Dysfunctional Public Safety, Police Complaints Commission In Sindh
Despite some positive changes observed in the overall outlook and conduct of Police in Sindh, manhandling of citizens, custodial torture, illegal detention, and extrajudicial killings in some cases at its hands prevails in the Sindh.
Recently, a young man namely Irfan Jatoi was killed in an alleged fake police encounter by Sukkur Police. This violates a set of human rights enshrined in the constitutional and legal framework of Pakistan in addition to the international human rights treaties to which Pakistan is a party. These rights include, but are not limited to, right to life, right to liberty, right to fair trial, and most importantly right to not be tortured.
Not to be tortured is the only absolute human right which cannot be taken away in any circumstances. However, custodial torture prevails in thanas and prisons across the province, though not so open and widespread as it used to be in the past.
The UN Committee against Torture in 2017 in its Concluding Observations on initial report of Pakistan against Convention against Tortures (CAT) noted that itis deeply concerned at consistent reports that the use of torture by the police with a view to obtaining confessions from persons in custody is widespread throughout the territory of the State party. The UN Human Rights Committee in 2017 in its Concluding Observations on initial report of Pakistan submitted under International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) noted concerns over the high incidence of extrajudicial killings allegedly perpetrated by forces including by the police.
Provincial Assembly of Sindh passed the Sindh (Repeal of the Police Act, 1861 and Revival of Police Order, 2002) (Amendment) Bill in 2019. As evident from the name of law , it repealed the Police Act, 1861 and Revival of Police Order, 2002. The law, inter alia, created two major police oversight and public complaint redressal commissions i.e Provincial Public Safety and Police Complaints Commission and District Public Safety and Police Complaints Commission. Though composition of both Commissions is not inclusive which excludes the representation from transgender community, these can potentially create oversight on police and receive and redress the complaints against police sumbitted by the citizens.
The unfortunate tragedy remains that District Public Safety and Police Complaints Commissions are not formed yet at the district level. The Provincial Public Safety and Police Complaints Commission formed earlier have not held the meeting for almost a year. The apparent reasons provided behind this delay remain two. First, Covid-19 sidelined the meetings of the Provincial Public Safety and Police Complaints Commission from the priority list of the provincial government. Second, the Chief Minister who holds the portfolio of the Home Minister (who is the Chairperson of the Provincial Public Safety and Police Complaints Commission) remains too busy in other urgent works most importantly concerning Covid-19.
Both reasons do not make sense. Section 76 of the law reads that in the absence of the Chairperson, the Provincial Public Safety and Police Complaints Commission shall elect one of its members to preside over a meeting. Now the question arises why does the Commission not elect a member to preside over the meetings so that the meetings could be held in the absence of the Chief Minister? Further, the meetings could easily be held virtually during the Covid-19 situation.
Ironically, the meetings of the Commission are not held even though its requisition is reportedly made by a few members in the light of section 83(3) of the law which reads that the meeting may be convened by the chairperson or on the requisition of three members.
It reflects a lack of required seriousness towards the accountability of police and providing administrative justice to the citizens of Sindh against the ills created by police. The Government of Sindh must adopt a serious attitude towards the matter and show willingness to conduct and facilitate the meetings for smooth functioning of the Provincial Commission. Moreover, it must, without any delay, form the District Public Safety and Police Complaints Commissions at district level. Without this decentralized tier of the oversight and redressal mechanism, the Provincial Commission could not be able to perform effectively and sufficiently.