Features

Human Rights and Law Enforcement

Cynthia Pitts

Trustee, Human Rights Commission of Belize

 

Many times you hear and see on the TV and other news media injured young men relating disgusting incidents of violence against them by the GSU or regular police officers. Shortly after, there would be a response either denying the accusation or justifying the actions taken because the injured person resisted the legal and normal actions of the GSU and police officers. I have never met anyone who believes these responses. 

I believe there must be those whom I have not met who believe them. I know when the GSU or regular police raid or carry out their search they usually do so in large numbers. The ordinary patrolling officers on the street normally outnumber anyone who is stopped and searched. I think any right thinking young man would be very unwise to try to resist law enforcement officers when they are clearly outnumbered. In addition both GSU and regular officers carry guns, so that makes resistance even more dangerous and fool hardy.

Even the Prime Minister on one occasion when he responded to allegations of violence by the GSU said he was against it and if the GSU or any law enforcement officers were guilty of unnecessary or illegal violence he would not support them. This was well said.

The Prime Minister said the right thing, but is this saying the right thing enough? Too much of that happens in Belize. We need action.

A start could be the training which the Police receive. At the basic recruit training a lecture titled “Use of Force” is gratuitously presented by the Human Rights Commission of Belize. This is presented during the week when the recruits have guest lecturers coming in to talk  to them.

The Human Rights Commission would present lectures on other topics like “Human Rights and Police Ethics”, “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, “Migrant Workers Rights” and “Constitutional Rights”. The most time that a lecture would run would be for about 2 hours. Of course this is not enough time. This is the only time that the officer is exposed to the topic from a human rights perspective.

The Commission used to be responsible for presenting these lectures annually, however, there was a period when there was no communication between the Training Academy and the Commission and for some years no lectures were given.

Resumption commenced at the end of 2012 when the Commission wrote to the Academy and offered once more to accept the lectures.

The Academy readily accepted the offer.

It should not be that these lectures are given only when the Commission initiates their presentation. The subjects should be part of the training like the other subjects that are offered. The basic training offered to the recruits is already considered too short so these topics offered in the context of a “Human Rights Course” would add to the training.

Human Rights Training of the Police is very important. Unfortunately, the mention of the words “Human Rights” continue to stir up negative thoughts in some people. They think that the proponents of human rights are being soft on criminals and those who do illegal acts. In the Law Enforcement world, also, apparently in Belize, it is not understood by commanding officers that policing would be more effective if the public saw that the police respected human rights. When police are seen to respect human rights:

•  public confidence is built and community cooperation fostered;

• contribution is made to the peaceful resolution of conflicts and complaints

• legal prosecutions are successful in court;

• police are seen in the community as performing a valuable social function;

•  the fair administration of justice is served and consequently confidence in the system is enhanced;

• an example is set for others in society to respect the law;

• police are able to be closer to the community and therefore in a position to prevent and solve crimes through proactive policing;

• support is elicited from the media, from the international community and from political authorities.

It is strongly advocated by the Commission that a human rights component be a permanent part of the basic recruit training.

The Commission is willing to do the lectures. Financial assistance is needed to prepare materials and cost of travelling sometimes come from supporters of human rights like some of the Embassies and international human rights organizations.

If the Commission does not have this external financial assistance it is not deterred and will find a way to do the training.

Hopefully the day will come when police officers and law enforcement agencies will understand that respect for human rights reap benefits which advance the objectives of law enforcement while at the same time build a law enforcement structure that does not rely on fear and raw power, but rather on honour, professionalism and legality.

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