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States, UTs yet to reply on ratifying UN convention against torture

The Union ministry of home affairs had circulated a draft of The Prevention of Torture Bill, 2017 that recommended amendments to India’s domestic laws, making them compatible with international standards and enabling the ratification.

india Updated: Apr 08, 2018 23:06 IST
Azaan Javaid
Azaan Javaid
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Torture,The Prevention of Torture Bill,UN
The Law Commission recommended that the Centre ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture and even proposed life in jail for public servants convicted of torture.(Representative image)

The central government hasn’t received a response yet from any states or Union territories after seeking their opinion on the Law Commission’s recommendation that India ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

In a communication dated February 28, 2018, the Union ministry of home affairs circulated a draft of The Prevention of Torture Bill, 2017 that recommends amendments to India’s domestic laws, making them compatible with international standards and enabling the ratification. Although India signed the Convention in 1997, it is yet to ratify it because of objections raised by consecutive governments.

Governments have argued that the ratification would open India to greater international interference and scrutiny. The Law Commission last year had recommended that India ratify the Convention.

HT has learnt that none of the states and union territories have responded to MHA’s communication yet.

“It has only been a month. We are expecting the states to respond after they are done with their deliberations on the issue,” a senior home ministry official said, requesting anonymity.

The MHA’s communication itself is significant because it is the first time in India that the states’ response to a bill to prevent torture is being sought. The move came after months of discussion within the law and home ministries after the Law Commission had sent its report to the Centre on October 30 last year.

In its 273rd report, the Commission proposed The Prevention of Torture Bill, 2017, providing a wide definition of torture not confined to physical pain but also including “inflicting injury, either intentionally or involuntarily, or even an attempt to cause such an injury, which will include physical, mental or psychological.”

The Law Commission recommended that the Centre ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture and even proposed life in jail for public servants convicted of torture.

Another home ministry official expressed skepticism. “We can’t say the ratification is imminent. There are many facets that need to be taken into consideration,” the official, who also requested anonymity, said without elaborating on what the government’s stand will be.

Experts, both for and against the ratification, believe the bill will not see the light of day.

Terming the convention “political” and “discriminatory”, internal security expert Ajai Sahni said the structure and burden of work on India’s police force would make it difficult to operate under one more level of scrutiny. “As it is, there are multiple mechanisms in place that keep in check the police force and even scrutinize it over human rights issues. Another level of scrutiny will make it difficult for the police force to operate,” Sahni said.

“The convention is highly politicised and discriminatory in nature. No one will question Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, but India will be continuously facing international scrutiny if the ratification goes through,” he added.

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves said India must ratify the convention; not doing so will reduce the country’s prestige in international forums, he said.

“We have in the past assured the United Nations thrice that we will ratify the convention. Nearly 20 countries have also pleaded with India to ratify the convention but I am afraid the government at the Centre will oppose the ratification tooth and nail,” said Gonsalves.

The ratification requires India to amend multiple sections in domestic law including changing the definition of the word torture.

Besides opening the conduct of Indian public servants to international scrutiny, the bill and ratification will also trigger human rights debates on areas of conflict like Kashmir, the Northeast and regions where left-wing extremists are active, said the second official cited above.

“All stakeholders have to be consulted before a final decision is taken,” the official added.

First Published: Apr 08, 2018 23:06 IST