Jan 01, 2012 Letters
I could not help but think that even if one were to disagree with the substance of Assistant Commissioner Steve Merai’s recent pronouncements, I am not so sure that there was widespread rejection of the spirit of independent thought which his comments projected.
In some quarters there is even appreciation for his break with the groupthink mentality which is integral for institutions like the Guyana Police Force. Even if it is a bit late in the day – since Steve will be retiring soon, one may argue that it is never too late to respond to the dictum of conscience and, in this regard, this is what he seems to be doing.
However, I think that it would make for interesting reading if Steve were to share his thoughts on the recent rubber bullets controversy with reference to Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials adopted by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held in Havana, Cuba 1990.
Because of space constraints I will (for the benefit of readers) highlight just a few sections of the Principles so that all can make informed judgments on the issue.
Notwithstanding the specificities and peculiarities of national legislation and practice frameworks, the Principles were formulated to “assist Member States in their task of ensuring and promoting the proper role of law enforcement officials and be brought to the attention of law enforcement officials as well as other persons, such as judges, prosecutors, lawyers, members of the executive branch and the legislature, and the public.
Principal among the General Provisions which should be taken into account and respected by Governments is the requirement that Governments and law enforcement agencies should develop a range of means as broad as possible and equip law enforcement officials with various types of weapons and ammunition that would allow for a differentiated use of force and firearms.
These should include the development of non-lethal incapacitating weapons for use in appropriate situations, with a view to increasingly restraining the application of means capable of causing death or injury to persons. For the same purpose, it should also be possible for law enforcement officials to be equipped with self-defensive equipment such as shields, helmets, bullet-proof vests and bullet-proof means of transportation, in order to decrease the need to use weapons of any kind.
Provision 3 requires that the development and deployment of non-lethal incapacitating weapons should be carefully evaluated in order to minimize the risk of endangering uninvolved persons, and the use of such weapons should be carefully controlled; while Provision 7 states that Governments shall ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offence under their law.
And Provision 8 stipulates that exceptional circumstances such as internal political instability or any other public emergency may not be invoked to justify any departure from these basic principles.
Editor, the Principles inter alia speak to the issue of policing unlawful assemblies where it states that in the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
In the area of training according to Principle 20 governments and law enforcement agencies have a duty to give special attention to alternatives to the use of force and firearms, including the peaceful settlement of conflicts, the understanding of crowd behaviour, and the methods of persuasion, negotiation and mediation, as well as to technical means, with a view to limiting the use of force and firearms.
Law enforcement agencies should review their training programmes and operational procedures in the light of particular incidents. Interestingly, Principle 21 supports a position I publicly argued more than seventeen years ago when it states that Governments and law enforcement agencies shall make stress counselling available to law enforcement officials who are involved in situations where force and firearms are used.
The Principles also cover reporting and review procedures encompassing (as it were) accountability and responsibility to wit Principle 24 requires that Governments and law enforcement agencies shall ensure that superior officers are held responsible if they know, or should have known, that law enforcement officials under their command are resorting, or have resorted, to the unlawful use of force and firearms, and they did not take all measures in their power to prevent, suppress or report such use.
I wonder though how our local actors would treat with Principle 25 which states that Governments and law enforcement agencies shall ensure that no criminal or disciplinary sanction is imposed on law enforcement officials who, in compliance with the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and these basic principles, refuse to carry out an order to use force and firearms, or who report such use by other officials.
What seems more problematic under the extant circumstances however is the admonishment conveyed in Principle 26 that obedience to superior orders shall be no defence if law enforcement officials knew that an order to use force and firearms resulting in the death or serious injury of a person was manifestly unlawful and had a reasonable opportunity to refuse to follow it. In any case, responsibility also rests on the superiors who gave the unlawful orders.
Editor I have refrained from injecting my own view point on the subject of this letter however, it is my humble opinion that Steve.
Merai’s thinking on this and similar contentious issues could maybe serve as a reference tool for reviewing ethical and operational guidelines in civil disorder situations since it is a responsibility that Governments and law enforcement agencies shall keep the ethical issues associated with the use of force and firearms constantly under review.
Patrick E. Mentore
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