Méndez’s anti-torture vision is still distant for India
NEWS The belief in the utility of torture is embedded in institutional culture and accommodated by law.
- A latest effort, the ‘Principles on Effective Interviewing for Investigations and Information Gathering’, to combat torture during investigation, reinforces empirical evidence that torture does not work.
- The principles were dubbed as ‘Méndez Principles’ and were developed through a comprehensive, expert-driven consultative process.
AIM OF THE PRINCIPLES
The Méndez Principles aim to provide a cohesive blueprint of practical measures to replace torture and coercive interrogation with “rapport-based” interviews, reinforced through legal and procedural safeguards at every step.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PRINCIPLES
- The principles offer:
- practical guidance for non-coercive interrogations;
- address heightened vulnerabilities in custody;
- provide specific guidance on training, accountability and implementation.
- They are to apply to all authorities who have the power to detain and question people, including the police, military, and intelligence.
- At their core, the Principles seek to prevent coercive techniques and torture by introducing a paradigm shift away from “confession” based information gathering.
BASIS OF THESE PRINCIPLES
- The principles are grounded in scientific empirical studies across disciplines — psychology, criminology, sociology, neuroscience.
- These studies have establish that:
- Coercive interrogation is counterproductive.
- Extreme torture tactics, such as forced stress positions, have been shown to significantly damage the affected person’s memory and recollection of information.
- Aggressive questioning is more likely to make the interviewee resistant, or ‘say anything’ just for the threat of violence to stop.
- Coercive interviewing leads to unreliable information and false confessions.
- Thus, these studies provide scientific evidence to reject the widely-held misconception that a certain degree of ‘pressure’, or physical pain, will yield accurate information.
IT’S PERSISTENCE IN INDIA
- A study was conducted to assess whether the Méndez Principles can readily apply to the Indian context.
- In the study it was found that the Indian context typifies the belief in the utility of torture, and is embedded in institutional culture and accommodated by law.
- In spite of the prohibition of and safeguards against “third degree methods”, they are normalised in police practice.
- Even the National Human Rights Commission has said that “custodial violence and torture is so rampant in this country that it has become almost routine”.
- Similar results were reflected in a 2019 survey of about 12,000 police personnel across India, published by Common Cause and Lokniti, according to which:
- three out of four personnel felt that it is justified for the police to be violent towards “criminals”,
- four out of five personnel responded that there is nothing wrong in the police beating criminals to extract confessions.
- Studies have revealed practices of using tools such as wooden sticks in interrogation, signalling the presence of tools to beat or intimidate.
WHAT FUELS THE PERSISITENCE OF TORTURE?
The investigating officers work under perceived or actual constraints, of inadequate resources, political pressure, and an overburdened legal system, which compel them to take the matters into their own hands.
- They are in short supply, and have little scope to develop specialisation in investigative work.
- Popular films, and political and public support to illegal police killings as in the Hyderabad ‘Disha’ case, further legitimise the vigilante cop as the only ‘hope’ for serving justice.
Implied acceptance of law:
- Indian law creates conditions which further permit torture through the “back door”.
- Though the confessions before a police officer are not admissible evidence (to prevent the police from resorting to torture), but other legal provisions have the effect of indirectly accommodating the use of torture in investigative practice.
- Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act permits the admissibility of statements before the police to the extent that they relate to the recovery of material objects, often called ‘recovery evidence’.
- Thus, investigators still have incentive to seek “disclosures”, and information implicit in a confession, as central to their investigation.
- Even in an opinion study of former Supreme Court judges published in 2018, 12 out of 58 judges acknowledged the heightened risk of torture as the shortcut method to obtain recovery evidence.
ISSUE IN THE APPROACH TO FIND THE SOLUTION
- The introduction of so-called scientific techniques of interrogation, such as lie detectors and narco-analysis, are often presented as the solutions to end physical torture.
- But an analysis named, The Truth Machines (2020) reveals that-
- introduction of these techniques, without addressing the existing conditions which perpetuate torture, has resulted in psychological forms of torture, supplementing coercive interrogation strategies.
- Despite the scientific validity of these techniques in determining the “truth” is suspected, Indian law allows evidence voluntarily given by an accused through these techniques to be used as corroborative evidence.
- In all of the ways, Indian law fails to fully prevent torture and coercion from creeping in.
- Structural constraints, popular culture, and political approval have shaped policing institutional cultures to valorise violence and coercion.
- Without urgent introspection and fundamental shift in police thinking, Méndez’s anti-torture vision will remain distant for India.