The Asia Alliance Against Torture (A3T) – A collective movement of 9 CSOs across Asia Pacific consisted of The Commission of the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS), Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), Medical Action Group (MAG) Philippines, Cross Cultural Foundation Thailand (CrCf), Musawi Pakistan, MASUM India, Odhikar Bangladesh, and Advocacy Forum Nepal condemns all acts of torture circulating across the region.
In accordance to the Article 3 and Article 5 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 14 of the ASEAN Declaration of Human Rights that none shall be subjected to torture, or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment as everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person. The milestone document passes down the torture issue to a specific convention otherwise known as the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT). The two fundamental international laws provided by the UN which emphasize torture strongly urge its members that acts such as unreasonable detention which leads to torture in cells, alleged cases from civil by security officers, violence against women and children, usage of lethal weapons to protesters, and others are behaviors of deprivation to rights to life and liberty and shall not be justified.
Current Condition of Torture Issue in Asia Pacific and ASEAN Countries
Such simple and ideal rule of laws is a mere idea in Asia Pacific as mentioned tortious acts are still prevailing. A research conducted by the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS Indonesia) has found that 54 incidents of torture occurred during June 2022 – May 2023 where an increasing number was found from 50 incidents in the previous year. In the research, perpetrators are those who are working as security officers such as the police, army, and wardens. These perpetrators use lethal weapons such as firearms, blunt and heavy weapons, pipes, canes, handcuffs, tear gas, and even bamboos. Some have also not used weapons to kick or beat unarmed civilians.
Although Indonesia is one of the countries in the region which has ratified the UDHR and CAT, it has yet unlock and implement concrete action steps to prevent cases of torture and its impact to civilians. Despite visible attempts by several institutions such as the Cooperation Initiative for the Prevention on Torture (KuPP) led by the National Human Rights Commissions, the National Commission on Violence Against Women, The Commission for the Protection of Children Indonesia, Indonesia Witness and Victim Protection Agency, and the Indonesian Ombudsman, acts of torture by law enforcement officials and the impunity chain still exist through arbitrary arrests, torture in detention and custodial death, repressive acts to protesters through tear gas launching and other lethal weapon, while most of the perpetrators themselves are either acquitted or did not marked as suspects.
The pattern above does not only occur in Indonesia but also to countries which have also ratified UDHR and CAT such as Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, even to South Asia countries such as Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The Philippines, which is more progressive in ratifying the updated international convention – Optional Protocol on the Convention against Torture (CAT-OP) – where Efforts to implement an effective and independent National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) in the Philippines have been ongoing since April 2012, when the country ratified the OPCAT. There are steps being taken for the establishment of NPM through national legislation in the Philippines. Since 2009, there are a few prosecution of torture cases, the recent one is the conviction of members of State forces who were stationed then in Basilan (in Mindanao) in the height of war on terrorism in 2011.
Core challenges to Malaysia, the country in the region which has yet to ratify CAT-OP nor the CAT itself, have several national laws which allow torture to easily exist and preserved. Laws such as the Security Offences Act (SOSMA), The Prevention of Crime Act (POCA), The Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), and the Dangerous Drugs Act (DDA) have the potential to be applied in ways that infringe upon the right to a fair trial. In SOSMA, this legislation has led to the detention of 624 individuals per March 2023. This law has been justified by the Malaysian Home Minister as a necessary measure to safeguard national security, providing police with immediate response capabilities to potential threats. Based on Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)’s insights, these laws inadvertently grant the police greater latitude to engage in custodial torture.
More red strings which connect between one country to another in regards to the background of torture in the region are Violence and torture are still very much normalized by law enforcement officials, the absence of law enforcement in a just manner which results in many perpetrators being able to pitch in the impunity chain, a minimum oversight of institutions that have great authorities and discretion, and regulations which are completely inadequate for victims to hold perpetrators accountable.
Production of Law Enforcement Equipment which Exacerbate Torture in Asia Pacific
Aside from similar actors where security officers use their status and privilege to harass civilians’ right to life and liberty, another pattern to look thorough for torture lies on the weapon procurement which supports the existing torture cases. In general, most countries in Asia Pacific are allowed to produce weapons whereas the maker holds a valid license where this can be requested directly to the applicable department in the country, except for Nepal since it is strictly regulated in the 1962 Nepal Arms and Ammunitions Act. Specifically in terms of the production for the law enforcement itself – although it may be interpreted through different terms – almost every member country also has their own arms / defense industry to produce their own defense equipment and this has been regulated in their respective countries.
Generally, countries in Asia Pacific rely on the ministry of trade and customs to control the prohibition of goods and other related activities which may come or go outside the country. But specifically to the goods needed by the law enforcements, this varies within Asia Pacific according to those who own the gun and weapon trade policy in each country. In Indonesia for example, PT Pindad is the only arms industry which is regulated through Law on Firearms year 1936 and all administrative procedures including where PT Pindad might import or export the firearms should be reported to the Ministry of Defence, where the ministry issues End-User Certificate in purchase orders. While this takes a different case to Malaysia, where the main actor lies on the Chief of Police implements Laws of Malaysia, Act 206, Arms Act 1960 regarding license to import and export firearms. Pakistan also assigns the Ministry of Defence as well as Ministry of Commerce are responsible for issuing of authorizations of all types of arms and ammunition.
Based on the mentioned current situation and condition of torture in the region, we the undersigned below would like to urge several implementative recommendations to prevent repetitive acts of torture and push the accountability of the past events: