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Asia: Say it loud and clear

The following article appeared as the editorial of the latest issue of ‘Torture: Asian and Global Perspectives’, a bi-monthly magazine published by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), based in Hong Kong and the Danish Institute Against Torture (DIGNITY) based in Denmark.

| by Nilantha Ilangamuwa

( August 16, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Just a few short weeks after this year’s the commemoration of The United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture yet another heartbreaking piece of news was reported from Pakistan, where a 10 year old boy lost both of his arms due to a viscous act by a landlord in Punjab. A petty issue over a land dispute led the perpetrator to mutilate the child in a senseless act of cruelty.

The report published by the Asian Human Rights Commission, reads as follows,

“On 21 July 2014, at 10:30 am, the child, Shahzad, went to his family’s fields. The accused, landlord Mr. Ghulam Mustafa, was standing in his fields. The landlord called Shahzad over to the tube well (a peter engine installed in the open). When the child arrived the accused, caught him, over powered him, forcibly tied the hands of child from front side with a scarf, and put both hands in the running belt of a harvesting machine. The boy was stuck to the running belt and both of his arms were crushed, cut, and separated from his body.

“Soon after, the perpetrator, Ghulam Mustafa, panicked, picked the unconscious and bleeding boy out of the machine and rushed him by motorbike to a private hospital of Gujrat, Punjab, 8-10 Km away from the town. It took half an hour to get to the hospital. Ghulam Mustafa told the hospital administration that it is just an accident. The boy underwent surgery. Meanwhile the parents, relatives, and other local people arrived with the separated, ruptured limbs, but doctors said the arms cannot be reattached.

“When the child regained consciousness after the operation, Ghulam Mustafa came back to the hospital; the child started screaming and told his parents that Mustafa was responsible, but before he could tell more details, he again lost consciousness. Later that night he again narrated the story to the parents.”

However, news of the incident went viral. It received extensive coverage from the media and became a bonus for politicians who made public statements to express their “sincere” condolences to the child and his family, and vowed to seek justice for the victim. Like other cases reported in Pakistan, though, there is uncertainty over any remedy and the entire matter, the victim, and his family, will simply be forgotten.

This is yet another incident in Pakistan where thousands of innocent women are being stoned to death by relatives each year in the name of traditional norms, and where unarmed civilians are being subjected to forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in the name national security and territorial integrity. It is hard to understand the complicated societal web which has led to crises within the crises, which have normalized torture and violence. Like many other countries in the developing world, Pakistan is also facing societal deterioration. A case in point is that of the innocent child who lost both his arms due to the cruelty of a man who believed it was his right to commit such a heinous act. What is significant in this case is that no members of the police or security services were involved. That an ordinary person could commit such an act on another ordinary person shows the deterioration of Pakistan’s social system.

When the citizens see the police, security, and armed forces commit atrocities with impunity it sends a clear message to all that there is no criminal justice system in the country. Instead of rule of the law there is impunity. And all the trumpeting by the politicians that justice will be done is meaningless when the laws do not apply to them as well.

When the majority of people justify violence it will become a part of the culture. When the violence becomes a part of the culture (daily life) then the law enforcement agencies are able to, not only break the law, but undermine the basic rights of the people. Therefore the criminal justice system is nothing but a mockery of humanity. The mockery will create a higher degree of confusion and this confusion will lead to greater crimes within the community. This is a real threat that Pakistani society is facing.

Ascertaining the facts and figures and carefully observing the facts prevailing within a society is necessary to understand the real structural collapse of that society. Tearing the arms off of a 10-year-old boy is a prime example of our cultural behaviors and complicity in crimes that occur under the surface of our societies. This shows a systematic failure and deep rooted social disorder.

A society suffering from poverty can be easily dragged into the nightmare described above. It can create a social dilemma where meaningful personal liberty is unattainable. The poor have neither justice nor the opportunity to fight for justice.

Who will stand up to find justice for those who are subject to social violence? This is especially important where the perpetrators of violence enjoy the patronage of members of the ruling party. Any victim seeking justice against such people is chasing a dream.

There cannot be an impartial investigation on torture victims without understanding the hidden violence within the communities which have less access to public resources. It can be easy to take selected victims out of the community and treat them with well-trained professionals. But changing cultural behaviors, which are derived from poverty, requires tremendous effort and a well-articulated plan to address the causes of violence. The main cause of violence is nothing but poverty.

Eradication of torture must be based on the concept of eradicating poverty in each community. So it is time for all of us to raise our voices and call out loud and clear to end poverty in order to end violence.

(Cartoon by Awantha Artigala)

Read the online version of the issue

Torture: Asian and Global Perspectives is a bi-monthly magazine which focuses on torture and its related issues globally. Writers interested in having their research on this subject published, may submit their articles to torturemag@ahrc.asia

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