To serve and to protect: dealing with violence requires a professional and well trained police force

29-03-2010 Interview

Violence can break out suddenly or be an everyday reality. When order must be restored, casualties can be reduced or avoided by police action that reflects international rules and standards. Interview with Pascal Progin, outgoing ICRC delegate for the police and security forces programmes in Latin America and the Caribbean.

You have just spent two years working as a delegate in Latin America. Why does the ICRC work with police officers on the use of force?  

The ICRC’s mission is to prevent or at least alleviate the suffering of victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence. Police officers are responsible for public security, and for maintaining and restoring public order. These are challenging tasks, and in exceptional circumstances the police have no option but to resort to the use of force. This can result in casualties among both police officers and civilians. This is the link between the role of the police and the ICRC’s mission.

 What is the nature of the ICRC’s work with police forces?  

The ICRC participates in w orkshops and seminars to train police officers in the rules and standards of international humanitarian law that are applicable to police work. The organization also helps government forces incorporate these rules and standards into their doctrine. Improving doctrine and training methods helps police officers deal with violent situations better, which can reduce the number of casualties.

 How long has the ICRC been doing this?  

In 1994, the ICRC began working with the Israeli and Palestinian police forces. The aim was to develop a better dialogue with these forces and help them incorporate humanitarian principles into their doctrine and training. We then received requests for support and advice from other police forces. In 1998, the programme was launched in Latin America. The ICRC now works with police forces in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Paraguay and Haiti.


Through workshops and seminars, the ICRC is helping to train police on international humanitarian law as it applies to policing. 

     What has been the response from police forces?  

In Latin America, the programme for raising awareness of the international rules applicable to police work has been very well received. It is the senior police officers themselves who are encouraging their respective governments to translate these rules into concrete procedures.

The ICRC provides support for this. The procedures may be administrative or operational, and policing becomes more professional as a result. The response to this initiative from States has been very positive.

 How can the impact of the programme be evaluated?  

There are no specific ways to measure the impact of the programme. The conduct of police officers is one indicator, but of course the ICRC programme is not the only factor influencing this.

However, significant progress has been made in incorporating the relevant humanitarian principles into police work. This is being carried out by States with advice from the ICRC. The ICRC never substitutes for States.

In some countries, doctrine has developed considerably in the protection of victims, and in the legitimate, necessary and proportionate use of force. There is also greater respect for judicial guarantees for detainees and for the minimum conditions of detention, in line with international standards.

 What are the challenges in the medium and long term?  

The main objective for 2010 is to continue advising States on the incorporation of these rules into police doctrine, and to achi eve greater acceptance of these rules so that the use of force in violent situations leads to fewer casualties.