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HRW: Pakistan’s Police Abusing, Killing Suspects

FILE - Pakistani police officers beat an internal displaced person who fled Pakistani tribal area of Waziristan due to fierce fight between security forces and militants, as they wait for food relief in Paharpur near Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan, Oct. 22, 2009.

A global rights defender has called for Pakistan to overhaul its Colonial-era police system, alleging it is filled with “disgruntled” and “corrupt” officers who commit abuses with impunity.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), while releasing findings of a new report Monday, said it has documented a range of police abuses in three of the country’s four provinces, including torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, extra-judicial killings and other ill-treatment of detainees, at times resulting in the deaths of suspects.

Provincial police forces in Punjab, Baluchistan and Sindh face “improper pressure” from politicians and local elites, as well as a dearth of ethical and professional standards, but successive governments have for decades failed to carry out reforms, or hold abusive police to account, the report noted.

Retaliation fear

It asserted families of victims are deterred from filing complaints against police out of fear of harassment or being falsely accused in retaliatory trumped-up cases.

“Those from marginalized groups — refugees, the poor, religious minorities, and the landless — are at particular risk of violent police abuse,” according to the 102-page report.

A rights respecting, accountable police force is key to addressing grave security challenges facing Pakistan, said Brad Adams Asia Director of HRW.

“Instead, law enforcement has been left to a police force filled with disgruntled, corrupt, and tired officers who commit abuses with impunity, making Pakistanis less safe, not more,” warned Adams.

The report is based on interviews with dozens of police officers of varying ranks, victims of police abuses, their families, experts, activists and witnesses to police abuses.

Call for reforms

It also called for improving working conditions and professional incentives for police officers of the “under-resourced and under-equipped” police, noting they are not trained in methods of professional investigation and forensic analysis, and thus resort to unlawfully coercing information and confessions.

Pakistani authorities have not yet commented on the findings.

Human rights activists and local media frequently draw attention to and report on police abuses.

“Custodial torture remained one of the gravest and most pressing human rights issues in Pakistan," noted the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in its latest annual report.

Critics say that Pakistani politicians when in power use the police force to suppress opponents and to try to maintain influence in their traditional constituencies, which effectively has discouraged governments from bringing reforms and punishing abusive police officers.

The new report documents a range of human rights violations committed by police, including arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, and extrajudicial killings.