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28 April, 2008

Peoples' Tribunal on Custodial Torture in Varanasi

Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi, Convener, Peoples' Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, Varanasi, writes:

Dear friends,

The Peoples' Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) carried out a study and documentation of more than 800 cases of police torture in six districts of Uttar Pradesh as part of the National Project of Preventing Torture in India being conducted under the auspices of People’s Watch. Several interventions were made in various Courts and Commissions regarding these cases.

From 1996, the PVCHR has been voicing its concern against custodial torture. This campaign that started with the releasing of a poster against torture has documented cases and intervened in these cases with an intention to apply pressure upon the Government of India to ratify the UN Convention against Torture AND also to bring relief to the victims.

About 50 organizations in UP were included in this process. An additional mission of this project was to pressure the Members of Legislative Assemblies and the Members of Parliament for ratification of UN Convention against Torture. In connection with this campaign, a peoples' tribunal is being organized on April 28 and 29, 2008 at Varanasi.

The national project was implemented in 47 districts in nine States of India. In UP, the PVCHR is implementing the project in six districts -- Varanasi, Chandauli, Jaunpur, Allahabad, Sonbhadra and Mirzapur. The project also focuses on organizing the local people to voice their concern against police torture and, in the process, to develop Pindra as a model taluk in the State.

In the past two years 3,987 cases of police firing, custodial rape, police baton charge and fake encounters were documented from 47 districts in India by the national project. Interventions were sought in 4,756 cases, including cases that were not covered directly by the project. In this year, the third year of the project, effective group advocacy against torture is going on.

In addition to police brutality the issues in the judicial system in India like the delay in court process also perpetuates torture. This mostly affects the marginalized communities, particularly the members of the ‘lower’ caste. Most cases in the past were not highlighted due to fear and the caste-based discrimination practised in the Indian society.

The project has organized 197 awareness programmes in the country. The PVCHR is also organizing regular Folk Schools and Human Rights Street Movements in UP to encourage victims of custodial torture to speak up and stand for their rights so as to live with dignity.

During the tribunal, details of 73 cases of custodial torture will be released. It is expected that the tribunal will be an additional platform for the victims to present their cases before the public. The victims and the witnesses will be encouraged to present their testimonies during the two days.

The tribunal will be chaired by Justice R. B. Malhotra, former judge of Allahabad High Court. Shankar Sen, former Director General, National Human Rights Commission, Ashok Chakravarti, former Senior Director, NHRC, Ms. T.K Rajalakshmi, Senior Assistant Editor, Frontline, John Dayal, Chairperson, All India Catholic Union and Member, National Integration Council, Chitranjan Singh, National Secretary, Peoples' Union for Civil Liberties, K. K. Rai, Senior Advocate, Ram Ashray Singh, Secretary General, PUCL, Bihar, Vikas Maharaj, Sarod maestro and human rights activist, Darapuri, a former IPS officer and Dalit human rights activist, and Ms. Sandhya, Convener, Mahila Adhikar Manch.

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