Zim police force needs human rights education

THE ghastly pictures of female protesters cruelly beaten by police officers while in custody remove any doubt that we have a brutish police force seriously in need of a basic education in what constitutes human rights.

Source: Zim police force needs human rights education – NewsDay Zimbabwe September 27, 2016

guest column: LEARNMORE ZUZE

It is sad that their superiors, by remaining silent this long, have abetted the bestial conduct.

While I fully agree that appealing to the police force’s sense of morality is a needless waste of time, a remorseful condemnation of these barbaric actions by their superiors would, at least, give a colour of professionalism to the force.

While there is also a school of thought that there could be political party youths garbing police uniforms and using the privilege to attack perceived political opponents, one thing remains clear: Zimbabwean police officers need training on what human rights are and why these inalienable rights should be observed by all Zimbabweans.

It may be possible that some officers have had training in this regard, but, palpably, the majority has not.

And this is clearly evidenced in their conduct. It is apparent that the callous beatings and the gory wounds seen at the courts last week betray a vengeful police force, not even aware that their constitutional obligation merely consists of apprehending suspects and not bludgeoning defenceless women in custody.

If anyone doubted that the police are among the worst perpetrators of violence, then last week’s events should put the debate to rest.

The focal point, at this juncture, should be on reforming or rehabilitating the police force, a task which, however, is next to impossible, given the silence which amounts to condoning the behaviour by their seniors and the rate at which their fiendish acts continue.

One is left to ask: Is the police force aware of its real or supposed role in peacekeeping? Should members of the police force do the bidding of political parties? Should such a unit even be partisan in the first place? Why should a lawfully trained police officer attack a chained person?

These questions appear rhetorical, but in all honesty, these answers have become necessary and all progressive democratic minds must continue hammering on this high canon of common legal sense until headway is made.

Police bosses have been quick to spring to the defence of the police force where the police have acted with impunity and pointless cruelty.

It even defies the mind, while at it, that a whole minister can stand and ask for anyone to bring forward evidence of police brutality in a country with countless victims of police violence, not to mention the overwhelming video evidence.

In other countries, the images that have emerged so far, of savagely injured men and women, would have warranted the resignation of both the responsible minister and Police Commissioner-General, but I digress.

Most police recruits are conscripted into the force and go through elementary training, but it is extremely doubtful whether they have come across a curricular on the rights of the citizenry.

It is doubtful whether they have understanding of their duties. One cannot become a law unto themselves simply because they have donned a police uniform.

But looking at the behaviour of these young officers, as they brazenly go about their duties, one is left wondering whether or not they have hearts of flesh in their chests.

They seem to, all of a sudden, lose the little of humanity in them once in the street, even kicking a 64-year-old grandmother.

A police officer on duty is still a Zimbabwean and the Constitution demands that they act in accordance with the law.

What we saw last week in those images should lead to a firm case of aggravated assault against the officers identified.

It is not part of their duties to savage suspects like that. That is a classic example of taking the law into one’s own hands, if ever we needed one.

They have become both the enforcer and the judge, quite contrary to the basic tenets of the Constitution, which they should be conversant with.

Even more sad is the fact that little to nothing has been seen in action against these rogue officers from the side of the courts.
Many a time, suspects have struggled to stand in the dock and wounds have been visible on their bodies, but nothing fruitful has resulted from the routine command to investigate the suspects’ complaints.

This has, to a huge extent, contributed to the unending animalistic behaviour by police officers who torture people in custody.

If it could be knocked hard in the heads of officers, as the Constitution points out, that they can be tried in their individual capacities for the criminal actions, they would revise their actions.

The onus is also on responsible citizens to identify and report these excesses.

Even if police officers should identify protesters breaking the law, they still retain their human right not to be subjected to inhuman treatment. The courts have the sole mandate to punish offenders.

All said and done, the time has come for the police force to have training in human rights.

We may be casting blame on a force which thinks its mandate is to defend the government of the day.