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

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    Video Iraqis Primed to March on Mosul, Foreign Minister Says

    Iraqi FM Ibrahim al-Jaafari tells VOA the campaign will meet optimistic expectations, even though US officials remain cautious

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora