India abstains on UN resolution over materials used for torture, execution

United Nations (IANS) India has abstained from voting on a General Assembly resolution on examining steps to restrict trade in materials used for executions and torture, saying that that it could infringe on the rights of countries that carry out capital punishments provided for under their law "after following the due process of law".

India, however, unequivocally declared its opposition to torture, which is a crime under its laws.

The resolution, which was adopted on Friday with 81 votes in favour, 20 against and 44 abstentions, asks Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to look at "a range of options to establish common international standards for the import, export and transfer of goods used" for capital punishment, torture or inhuman punishments.

Speaking after the vote on the resolution, a First Secretary in India's UN Mission, Paulomi Tripathi, said that New Delhi was "firmly committed to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment".

"Acts of torture are punishable offence under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code," she said. 

"The Indian judiciary also serves as a bulwark against any such violations of human rights.

"We firmly believe that freedom from torture is a human right which must be respected and protected under all circumstances," she added.

Explaining India's decision to abstain from voting for the resolution, Tripathi said: "Every State has the sovereign right to determine its own legal system and appropriate legal penalties In States where Capital punishment is statutorily provided for, it is exercised after following the due process of law."

The resolution may be considered an attempt to equate torture, which is a crime, with capital punishment, which in India is "a statutory provision, even though it is used in the rarest of rare cases", she said.

Tripathi also said that the resolution was an attempt at imposing "trade restrictions in a selective manner" by linking "trade in goods and the criminal acts of torture" and has "implications on the international trading system".

Therefore, "any implication that capital punishment is being treated on par with torture is unacceptable", she said.

The next Assembly session is to consider the issue of torture, including the restricting import and export of items used solely for torture, so the resolution was duplicating the work, Tripathi added.

Many of the countries that opposed the resolution or abstained made similar arguments, raising the questions of national sovereignty over laws permitting capital punishment and impinging on trade issues.

Romania's Permanent Representative Ion Jinga, who introduced the resolution, tried to assuage the reservations by saying that it did not prejudge what further steps may be taken.

It only seeks to provide "food for thought" on how to deal with the problem and see what "common international standards" can be formulated in future, he said.

"It is unconscionable to turn a blind eye to the import and export of goods that can be used to inflict torture, suffering and even death."

The voting was split between countries that have banned death penalty - which supported the resolution - and countries that had capital punishment in their laws. 

Besides India, some of the other countries that abstained included South Korea, Russia, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia, that had reservations only because of the capital punishment or trade provisions.

Those that voted against the resolution made strange bedfellows as they are at loggerheads on most issues. Nations like the US, Saudi Arabia and Japan lined up alongside countries like North Korea, Iran and China to cast negative votes.

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