Laws on the use of force by the police require urgent global reform, UN human rights expert says
Reassessing police use of force
13 June 2014
GENEVA (13 June 2014) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Christof Heyns, stressed that laws regulating the use of force –especially lethal force- by the police are in urgent need of global reform. Mr. Heyns called on the UN and Governments around the world to launch a campaign to bring all States’ laws into line with international standards.
“I have examined the laws of 146 States, and many do not meet international standards,” the expert told the UN Human Rights Council during the presentation of his report* on the use of lethal force by law enforcement officials worldwide.
The Special Rapporteur noted that, in some cases, “the discrepancies are glaring,” and stressed that “the laws in question often come from the pre-human right era, and in some cases were adopted more than one hundred years ago.”
“The police are allowed to use deadly force intentionally only when it is necessary to protect life against an immediate threat, and as a last resort,” Mr. Heyns said. “Yet in many cases laws merely require the police to give a warning before they may shoot, or instruct them to shoot at the legs.”
“This is not nearly enough,’ he underscored.
The expert’s call for a global reform of the laws on the use of force by the police is particularly relevant to the contemporary world, where people are taking to the streets in many countries to express themselves through public demonstrations, and clashes with the police ensue.
However, Mr. Heyns made clear that changing the laws will in itself not solve the problem, but it is an important component of the solution. “Many States realize they need to change their laws, and I will help to facilitate technical assistance to those States.”
The laws used for the study are accessible to the public on a website that will be kept updated: www.use-of-force.info.
Drones and Autonomous weapons systems
Special Rapporteur Heyns also addressed the issue of armed drones, and proposed minimum standards to be met by States using such technology. He also encouraged the Council to remain seized of the subject of the increasing use of autonomous weapons systems, colloquially called ‘killer robots’.
“Death by algorithm threatens the enjoyment of the right to life and the right to dignity,” Mr. Heyns said. “The international community cannot ignore the fact that these technologies are not going to go away, they are certain to increase.’
In his report to the UN Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions also stressed that these new weapons systems pose real and far reaching risks to human rights standards.
The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns (South Africa), is a director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa and Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria, where he has also directed the Centre for Human Rights, and has engaged in wide-reaching initiatives on human rights in Africa. He has advised a number of international, regional and national entities on human rights issues. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Executions/Pages/SRExecutionsIndex.aspx