Mexico/Panama: Policing and protection of the individual

The ICRC uses the “To Serve and to Protect” programme. The purpose of that programme is to “integrate these principles and standards into the doctrine, training and disciplinary system of police and security forces, so as to ensure full respect for human life and dignity at all times,” explains Sylvie Junod, ICRC delegate for Mexico, Central America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.


Personnel of the Policía Federal during an ICRC course.    


 Training for law-enforcement personnel  

In Mexico, the ICRC has been working with the Federal Prevent ive Police and the Ministry of Public Security of the Federal District to train instructors on the human rights and humanitarian principles that apply to police work. Currently, the ICRC is working with the Federal Ministry of Public Security (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública Federal, SSP Federal) on integrating these elements into the training, doctrine and sanctions system, and on training new instructors, in accordance with the cooperation agreement the two organizations signed in June 2008.

Cooperation started with two courses to train instructors in human rights and humanitarian principles as they apply to policing. These took place in September and October 2008 and were attended by delegates, national representatives of social, non-governmental and State organizations plus ICRC-trained instructors from other Latin-American countries where the organization is running similar programmes.

Héctor Quilantán is an officer in the Federal Police and an international ICRC-certified instructor. He underlined the importance of having the courses taught by ICRC-trained instructors from the police forces. “Participants are more open to the knowledge that’s being imparted if they share a common experience, language, and professional affinity by virtue of both instructors and students being police officers.”

Furthermore, law-enforcement personnel understand the importance of knowing about these rights because of the strength they give. “A professional who protects others wins respect and appreciation. What’s important is not just theoretical or doctrinaire understanding of these principles, but rather knowing how to apply them to police work,” adds Major Luis Hernán Cayo Santillán of the Policía Nacional de Perú, an ICRC-certified instructor invited to participate in the first course.

In cooperation with the SSP Federal, a videoconference on the legitimate use of force in police operations took place on 4 October. This event was led by Pascal Progin, who is the ICRC’s delegate to the armed and security forces in Latin America. The conference took place at the premises of the Secretaría de Seguridad Pública Federal and was broadcast by satellite and Internet to over 2,500 persons at more than 120 police stations. Representatives of civil society and universities also took part.

 Panamanian police train to work with Darién refugees  

In October 2008, the regional delegation held two courses on human rights and the humanitarian principles applicable to police work, one in Panama City and one in Metetí. The courses were organized in cooperation with the Panamanian border police and the Red Cross Society of Panama.


  Large numbers of people are fleeing the violence in Colombia, seeking refuge in the Panamanian province of Darién. Working with the Red Cross Society of Panama, the ICRC is conducting regular field missions to bring health care to these people and to help them re-establish contact with their families.    


“The aim of these courses was to raise awareness among border police personnel regarding human rights and the humanitarian principles relevant to police work, and to enable them to meet the human rights needs of refugees,” explains Pascal Progin.

The ICRC is aware that the best protection is respect for the fundamental principles of humanity in the conduct of police and security operations. To achieve this, training must go beyond simple dissemination. “Full compliance involves integr ating these standards into doctrine and training and including them in the disciplinary systems used to investigate and punish excessive use of force,” says Dénes Benczédi, communications coordinator at the ICRC delegation covering Mexico, Central America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.

The ICRC has initiated discussion on the humanitarian consequences of internal violence, the needs of the populations it affects and the humanitarian work the ICRC can undertake in order to alleviate the suffering of those most at risk. The organization will continue to work with its principal partners – police, armed forces, security forces, academics, journalists and civil society – to enhance understanding of these issues and to undertake neutral and independent humanitarian action in situations of violence.