Police violating human rights? Legal experts say yes!

By Benjamin Flowers
Staff Reporter

The Belize Police Department, as part of its new crime fighting strategy, has started allowing on-duty police officers to use private cell phones to take pictures of civilians that are stopped and searched. Legal experts, however, claim the practice is a violation of human rights laws and an abuse of authority.

Police Legal Adviser, Bart Jones, acknowledged to the media on Thursday morning that the police are indeed engaging in the practice following numerous reports from civilians who have been photographed without their consent. According to Jones, the photos can be used as evidence in situations where persons claim police brutality.

The Police Act, Chapter 138 of the Laws of Belize, does make provision for police officers to take photographs of persons in lawful police custody, however, Jones acknowledged that the manner which has come into question does not fit the manner prescribed in the Act.

Jones noted that the law did not state that the manner prescribed was the only circumstances under which pictures could be taken and that the new system was imperfect but “effective”.

When pressed on the matter during Thursday’s police press brief, Jones outrightly refused to answer any questions on the matter.

Attorney Audrey Matura, however, told the Reporter that the practice of photographing persons who are not being sought in the furtherance of an investigation is a breach of Section 14-1 of the Constitution of Belize, which guarantees a person’s right to privacy.
“When police gather information on you (including photographs), it has to be that they’re acting on reasonable suspicion,” Matura said.

She noted that even though police have the right to stop and search civilians, it does not give officers the authority take a person’s photo without their consent if they have not been arrested or detained pending charges. Matura said the only way this can become possible is if there are amendments made to the Legislation by Parliament, which certainly has not been the case.

Kevin Arthurs, vice president of the Human Rights Commission of Belize, described the practice as being “unconstitutional, unlawful and evidence of a counterproductive policing policy.”

Arthurs said that there must be immediate lobbying for police to rescind the decision, and failing that, that there needs to be legal redress sought to address the issue.

“It is shameful, recklessly conceived and obscenely offensive to well-established civil rights and constitutional guarantees in any democratic country,” Arthurs told the Reporter.

Chapter II, Section 14 (1) of the Constitution of Belize states: “A person shall not be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his/her privacy…”
Section 14 (2) does provide that nothing done under the authority of the law shall be held inconsistent with the constitution; however, police themselves have acknowledged that the new photographing practice is not prescribed by law.

Comments are closed.