India is yet to ratify the UN Convention Against Torture, adopted on December 10, 1984, and enforced on June 26, 1987. As a result, June 26 is now recognised as International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Since its enforcement, the absolute prohibition against torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment has been accepted as a principle of customary international law.
It is worrying for India that the country is now bracketed with seven countries — Bahamas, Brunei, Comoros, Palan, Sao Tome, Principe and Sudan, which, though signatories to the UN Convention Against Torture, are yet to ratify it. This flies in the face of India, which claims to be the largest democracy with Constitutional rule of law-based democratic governance wherein people are the sovereign masters of the Government for preservation and protection of their human rights of equality, justice, fraternity and dignity amidst their diversity.
India signed the UN Convention belatedly on October 14, 1997. So far, 159 countries are signatories of the UN Convention. All of them, except the eight countries already mentioned including India, have ratified the universal regime against torture. The UN Convention Against Torture is an international human rights treaty aiming to prevent torture and other acts of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment around the world. The Convention needs member nations to take effective measures to prevent torture in any territory under their jurisdiction.
Added to this, the UN General Assembly also adopted subsequently the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on December 18, 2002, which was enforced on June 22, 2006. The Optional Protocol provides for the establishment of a system of regular visits by independent national and international bodies to places where people are deprived of their liberty, in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, to be overseen by a Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It has only 75 signatory nations, India excluded.
Following a decision of the Vajpayee Government in 2002 to ratify the UN Convention, there were intensive discussions between various Ministries of the Government, the successor UPA Government decided in January 2008 to have a separate stand-alone legislation to give effect to the provisions of the UN Convention. Accordingly, the Lok Sabha passed the Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010 and the Bill in the Rajya Sabha was referred to a Select Committee for further scrutiny. Meanwhile, upon dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in February 2014, the impugned Bill lapsed. Now, the present NDA Government in the Ministry of Home Affairs has decided to discard the stand-alone legislation and amend provisions of Sections 330 and 331 of Indian Penal Code (voluntarily causing grievous hurt to extort confession or to compel restoration of property) and Criminal Procedure Code to do away with torture by the law enforcing agencies particularly, the Police.
India’s failure to ratify the UN Convention Against Torture puts it in the league of fascist, regimented and repressive nations, under the garb of election-centric Constitutional democracy as a sham, where people’s human rights are violated with impunity by the official machinery, and successive Government’s glaring failure to delink state police from Investigation continues to make the state police a brutish, nasty, repressive and corrupt force, making a mockery of the country’s system of governance, in the comity of nations.
India, which is expected to honour the universal human rights norms to enhance its prestige, image and status abroad as an emerging world power, has taken too long a time in ratifying the UN Convention Against Torture. In this connection, Union Ministry of Home Affairs, the nodal Ministry, has to do a lot of explaining for its dithering for so long in the matter. The Ministry of External Affairs is concerned only as a foreign affairs interface of India. So the fault lies with the nodal Ministry of Home Affairs, which is the real culprit.
There is no place for organised torture in the modern civilised world and India needs to occupy an exalted position in the changing world order by ratifying the UN Convention. The country needs to take the matter to its logical end to fulfill its commitment to the United Nations. But there is a question mark whether the RSS mentored BJP led NDA Government would at all ratify the UN Convention Against Torture, given the traditional disdain of RSS for the weaker sections, dalits and minorities.