NA calls for better welfare of detainees

The housed has asked the human rights committee to submit a report in the next winter session

NA: To protect and uphold the personal dignity and rights of detainees, National Assembly yesterday asked its Human Rights Committee to conduct a holistic review of legislation on detention.

It was one of the committee’s four recommendations after it reviewed the National Assembly’s resolution last session and the Anti-Corruption Commission’s investigation process.

Jomotsangkha Martshala Member of Parliament and the committee’s chairperson Pelzang Wangchuk said, “Detention is an issue pertaining not only to the Commission. There are many other detainees brought in to police custody for various trials.”

The reasons for the review were that the Prison Act of Bhutan recognises detention as part of prisons, detainees are handcuffed when they are transported from one location to another, and present arrangement requires police to manage detention centres on behalf of the society, among others.

A separate detention centre for corruption cases will be required in future and a special detention is needed for women and juveniles.

Members said the review should also consider harmonising the international agreements, to which the country is a party.

While the cells have remained about the same, the number of detainees is increasing each year, parliamentarians said.

“There is already overcrowding issue in detention centres,” he said. Further, the detainees are subject to prison rules and regulations even though their cases are under investigation and their fate is not decided for final.

“Currently, there is no way of dealing with detainees other than the Prison Act 2008,” he said.

Bardo Trong MP Lekey Dorji said an individual is innocent until proven guilty and thus detaining them in prisons were not legal.

South Thimphu Member of Parliament, Yeshey Zimba said ensuring that each individual has his rights is imperative, even if the person is a convict or a suspect in a crime.

“If possible, the government should construct new centres or otherwise arrange a separate place because even the prisoners and their visitors have rights,” he said.

Finance minister Namgay Dorji said there needs to be a clear legislation on detaining people. “People were arrested in the morning while dropping their kids to school or while driving to work,” he said.

However, the committee proposed that there is no need to change the status quo on legal provisions on detention as promulgated in the Anti-Corruption Act.

Pelzang Wangchuk said the success story of the commission so far is proof that such enabling legal backing is required in the society if the state is to remain zero-tolerant to corruption.

The committee also submitted some urgent reforms such as provision of detention centres with toilet facilities, separate centres for women and children, not handcuff a detainee during travel between locations, and improving the general conditions of the centres including those in the districts.

In case an accused has been publicised by media, the commission should issue a press release clearing the name of the detainee if the individual comes off clean.

The deliberation extended its allotted time and more than half the members present spoke on the issues.

The deputy speaker Chimi Dorji chairing the session asked the committee to submit a report on whether the detainees are treated as prisoners and if the juveniles in the Youth Development and Rehabilitation Centre should be treated differently.

The Human Right Committee will submit its review report to the house in the 8th session.

Tshering Palden

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