'7468 custodial deaths in the last five years'

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New Delhi, Jun 25 (UNI) A total of 7,468 people have died or killed in prison or police custody between 2002 and 2007, a report by the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) says.

An equal number of people have been killed in the custody of the army, Central armed forces and states' paramilitary forces in insurgency-affected areas, the ACHR said in 'Torture in India 2008: A State of Denial' report released here today.

''Hundreds are killed, dozens are paid compensations but only three to four people are convicted each year. Nothing more can expose the pervasive immunity that is the single most important factor for institutionalising widespread use of torture even in areas where there are no armed conflicts,'' ACHR Director Suhas Chakma told mediapersons.

''The requirement of prior permission under section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code and section 6 of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 for prosecution of the accused law enforcement personnel promotes impunity. The executives acts as the Supra-judicial body to decide whether the accused law enforcement personnel should be persecuted or not by the judiciary,'' Mr Chakma added.

The report alleged that the NHRC had been closing complaints after the investigating authorities had concluded that torture took place. The NHRC denied the charges when the ACHR accessed the replies of the authorities.

''It is precisely because of the blatant failure to uphold the principles of natural justice that Delhi High Court registered seven writ petitions of the ACHR against the NHRC in 2007,'' Mr Chakma informed.

Home Minister Shivraj Patil attributed these 7468 custodial deaths to illness, escaping from custody, suicides, attacks by other criminals, riots, due to accidents and during treatment or hospitalisation.

However, the Home Minister failed to clarify as to why so many accused had committed suicide in police detention, what had led them to act in this manner and how they had accessed the means for committing suicide like knives, poisons and open electric cables or how the victims could commit suicide with strange objects like shoe laces, underwears,'' the ACHR charged.

The ACHR apreciated that India had found the will to enact legal protections against torture of people belonging to vulnerable groups like women(Domestic Violence Act, 2005), children(Juvenile Justice Act, 2000) and SC/ST(Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989).

However, ACHR lamented that India refused to address torture by the law enforcement personnel. It failed to enact a law to provide compensation for custodial crimes and implement the recommendations of the law commission of India's 152nd report on "Custodial Crimes" to make consequential amendments to the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 (insertion of section 114b) to provide that "in case of custodial death the onus of proving of innocence may be fixed on the police".

In its report ACHR also stated that India had refused an invitation to United Nations Special Rapprteur on Torture(UNSRT) for longest period of time since 1993. Wherelse, neighbouring countries Pakistan, Nepal, China and Sri Lanka had already invited UNSRT.

Failing to take any action against these issues by the NHRC and the Centre, the ACHR had urged to create a seperate law and prosecution cell for prisoners.

UNI XC-AR SW AS1801

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