UN Experts Call for End to Police Brutality Worldwide

A road in New Delhi during the coronavirus lockdown in India. Photo: Rakesh Raman / RMN News Service
A road in New Delhi during the coronavirus lockdown in India. Photo: Rakesh Raman / RMN News Service

A group of UN human rights experts* has expressed alarm at what they describe as a “rampant police brutality against peaceful protesters worldwide” and warned States of the grave danger arising from such abuse for human rights and the rule of law. 

“In recent months and years, we have repeatedly voiced our concern over a steady increase in the use of excessive force, police brutality, and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as well as arbitrary detention, against predominantly peaceful protesters in all regions of the world,” the experts said in statement issued on August 11.

“This trend, often extending to journalists covering protests, has resulted in countless deaths and injuries, often exacerbated through torture, sexual violence, arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearance, and has intimidated, traumatized, and antagonised large segments of society worldwide.”

The experts said the vast majority of these incidents were rooted in political, socio-economic, ethnic, racial, religious, or other tensions specific to particular national or regional situations. “At the same time, there are also relevant, more generic contexts of global reach and underlying reasons of racism, gender-based and other forms of discrimination in law enforcement,” they said.

“Large-scale migration, protests of climate activists, human rights defenders, indigenous peoples and, more recently, the Black Lives Matter movement are affected by excessive use of force and police brutality.

“Additionally, since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, there have been numerous reports of security forces employing excessive and often indiscriminate violence resulting in unlawful deaths, injury, and psychological trauma, as well as arbitrary detentions, in order to enforce emergency measures for the protection of public health, such as bans on assemblies, lockdowns, and curfews.

“Most worryingly, throughout all regions and contexts, these acts of violence and abuse have often been encouraged by divisive, discriminatory, and inflammatory narratives spread or condoned by political leaders, local authorities, and parts of the media, and by the resulting atmosphere of near complete impunity for perpetrators.”

The experts said it is the prime responsibility of governments and political leaders to prevent such dangerous developments through non-violent means including, most notably, pro-active communication aiming at de-escalation, reconciliation, and the peaceful exercise of civil and political rights.

“Public confidence in the reliability, legitimacy, and integrity of State institutions and their law enforcement officials is the most valuable commodity of any peaceful, just, and sustainable society and the very foundation of democracy and the rule of law,” the experts said.

“We therefore urge governments and political leaders not to needlessly squander the trust of their people, to refrain from any unwarranted violence, coercion, and divisiveness, and to prioritize and promote dialogue, tolerance, and diversity in the common public interest of all.”

* The experts: Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Mr. Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and Mr. Clement Nyaletsossi Voulé, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.

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