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Custodial Deaths and Human Rights: An Insight

Human rights include rights which are at disposal to all the fellow human beings in this existent society. The constitution of every liberal state ensures that human rights as like the other civil liberties are at the doorsteps of the common masses for the general public importance aiming to promote a state possessing welfare policies for all. President Roosevelt of USA observed that essential freedom such as freedom of speech, religion, want and fear will together constitute human rights.

But statistical data of 21st century witnessed gradual decadence. Progressive degeneration must have been playing the work upon it presently as moulding power to crackdown on the torchbearers of human rights, attempts to suppress several voices - voice of the civil society largely, introduction of laws that violates individual's freedom etc. has experienced a dramatic rise in the recent years and has been on a rise since then.

The US State Department has recently published a human rights report on India for the year 2021. The report focussed on the state of civil liberties, individual freedom and rights, worker's rights, political freedom, societal abuse and discrimination, corruption and lack of transparency in govt. etc. in the country. It stated that significant human rights issue included credible reports of unlawful arbitrary killings, unlawful interference with privacy, restrictions on free expression and media etc. Based on recent trends the paper enumerates a likely future attribute of human rights.

Introduction
Human Rights, as defined by the statute The Protection of Human Rights Act,1993 is the rights relating to life, liberty, equality, dignity of the individual guaranteed by the constitution and which forms the concrete upon which the base of International Covenants stands, which can be enforced by the Indian Courts. The objective of human rights is achieved when the citizens of a country lead a life of dignity in every sphere and aspects of a social life, enjoy freedom and equality.

In the last two decades it has become more evident that human rights and environmental protection have a fundamental interdependence between them: A healthy environment is necessary for full enjoyment of human rights, and on the contrary if otherwise the exercise or enjoyment of rights (including rights to information, participation, and remedy) is critical to environment protection.

The preamble of The Constitution of India, which designates itself as "cornerstone of a nation", a bulwark against executive legislative excesses and discriminatory and majoritarian tendencies, assures the people of India, the privilege of their enjoying equality of status and opportunity. An ignorance to such knowledge invites dwindling human rights, shrinking freedoms, and rising authoritarianism. Thus, the reasoning hereby supports that a prevalence of healthy environment is directly proportional to circumstances favouring grounds for complacency to enjoy Human Rights.

Elaboration
Although many aspects of the relationship of human rights and the environment have become clear, some important issue remains unresolved such as the status of a globally recognized human right to a healthy environment. Most countries across the world have endorsed the right to healthy environment as the fundamental feature for the essence and fulfilment of the objective of the Human Rights.

Thus, where the factor of suitable environment isn't fulfilled, human rights get crunched and are shattered. Custodial death creates such a circumstance whereby basic rights are denied to the persons who undergoes the brutal fate. This can be referred in India as the deaths of persons in police custody and also to the deaths of persons in judicial custody while undergoing trial or serving a sentence. Adding to that absence of strong legislation and India's position as to yet criminalise custodial violence which triggers the status of indifference and human rights violation and enumerates the illusion of the action that might be taken against culpable officials.

Hon'ble Supreme Court in "D. K Basu Vs. State of West Bengal" has established norms required to be followed during arrest and detention in conformity with laws of human rights.

B R Ambedkar has observed that "If I find the constitution being misused, I shall be the first to burn it."

Thus, under the factum of custodial deaths, core questions remain unanswered with regard to the content and scope of obligations to prevent gross human rights violations. Many cases have been registered against the police personnel for human rights violations across the country during 2018, involving custodial deaths, illegal detention etc, which are somewhat shown before the public eye as suicide under the cloak of corruption which is evidently misleading in the eyes of law.

The National Human Rights Commission of India recorded a total of 1723 cases of custodial deaths across the country from January December 2019. These include 93.2% deaths in judicial custody and 6.7% deaths in police custody, which suggests average of 5 deaths daily. Thus, the situation provokes a question as to whether the detainees enjoy the privilege of human rights or the right under Article 21?

Indian Annual Report on Torture 2019 shows that out of total police custody deaths, 74.4% persons died owing to alleged torture, foul play, while 19.2% died under suspicious circumstances.

Also, another data gathered rouses the doubt whether the right to live with dignity and have access to fair justice is limited to the arm chair rich strata of the country?

60% victims of police custody deaths belonged to the poor and marginalized communities thereby depicting the fact that they are victimized owing to their socio-economic status.

N V Ramana CJ. expressed his concern about custodial deaths said that "police stations pose the highest threat to human rights and dignity as custodial torture violence and police atrocities still prevail despite constitutional guarantees".

Custodial death is considered to be the cruellest form of human rights violation. It is forbidden by the Constitution of India, the Supreme Court, the National Human Rights Commission, and the United Nations. Maintaining the balance between need of law enforcement and protection from oppression and injustice at the hands of law enforcement agencies is the need of the hour.

