International Conference for Senior Law Enforcement Officials – ICSLEO 2010
The ICRC’s role in responding to 'other situations of violence' is expanding at a time when police forces are growing in importance. The organization’s engagement with these forces has intensified over the last decade, as confirmed by the first International Conference for Senior Law-Enforcement Officials, held in Geneva from 30 November to 2 December.
The ICRC had invited law-enforcement professionals and experts from around the world to discuss challenges of modern policing and the integration of international rules and standards into daily law-enforcement practices.
The event included a visit to training facilities of the Geneva gendarmerie where the conference participants observed different training exercises performed by the public order unit of the gendarmerie.
Dialogue with the police is nothing new for the organization; it dates back to the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. But the ICRC has traditionally been much more involved with armed forces, spreading awareness of and encouraging respect for international humanitarian law (IHL). With the growing importance of 'other situations of violence' below the threshold of conflict, however, both IHL and the armed forces are often less relevant than human rights law, and the forces most closely involved: the police. It is with the police that ICRC delegates increasingly discuss access to detainees, detention conditions, the treatment of citizens, disappearances and respect for fundamental human rights.
However, the ICRC does not want to get involved in teaching police officers how to actually interrogate suspects, control crowds or use force, all of which are key areas of concern to the organization. Even though it has a growing number of experienced former police officers among its staff, it cannot take over the responsibility of police forces to make their own institutional choices. The ICRC merely reminds them of the operational implications of fundamental human rights law on law-enforcement practices. It leaves it up to the police forces themselves to integrate human rights law into the practices.
"It is up to States to train their police forces and ensure that fundamental rights are included in manuals, curricula, training and instructions," says Dr Anja Bienert, advisor for ICRC activities with police and security forces. "We are increasingly involved in these processes, but we do not want to become the trainers or textbook writers ourselves. Besides, you cannot apply a one-size-fits-all approach to such a range of different countries."
Time to adapt
The ICRC is adapting to police forces at a time when they themselves are adjusting to changes in their own countries, which creates opportunities for the organization. "Most of the police forces here, including my own country’s, have gradually evolved from protecting the State to protecting its citizens," concedes Colonel Fabio Manhães Xavier, director of the police training academy of Brazil's second biggest state, Minais Gerais. "Most senior police officials have a military background, and have had to adjust to this new philosophy. Workshops like this one help to generate consensus."
The event was also an opportunity to enhance understanding of the support the ICRC can provide to police forces. "I only knew the ICRC as an aid organization," says General Ahmed Khan Toru, the chief of police in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province in North-West Pakistan, where the ICRC is very active. "I did not realize the organization worked on policing issues. I would like the ICRC to do in my province what it has done with Indonesia or the Philippines," (that is, a long-term cooperation programme with the police on law-enforcement issues).
"The conference has added a new dimension to the ICRC's dialogue with police and security forces," said Dr Philip Spoerri, the organization’s director for law and cooperation. "It brought together senior law-enforcement professionals and experts from more than 15 countries to discuss their experiences and the lessons they have learnt. It provided them with a platform for debate, learning from one another and generating new ideas."
The ICRC conducts activities with police and security forces in more than 80 countries around the world and the conference is an affirmation of its commitment to further engage in this constructive dialogue with them in the future – in line with its mandate to alleviate the suffering of people affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence.