Government urged to ratify UN Convention against Torture

The following is the text of a message of the Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission, Justice Shri J.S. Verma on the occasion of the United Nations International Day in support of Victims of Torture, which was observed on 26 June 2000:

"Once again, on 26 June, the people of all nations are uniting to express their abhorrence of the evil practice of torture and their solidarity with those who are its victims. Let us join in unison with them.

The Day commemorates the coming into force, thirteen years ago, of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which envisaged a world rid of such odious acts. Sadly, that goal remains elusive. Too frequently, in too many countries around the world, including our own, acts of torture persist, darkening the lives of its victims and challenging civilization itself.

It is time to eradicate this scourge.

One hundred and nineteen States are now party to the Convention against Torture. But not our own country. On 26 June 1997, three years ago, our Government announced its intention to ratify the Convention. But this has not yet happened, despite the promise made, on 14 October 1997, when we signed the treaty, to "uphold the greatest values of Indian civilization and our policy to work with other members of the international community to promote and protect human rights." For the National Human Rights Commission, which worked long and assiduously to secure ratification by India, this delay has, to say the least, been deeply disappointing.

In the name of the Commission, I therefore urge the Government of India to announce a date by which the nation and the world can expect the completion of the ratification process by our country, and to abide by that date.

No circumstance can justify the use of torture. Neither war, nor insurgency, nor public emergency, nor orders from superiors can be invoked to explain away the practice. It is forbidden by our Constitution, our laws and the categoric rulings of our Supreme Court. And it is prohibited, absolutely, both under international humanitarian law and the human rights instruments of the United Nations. Yet daily the Commission receives petitions alleging the use of torture, and even of deaths in custody as a result of the acts of those who are sworn to uphold the laws and the Constitution of our Republic and to ensure the security of its citizens.

Such a situation must end through the united efforts of Government and all elements of civil society.

In September 1999, jointly with the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), and in collaboration with the Indian Medical Association (IMA) and the Indian Law Institute (ILI), the National Human Rights Commission organized an International Symposium on Torture for the Health, Legal and other Professions. Its far reaching Declaration and Programme of Action stressed the need to break the silence surrounding torture, to end the impunity of those who may engage in this practice and to punish those involved unfailingly.

All States, including our own, have an obligation to ensure that reparation is available to victims of torture. This is fundamental to their proper rehabilitation, and it must include restitution, compensation and the guarantee of non-repetition.

On this commemorative occasion, when we focus on the anguish of those who have been tortured, I urge the Government of India and the Governments of the States and Union Territories of our country, to bear this obligation firmly in mind, and to act accordingly, so that the ends of justice are fully served and the values of our Constitution, our laws and treaty obligations are brought to bear, powerfully and consistently, to heal the wounds of those who are the victims of torture, and to bring to book those who are guilty of this vilest of acts against other human beings".