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Brazil: Police instructors learn the law

15-09-2000 News Release 00/35

Two years ago the ICRC launched a project in conjunction with the Brazilian Ministry of Justice to make observance of the basic rules of human rights law and international humanitarian law part of the daily work of the country's " military police " . Despite its name, the military police is not part of the armed forces but rather constitutes Brazil's national police force. Its 500,000 officers are in charge of implementing the law and maintaining public order.

The ICRC project's strategy has been to train those who do the training in the police force itself. As a result, an initial group of 21 core instructors, ranging in rank from captain to lieutenant-colonel, followed a course in September 1998. That group in turn trained almost 340 other instructors over the following four months. A decision was then taken to increase the number of instructors, and a third wave of some 500 new officers from all regions of Brazil went through the process. In total, almost 900 instructors have been trained in less than two years under the auspices of the ICRC and the Ministry of Justice.

The courses for instructors have a theoretical section in which the participants study the basic rules and legal instruments of human rights and humanitarian law, both national and international. There is also a practical component taught by police experts from Equity International, an independent, non-profit foundation. This includes the use of force – including firearms – maintenance of public order, arrest and detention. It is intended to translate theoretical knowledge of the law into good police practice and conduct, and in so doing prompt police officers to respect human rights and avoid unnecessary use of force and other forms of victimization.

To ensure that the project is on the right track, a Brazilian university has been asked to carry out an independent and impartial evaluation. It will assess the project's effect to date and suggest adjustments to enable the ICRC to continue effective work in this area with the police. Police instructors who have taken the course say that the results so far are good and that this achievement is due directly to the ICRC's principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence, which help ensure the project's acceptance by the forces involved.