The Advocacy Forum (AF) held a conference in Baglung on Tuesday to mark the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. It brought together lawyers, victims, judges and police to highlight the lack of progress made in either bringing past perpetrators of torture to justice or implementing new measures to stop it in the future.
I sat down with the AF’s director in Baglung, Ram Sharma. He moved from Kathmandu a year ago to open a branch office of AF in Baglung. He explained how little has been done to resolve the issue of torture and I was shocked to find out how prevalent it was, one year after the cessation of the civil war.
“We’ve [AF] documented over 1,300 new cases of torture since the People’s Movement of April 2006,” he said. This includes the police, Nepali Army and Maoists.
But most of the AF’s work is about working with the police: documenting cases; meeting detainees in prison; and making sure they are taken care of and represented in court.
“They must have a medical checkup before entering detention and after leaving. This must be produced to the court in order to make sure there was no torture.”
Police, judges, torture victims, and lawyers gather for the Advocacy Forum’s event to discuss the continued use of torture in Nepal and the government’s inaction in addressing the problem. The program coincided with the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture
But often this doesn’t happen or the medicals are cursory with the police in the room. The beatings as well as intimidation and forced confessions are common and continue. As Ram tells me, while the numbers have fallen from 47 percent of detainees tortured when he opened the office a year ago, 35 percent of those arrested are still tortured today in Baglung District.
He explains that the problem is twofold at the level of the police. First there is a lack of understanding what torture is. During the program, the Senior Superintendent of Police (head of police for all Baglung district), while expressing his desire to stop torture, defined it as any beating that took place, even among civilians fighting. He even claimed that a witch’s curse was torture.
Second, police brutality and torture is endemic because police lack the training to conduct proper, scientifically based investigations and rely almost exclusively on physical intimidation to extract confessions.
The AF also accuses the government of having done little to implement a plan to combat the pervasive use of torture.
“There are many problems that allow it [torture] to continue. First are the weak laws that give police too much freedom. Second is the impunity. No one is held accountable and often even the weak laws are not enforced. Third, the penalties when torture happens are small and the government pays, not the torturer.”
The maximum a victim of torture can receive from the court is 100,000 rupees or about 1,500 USD.
He mentions another important impediment to solving the torture problem in Nepal. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), formerly an NGO but under the interim constitution has become government sponsored, investigates and offers recommendations for action, but has no ability to enforce their decisions. As the AF points out in their recent report, the NHRC must be given the power to compel the government to action.
The AF is also calling for the immediate ratification of the UN’s Optional Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) to allow for independent monitors to investigate torture and force the government to implement more stringent laws against the practice.
Torture is a law and order issue and the same problems apply to the Maoists, who still commit their share of torture and human rights violations. Ratifying the treaty, strengthening existing laws, implementing them with proper training for police and holding perpetrators accountable with more than a slap on the wrist are priorities for the AF. They need to be the government’s as well.
Posted By Tassos Coulaloglou
Posted Jun 28th, 2007