Therefore, this is the need of the hour that there may be maintained an equal balance between the individual human rights and societal interests to combat the criminal activities and offences with the aid of a realistic approach (Joginder Kumar V. State of Uttar Pradesh ). Violence against women which is also condoned by the state also includes custodial violence, violence against refugees, internally displaced women.

Despite this being held in numerous numbers of judgements and various precedents which has been set earlier, just because a person is in police custody or detained under arrest does not deprive him of his basic fundamental rights and is wholly eligible to move to either High Court or Supreme Court under Article 226 and 32 of the Constitution of India respectively.

Statutory Safeguards:
  1. Indian Evidence Act 1872
    Section 25 of the said act states a confession made by an accused in front of a police officer of any offence owing to the threats from a person in authority, would be considered irrelevant in criminal proceedings.
     
  2. Code of Criminal Procedure
    Section 176 of the said act mentions compulsory magisterial inquiry is to take place on the death of an accused caused in police custody.
     
  3. Indian Police Act
    Section 7 and 29 of the Act provided for dismissal, penalty or suspension of negligent police officers.
     
  4. Indian Penal Code
    The judgement of Mathura Rape Case brought an amendment in Sec 376 of IPC. It now penalises custodial rape committed by the police officers.

Sec 330, 331, 342 and 348 of Indian Penal Code has ostensibly been designed to deter a police officer, who is empowered to arrest a person to restrain him from using third degree methods, causing "torture", while conducting an investigation or interrogating a person.

Article 22 of Constitution of India ensure protection against detention in certain cases.

Article 20(3) Constitution of India provides rights not to be compelled to be a witness against own self.

Right to live with human dignity was upheld in the case of "PUCL & Anr. V. State of Maharashtra & Ors." But there are also several instances where despite of the availability of rights to the citizens, they undergo ordeal, faces violence which are detrimental to the masses having the liberty to enjoy human rights.

Law Commission of India 273rd report called for implementation of United Nations Convention against Torture. The report had recommended that individuals committing custodial torture to be criminally prosecuted against the custodial violence and death. Continuous monitoring over police administration relating to detention and torture of suspects and detainees be made by judicial officers.

Case Studies
J Prabhavathiamma v/s The State of Kerala & Ors WP No. 24258 of 2007
Nazar J. observed that the acts of the accused persons would definitely adversely affect the transparency of the very institution of the police department. The court awarded death sentence to the two police personnel.

Munshi Singh Gautam v/s State of Madhya Pradesh Appeal (Crl) 919 of 1999
The Supreme Court of India while delivering the judgement in this case observed that "the torture, assault and death in custody which are of dehumanising nature have assumed and extended on a large scale which evidently puts mark of question upon the administration of the criminal justice system, whose object is to entail fairness and justice for all."

Yashwant And Ors v/s State of Maharashtra (2018) 4 MLJ (Crl) 10(SC)
The Supreme Court upheld the conviction of nine Maharashtra cops in relation with a 1993 custodial death case and extended their jail terms from three to seven years each. The judgement was given by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and J M.M Shantanagoudar.

Rajan Case Verdict (1977)
The engineering course enrolled student was arrested by the police, he was never produced before the court and in a Habeas Corpus suit filed by the detainee's father the fact came out that the boy was killed in the police custody itself.

Smt Soubhagya v/s The Chief Secretary State of Karnataka (2001)
The Apex Court observed that an accused cannot be deprived to enjoy the fundamental rights guaranteed to him under Article 14 and 21 of The Constitution of India as our country is signatory to the UNO Convention of Human Rights Declaration Act, 1948.

The court by taking into consideration the various guidelines ruled for pecuniary compensation in favour of the claimants, thus awarding damages in favour of the victims.

Conclusion
While the general universal and regional human rights treaties do not contain an express obligation to prevent arbitrary deaths, obligations to prevent are commonly understood to prevent arbitrary deaths, obligations to prevent are commonly understood to be the same as the obligation to ensure the right to life. States have to take proper measures to ensure that right to life extends to obligations to prevent arbitrary deaths.

Shaping the legislative and administrative to deter torture requires that states make acts of torture and ill treatment punishable by law, whether committed by state officials or non-state actors. The legal and administrative framework should include procedural safeguards to deter torture and ill-treatment in situations of detention. Individuals deprived of their liberty are at risk of torture, which adds to the breach of human rights, and that the risk is enhanced when individuals are held incommunicado.

The instrumental mechanisms providing for rules, regulations, and safeguards in relationship to phases of detention, as access to medical and legal assistance, and judicial supervision mitigate the risk of torture. the prevention of torture and ill treatment has been stressed endlessly going so far as to state that "Habeas Corpus represents the ideal means" to protect the detainees against torture as the circumstances was observed in the Rajan case. Thus, strict adherence with law and respecting the human rights that all people enjoy will evidently make up a welfare state.

References:
  • The prevention of gross human rights violations under International Human Rights Law
  • Human Right to a healthy environment, edited by John Knox and Ramin Pejan
  • United Nations Human Rights Survey Report.

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