News / Europe

UN Report: Laws on Police Use of Lethal Force Need Reform

Riot police fire tear gas towards supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood during a demonstration at Cairo University, Egypt, May 20, 2014.
Riot police fire tear gas towards supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood during a demonstration at Cairo University, Egypt, May 20, 2014.
Lisa Schlein
A U.N. special investigator is calling for the urgent reform of laws on the use of lethal force by police. In a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council,  he noted that police too often abuse the extensive powers they are given.  
 
U.N. Special Investigator Christof Heyns is calling on governments around the world to launch a campaign to bring the laws of all states into line with international standards. He noted that too many laws on the books were enacted more than 100 years ago.
 
In African and Caribbean nations, he said many colonial laws are still in place. Heyns said they still come from the British Riot Act of 1714 or the French law of 1848.
 
"Essentially, it says that if 12 people are gathered and they refuse to disperse when told to do so, law enforcement officials may shoot with impunity. Or in the case of the former French colonies, or many of them, there must be three warnings with a drum and if people do not disperse, then the police may use fire arms,"  he said.

Heyns said these laws, which stem from the pre- human-rights era, must be made relevant to the contemporary world. He said they do not offer protections for demonstrators who may clash with the police, as happened in Tahrir Square in Egypt. He noted that laws governing protests in Egypt date back to the colonial era of 1914.
 
He said the extensive powers enjoyed by the police can be easily abused in any society around the world. He told VOA statistics show how dangerous the excessive use of force can be.
 
"One out of every 25 violent deaths in the world are caused by law enforcement officials.  In some cases, of course, justifiably so," said Heyns. "It is a duty to protect people. In some cases, they cannot do so without using force. But, the overall figure is that in 2011, which is the last date for which we had the figures -- this is worldwide -- that 21,000 people were killed by law enforcement officials of an overall estimate of around 500,000 violent deaths in the world."
 
Heyns said in most societies, police who use excessive force tend to justify their actions by claiming they are fighting terrorism. He said demonstrators who are killed often are branded as terrorists.
 
The U.N. investigator does not deny the importance of countering terrorism. He said this becomes an easy justification, however, for the use of deadly force, especially in states that lack a proper system of accountability. He said it essentially becomes a license to kill.
 
Heyns said lethal force by the police can be reduced if laws are put in place that accord with international standards. He said police must be trained in proper crowd control. Finally, he noted that police who are given equipment to protect themselves from potentially violent protesters will feel less threatened and will not be so quick to shoot.

You May Like

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More