Thailand: training fosters dialogue between police and ICRC
Twenty-six armed police officers enter a meeting room. That might sound like the start of an action movie, but the workshop organized jointly by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Royal Thai Police was anything but light entertainment. For five days in June, law enforcers attended the "Seminar on International Policing Standards and the Exercise of Police Powers" in Songkhla, a province in southern Thailand.
Thailand's three southernmost provinces have seen escalating violence in recent years, in which many people have been killed or wounded. The livelihood of thousands of residents has been disrupted, bringing economic insecurity for the most vulnerable.
The police superintendents, deputy superintendents, inspectors and seven military observers representing the Army, the Marines and the Rangers sat down together in workshops and group discussions to reflect on their everyday practices and to learn more about the ICRC's mandate, working principles and activities.
"During our formal studies, Thai police officers receive similar training on international standards but with different emphases," said Police Lt Col Nipol Kunnui of the Southern Border Province Police's Operation Centre.
Through practical exercises and case studies, the workshop focused on discretionary use of police powers, aiming to refresh and enhance participants' knowledge of international police standards governing arrest, detention, search, seizure and the use of force and firearms. It was a stimulating learning experience for all concerned as points were made, views exchanged, and positions argued. Participants and speakers alike got to know and understand each other better – seeing the issues from different perspectives.
"The fact that most [participants] are professionally trained and prepared for their task makes this a prime opportunity to engage in a high-quality dialogue," said John-Erik Jensen, ICRC police delegate for the Asia Pacific region.
A code of strict confidentiality applied throughout the discussions to ensure that participants were comfortable with sharing their sometimes very personal experiences.
"In the beginning, I had the feeling that the ICRC was investigating us," said Police Col Jeeraset Dawnugntrakul, superintendent of Thungyangdaeng police station. "But I was not afraid to ask questions."
By the third day, once participants realized that the ICRC was not there to point out their mistakes, gradually "guards were lowered", as another superintendent put it. "The ICRC does not denounce," said Jensen, who has more than 30 years of experience as a police officer, including 15 in a leadership position, and has taught at the Danish National Police College. "I could identify with them. Their reservation is natural," he added. The ICRC's approach – confidential dialogue with the relevant party only – encourages a constructive exchange of ideas and good practices.
This workshop was the third of its kind to be held in Thailand's Deep South with commanding-level police officers and ICRC experts. It continues a long ICRC tradition of fostering a better understanding of humanitarian issues among law enforcers.
"The nature of conflict is constantly evolving," said Alfred Grimm, deputy head of the ICRC regional delegation in Bangkok. "Causes are complex and so are the contributing factors. The workshop also helped to update our understanding of what is happening in the Deep South."