Human Rights Watch documents rights abuses by Pakistan police

Islamabad: Police in Pakistan are guilty of widespread violations of human rights, including random arrests, torture and extra-judicial killings, a prominent rights group has alleged. A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) titled ‘This Crooked System’ contains a scathing indictment of the police system in Pakistan and lack of any government plan to reform it.

“This report documents custodial torture, extra-judicial executions, and other serious human rights violations by the police in Pakistan,” according to a summary issued by US-based HRW along with the detailed document. It says that police in Pakistan routinely and unlawfully kill criminal suspects by means of faked “encounter killings”.

“Torture methods include beatings including with batons and leather straps, stretching and crushing legs with metal rods, sexual violence, prolonged sleep deprivation, and mental torture, including witnessing others being tortured,” it said. “The non-governmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported that in 2015, over 2,000 people were killed in armed encounters with the police, most in the province of Punjab. Human Rights Watch is concerned that many, if not most, of these encounter killings were faked and did not occur in situations in which lives were at risk,” says the report.

The report also details the difficulties that victims of crime and police abuse face in obtaining justice, including the refusal by police to register FIRs, demands for bribes, and biased investigations.

“The corruption and abuse endemic to the Pakistani law enforcement system are often described as ‘thana culture’ after the Urdu word for police station,” it says. It says that many police officers told HRW that abuses can often be explained, if not justified, by the considerable pressures placed upon them.

“They listed organisational shortcomings, inadequate training and resources, lack of requisite funds, poor working conditions, and lack of coordination with other law enforcement agencies as obstacles to transparency and accountability within the police force,” it says. The report quotes officers saying that all these problems were exacerbated by pressures imposed by senior police officials to achieve results, and by politicians and other local elites with their own agendas.

It also examines limitations, including financial and human resource constraints, which police say impact their ability to function properly, and looks at examples of some good police practices that can serve as possible models for the future.