nations Con- vention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treat- ment 1 (hereinafter “Convention”) on 14 Oc- tober 1997 but did not ratify it. 2 Ratifica- tion through the passing of appropriate domestic legislation is essential for the Convention to come into effect. Now, nearly 13 years later, the Preven- tion of Torture Bill, 2010, 3 seeks to com- plete that long pending process. However, the text of the bill only reinforces the im- pression that New Delhi has never been sincere either about giving effect to the Convention or resolutely addressing the endemic problem of torture in this coun- try. In its present form the bill will have little impact on the widespread use of t orture and other cruel, inhuman and de- grading treatment routinely meted out to suspects and detainees by law enforce- ment officials in India. Investigation, Prosecution, and Punishment The bill’s requirement of prior govern- ment sanction in order to prosecute a pub- lic servant accused of torture runs afoul of the Convention’s requirement of effec- tive, 4 impartial and prompt investigation, 5 prosecution and punishment. 6 Despite the Convention’s clear direc- tives intended to “eliminate any legal or other obstacles that impede the eradica- tion of torture and ill-treatment”, 7 Sec- tion 6 of the bill states: “No court shall take cognisance of an offence punishable under this Act, alleged to have been com- mitted by a public servant during the course of his employment, except with the previous sanction” of the relevant central, state, or other authority compe- tent to remove the public servant in ques- tion from her/his office. 8 It is not possible to ensure effectiveness, impartiality, and promptness when the government authority of which an alleged perpetrator is an employee must provide authorisation to carry out any prosecu- tion. Further, any prosecutions would in- herently be biased from the outset since only those desired by the requisite govern- ment authority would go forward. Simi- larly, given the inherent resistance to pro- viding sanction, even if sanction were granted it would only come after struggle...
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