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Public security and human rights

International experts on public security from the Americas and OHCHR representatives in the region gathered in Geneva to exchange experiences and proposals to overcome challenges in protecting human rights while addressing insecurity in the region.

A policeman participates in a security operation in Mexico City in March 2007. © EPA/David De La PazViolence and insecurity have emerged as major concerns for the population of many countries. High rates of violent crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, but also in other regions, have particularly challenged governance and the rule of law as the public’s confidence in their government, the legislature, the police and the judicial system declines.

“Failure by States to tackle problems of violence and insecurity lead to a loss of credibility of the State in the eyes of the population, as a source of either economic or physical security,” said Anders Kompass, Director of the Field Operations and technical Cooperation Division at the UN Human Rights office.

Noting that in some countries the levels of criminal violence are now higher than in periods of internal conflict, he added “This, in turn, contributes to an erosion of hard-won democratic gains and political stability, especially in countries that have emerged from authoritarian regimes, as democratic institutions are not perceived to have improved everyday life.”

Faced with these threats, States are sometimes tempted to take hard-line measures and policies that often contravene human rights standards – often in the mistaken belief that some rights can be forfeited for the greater good, and seeing human rights as an obstacle rather as than the solution to the problem.

The experts’ discussions centred around a ground-breaking report on public security and human rights issued in 2009, which was a joint initiative of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNICEF. The report concludes that only a more comprehensive and a different approach to addressing crime and violence, firmly based on human rights principles, can address the challenges that such situations are posing in many countries in the world. Such an approach is centred around the States’ obligations to protect the rights of all persons – victims, potential victims and perpetrators alike – and must include prevention measures, as well as control and sanction and rehabilitation of offenders.

The UN Human Rights office has an important role to play in ensuring the protection of human rights in situations of crime and violence and particularly in helping states design policies that are based on, and do not forfeit, human rights, the experts agreed.

The conclusions of the meeting will contribute to further defining OHCHR’s policy options and specific recommendations to Governments to address insecurity and protect human rights.

The experts from Latin America who attended the meeting are: Claudia Paz y Paz Bailey, Guatemala’s Attorney General; Monte Alejandro Rubido, Mexico’s Sub-Secretary of Public Security; Ernesto López Portillo, Director of Mexico’s Institute for Security and Democracy; Jose Mariano Beltrame, Rio de Janeiro’s Secretary of Public Security; Mário de Brito Duarte, Rio de Janeiro’s Police Commander; Luiz Eduardo Soares, a prominent Brazilian academic and writer; Mario Coriolano, Vice-President of the UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture and Public Defender in Argentina’s Buenos Aires Province; and Santiago Canton, Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Gino Costa, Director of Ciudad Nuestra and former Peruvian Minister of the Interior, is OHCHR’s expert consultant to the citizen security project.

18 May 2011