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

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid