Drew professor contributes to book on torture prevention

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By Brooke Winters

Associate Professor of Political Science Jinee Lokaneeta recently contributed to a chapter in the book “Does Torture Prevention Work?” by Richard Carver and Lisa Handley. Lokaneeta, who teaches the courses Torture: Pain, Body and Truth and Policing and the Rule of Law – Security, Violence and Citizenship, has worked on analyzing torture from several different lenses in the past. In her contributions to this new book, Lokaneeta focused on analyzing the effectiveness of torture prevention in India from 1985 to 2014. She described the differences between her prior work and her contributions to “Does Torture Prevention Work?”:

I was doing a discourse analysis of legal cases, official and NGO reports, and popular culture like the T.V. show 24. I was interested in more theoretical questions of how legal discourses accommodate excessive violence. That was a comparative study between U.S. and India. In this new co-authored chapter, which was only on India, it is much more of an empirical study of whether torture prevention initiatives have worked between 1985 and 2014. We were trying to figure out, for instance, whether important Supreme Court decisions in India on torture and the National Human Rights Commission have made a difference in the incidents and frequency of torture. We also focused on the role of doctors and other actors in the prevention of torture.

This study was funded by the Association for the Prevention of Torture, an influential NGO located in Geneva. According to Lokaneeta, this NGO, “has held high level meetings with U.N. representations related to the prevention of torture, such as the U.N. Rapporteur on Torture. The editors of this book have also worked on questions of torture and human rights.”

Lokaneeta worked with Dr. Amar Jesani, a medical ethics activist, to conduct a 16 country study on torture prevention methods. This study was the first of its kind to include a wide variety of countries and was also the first systematic study on torture prevention in India. Lokaneeta said:

Our chapter focuses on how severity and frequency of torture has not really declined in India over this period- from 1985-2014. While we don’t have a lot of statistics on torture in India, we have reports that suggest that torture is quite routine in India. We study the prevalence of torture and present an assessment of the torture prevention mechanisms in India. We discuss three different contexts in which torture takes place in India: criminal cases, cases especially associated with extraordinary laws (often linked to terrorism and organized crime), and in conflict areas.

This study’s results found that since the 1990s, India’s torture prevention methods, which have been set up by the National Human Rights Commission, have had a limited impact on curbing torture. Prevention methods are lacking in areas of police and institutional reforms. Shifts in outcome are more prevalent in regard to compensation, such as cases involving custodial death. Lokaneeta said:

There is a focus on compensation, not prosecutions. Some of these lacunae could be addressed by the passing of a specific anti-torture bill but the continuation of extraordinary laws and an implicit support for torture among state actors and society would also need to be addressed to prevent the continued use of torture in the three contexts we discuss.

Lokaneeta’s work in this project not only adds to academic research on torture prevention, but it also has the potential to shape future policies. Lokaneeta and her colleagues presented their preliminary findings to two international experts at a Geneva workshop in 2014. They also met with lawyers from influential organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, NYU legal clinics, and the U.N. Rapporteur on Torture.

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