Editorial

Editorial

Working class Belizeans who have had to put up with police brutality will welcome the recommendation of the United NationsSubcommittee on Torture which is requesting that the Government of Belize set up an independent commission to monitor the use of torture and cruel treatment of persons in police custody.

The subcommittee of five, headed by Sir Malcolm Evans, Professor of Public International Law at the University of Bristol, was in Belize for five working days visiting the prison and police stations and speaking with knowledgeable persons in the private sector.

It will provide a full report of its findings,which it hopes the Government of Belize will share with the general public.

Its one recommendation so far is that Belize “will strive to establish a national preventive body as soon as possible, ensuring that it is functionally independent, adequately resourced and mandated to carry out unannounced visits to places where people are deprived of liberty.”

Its purpose is “to help the authorities improve the conditions of detention and ensure efffective policy for preventing torture and ill-treatment of persons detained by the police and for persons confined to jail.

Belize subscribed to the United Nations Convention against Torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment three years ago in 2015, but this is the first time the United Nations has sent a reviewing team to do on-site inspections.
The wording of its release at the end of five days of work suggests that the UN team was not impressed by what it saw and heard.

With four or more prisoners confined to a single prison cell at Belize’s only jail, the team is sure to recommend a bigger prison system to deal with the burgeoning criminal population.

But prison overcrowding is a physical problem for which there is a relatively simple answer – more resources.

The bigger problem by far is endemic. It has to do with the practice, deeply embedded in the Belize Police Department, that lawmen have the right or the option to beat prisoners – sometime to the point of causing death by physical abuse.

The Government and its various Ministers of Police over many years have been unable, or unwilling, to stomp out this practice, which is tacitly condoned by senior police officers.

Belize has been able to remove corporal punishment from our schools, but not even the Ombudsman has been able to contain or reduce the feral violence of our policemen in dealing with certain detained persons.

The UN Sub-committee on Prevention of Torture has proposed a solution: to set up an independent commission with authority to make unexpected visits to investigate this hidden police activity.

It is expected that policemen found abusing their authority will be prosecuted and dealt with as the law allows.

The proposal has a good chance of working, but only if the law is conscientiously applied.
Let’s hope the Government of Belize will find the resources to carry out this important reform.

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