24 January 2018 - On January 18 this CGHR panel discussion brought international experts from the United Nations into conversation with academics based in Cambridge and elsewhere to explore the role of police, the act of policing, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
The police play a vital role in protecting and promoting a wide range of human rights in contemporary societies. The expansiveness of their role combined with their very direct engagement with the public gives way to unique tensions; it signifies that police in one instance are called to act as state agents whose very actions either tangibly respect or fail to respect an individuals’ rights while in another, they can act as the state’s first line of defence in protecting rights from violations.
In certain circumstances, protecting the rights of some can interfere with the rights of others, only heightening the controversy surrounding police and the act of policing. In some cases, the police exemplify—in an acute and visible way—the tensions festering beneath the surface of wider social interactions; in other cases, they may create their own, specific challenges. The use of force by the police brings these challenges into stark relief. The most widely recognized use of force is their use of lethal force, but force can also be lower-level invasions of personal privacy such as “stop and search”. Are these practices necessary? Do they facilitate or impede peace and inclusion?
In light of these challenges among others, the global community committed in 2015, through SDG 16 , to significantly reduce the levels of violence in society. Thus, the CGHR has arranged this panel of experts to discuss the extent to which the police are both an important ally and target of sustainable development given existent problems and tensions. The SDGs emphasise the importance of providing access to justice and building accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels, but what are the existing challenges—especially those surrounding use of force—and how can they be addressed so goals such as those laid out in the SDGs can become a reality?
- Christof Heyns is a member of the UN Human Rights Committee and Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria, where he directs the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa. From 2010-2016 he served as UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and in 2016 he also served as Chair of the UN Independent Investigation into Burundi.
Anneke Osse is an independent consultant who has worked around the world on issues of policing and human rights. She has worked as a consultant for a range of organizations, including the UN, OSCE , international NGOs as well as for the police. She was recently the lead author of the Resource Book on the Use of Force and Firearms in Law Enforcement (2017) published jointly by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. She is in the exploratory stages of a new international collaboration aimed at monitoring the use of lethal force by police officers around the world.
Stuart Maslen is an Honorary Professor at the University of Pretoria, and specialises in the use of force under international law. He holds a doctorate in international humanitarian law as well as master’s degrees in international human rights law and in forensic ballistics. He recently co-authored a commentary on the Arms Trade Treaty, published by OUP in 2016, and on police use of force under international law, published by Cambridge University Press in 2017.