June 26 marks the International Day in Support of Victims Torture. The observance aims to eradicate torture and the full implementation of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
The treaty entered into force 33 years ago and was ratified by 170 States and garnered 83 signatures. Despite the almost universal ratification, torture continues to be practiced around the world.
Governments are supposed to uphold the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment at all times, including during states of emergencies like the current coronavirus pandemic.
Human rights experts said that protective measures, including lockdowns and curfews, cannot justify any excessive use of force and coercion.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has earlier expressed concerns about the enforcement of quarantine measures in the Philippines.
“We’ve seen worrying reports of people being humiliated, there was one report of young people being held in a dog cage in the sun for breaking curfew,” said the human rights expert.
Torture survivor Bernardo Itucal, who disappeared for a month in 1988, said that his most horrifying torture experience was when he was thrown into a grave.
“I feared it was the end of me,” he said as he related his experience with the pandemic. He noted new forms of torture inflicted against violators of lockdown rules.
Some curfew violators were made to sit under the scorching heat of the sun, others were ordered to walk with tied hands while those suspected of being infected with COVID-19 were padlocked inside their homes.
Worse still, policemen displayed a coffin in a checkpoint where those who violated curfew hours were ordered to take turns in getting inside while others were told to pretend to cry.
“The ‘International Day’ signifies that the international community has not forgotten the pain that survivors experienced,” said Itucal. “Doing so will facilitate their healing, reintegration with society, and non-repetition,” he added.
My husband, Edsil Bacalso, who was tortured for a week exactly two months after our marriage, said that he could not distinguish which form of torture was worse: the physical or the psychological.
Stripped naked with his feet and neck tied like a pig, he was mauled, deprived of food, water, and sleep, forced to reveal information and to sign a document about his alleged involvement in the rebel movement, and made to dig his own grave.
He was made to listen to shouts of a woman whom the perpetrators said was the voice of his wife being raped.
This sad state of human rights in the Philippines has prompted 11 UN bodies to note that the human rights situation in the Philippines “has now reached a level of gravity requiring a robust intervention by the UN.”
Being a global phenomenon, torture also occurs in other countries.
In Indonesia, 62 cases of torture were allegedly mostly perpetrated by the police and the Armed Forces from May 2019 to June 2020. Of the 220 individual victims, 199 were injured and 21 died. At least 34 of the cases occurred in public places while 29 were done in detention centers.
Amina Masood of Defence for Human Rights of Pakistan said enforced disappearance is one of the worst forms of torture. She said Pakistan has 1,500 reported cases of torture in 2019.
In Bangladesh, 11 persons, including a woman, were tortured to death in police custody during the first half of this year.
“Law enforcement officials routinely resort to torture and ill-treatment in order to complete investigations and extract confessions,” read a statement from the group Odhikar and signed by four other NGOs.
The group said law enforcement agencies “continued to perpetrate torture, degrading treatment, arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions, harassment and threats” despited the pandemic.
Torture is a moral issue. It degrades both victims and perpetrators. Inflicting pain is anathema to Christian teachings.
Mary Aileen D. Bacalso is former secretary general of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances. For her work against enforced disappearances, she was awarded the 2019 Franco-German Ministerial Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law. In 2013, the Argentinian Government awarded her the Emilio F. Mignone International Human Rights Prize.