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data, governance and argument for the elimination of police torture

From: Paola Di Maio <paola.dimaio@gmail.com>
Date: Mon, 23 Jul 2012 11:06:21 +0100
Message-ID: <CAMXe=SoAOEjYeMEhXNjZyKQVLqo==ipPipc9=LaJeWW4+LvvZw@mail.gmail.com>
To: "eGov IG (Public)" <public-egov-ig@w3.org>
I am aware that bringing up politically sensitive debates is likely
to generate controversy,  which is unfortunate -

I am sharing the post below because, in discussing torture in relation to
data and knowledge of torture,  make considerations that are likely to
 fertilize some of the issues being faced in
this WG, not to fuel controversy per se :-)

Some of the points below, the way I read them,  are an invitation to
reflect on the role that development of egovernance policies can play to
contribute to further the plea of  the international civil society against
torture and other forms of institutional violence, as well as access to
knowledge of such issues.

In some countries, this is more serious and more sensitive than others.

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July 22, 2012

*A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission*

*ASIA: Basic argument for the elimination of police torture*

The following is a speech by Basil Fernando, Director for Policy and
Programme Development at the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong. The
speech was delivered at the Meeting of Asian Parliamentarians in Hong Kong
on the 22 July 2012, as part of the Asian Alliance against Torture and

[image: AHRC-STM-146-2012.jpg]

*Basic Argument for the Elimination of Police Torture*

What does police torture mean?

If we were to ask this question, and then proceed to answer it, someone may
ask in turn, “Wait, *how* do* you* know?” It would take us into realms of
epistemology: “how do we know anything?”

Such a question been asked through the ages. And, one answer that has
emerged in the last few centuries is that one *knows* by the collection and
observation of data. Our age is symbolized by the images of the telescope
and the microscope. And today, we answer questions about what something
means through observation and analysis of data.

What about the data on torture?

This data is present in the actual stories of victims of torture. The
approach of studying torture through the stories of victims differs from
the study of mere statistics. Through stories accurately recorded, we can *
know* what torture is, why it happens, and answer all other associated

What does the *known* data on torture tell us? What it tells us is of the
contradictions in our institutions. Observation and analysis of this data
reveals to us the malfunctioning of institutions, which defeat the
possibility of achieving rule of law. The study of torture thereby becomes
a study of the basic structure of key institutions in our societies, and
their peculiar defects.

The data garnered from the stories of victims reveals to us the utter
stupidity of the way our major institutions function. It follows that
torture is not simply a study of cruelty. Rather, it is more a study about
the stupidity that has become a part of the way our institutions function.

Thus, asking a question like “what is the meaning of torture?” is like
asking the meaning of pneumonia, malaria, or any other disease. Today, the
methods of studying such diseases have been well-established. The same
principles can be used to study the diseases that afflict our basic

Democracy, without functioning institutions, is a meaningless expression,
an empty balloon floating through space. Democracy, if it is to be
meaningful, is about functioning public institutions. The measure of
well-functioning institutions is the way such institutions are capable of
functioning under the rule of law. When a public institution is
dysfunctional, from the point of view of rule of law, it means that such an
institution has ceased to be an institution of democracy, and has
transformed into something else.

In our societies, where police torture is widespread, what we are
experiencing are public institutions which have become "something else."
This "something else" may have gone as far as totalitarianism, or it may be
along the path to such an "ism", but what we can be sure of is that such
institutions have not only become non-democratic, they have become an
obstacle to democracy.

In countries where there is widespread use of torture, there is also a
belief, particularly among the leaders and operators of public
institutions, that policing without torture is impossible. However, the
opposite is a more direct reflection of reality. When torture is a
widespread practice, policing, in its democratic sense, becomes impossible.

The above reflections are on the very basics of the discussions we have had

As for AHRC, such discussions started almost fifteen years back. We have
answered questions by stubbornly continuing with the methodology of
studying torture via accurately recording stories of victims, day in and
day out. Our documentation is testimony to the pursuit of finding-out the
meaning of torture through such study of stories. Our maxim in our early
days was "go from micro to macro”, which meant “to know through individual
stories of torture the problems of the basic structure of society."

When we know about these stories, the knowledge we have about the basic
structure of our societies is explained in a very different way to what it
is normally believed or declared to be.

This is why the study of the widespread practice of torture and the
exposure of it is a vital part of undoing what is wrong with the basic
structure of our societies. It is from this point of view that dealing with
the issue of police torture becomes an unavoidable task for anyone who is
committed to the pursuit of democracy in our societies.

Elimination of police torture is one of the most essential tasks in working
towards democratization of our societies. It is a practical way of getting
about undoing the institutional obstacles to democracy.

It is this approach that the Asian Human Rights Commission is presenting to
the participants in this meeting. And, in particular, AHRC is asking the
legislators to take this approach seriously in the strategies that they
develop to fight for the establishment of democracy.

The elimination of torture and the enabling of the freedom of speech are
inseparably linked. When the possibility of the practice of torture is
reduced, if not fully eliminated, the psychological conditions for the
freedom of speech are thereby created. And the core element of democracy is
the freedom of speech. It is through the freedom of speech that we are able
to get the views of many, if not all, and thereby develop a collective
consciousness with the participation of all. Thus, in the development of
civic sense and in the development of people’s participation, the
elimination of torture is an essential component.

*Read this statement

 # # #

*About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional
non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents
violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the
protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was
founded in 1984.*

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