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UN experts call for end to police brutality worldwide

13 August 2021

GENEVA (13 August 2021) – UN human rights experts* have expressed alarm at what they describe as a “rampant police brutality against peaceful protesters worldwide” and warned States of the grave danger arising from such abuse for human rights and the rule of law. 
“In recent months and years, we have repeatedly voiced our concern over a steady increase in the use of excessive force, police brutality, and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as well as arbitrary detention, against predominantly peaceful protesters in all regions of the world,” the experts said in statement.

“This trend, often extending to journalists covering protests, has resulted in countless deaths and injuries, often exacerbated through torture, sexual violence, arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearance, and has intimidated, traumatized, and antagonised large segments of society worldwide.”

The experts said the vast majority of these incidents were rooted in political, socio-economic, ethnic, racial, religious, or other tensions specific to particular national or regional situations. “At the same time, there are also relevant, more generic contexts of global reach and underlying reasons of racism, gender-based and other forms of discrimination in law enforcement,” they said.

“Large-scale migration, protests of climate activists, human rights defenders, indigenous peoples and, more recently, the Black Lives Matter movement are affected by excessive use of force and police brutality.

“Additionally, since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been numerous reports of security forces employing excessive and often indiscriminate violence resulting in unlawful deaths, injury and psychological trauma, as well as arbitrary detentions, in order to enforce emergency measures for the protection of public health, such asbans on assemblies, lockdowns and curfews.

“Most worryingly, throughout all regions and contexts, these acts of violence and abuse have often been encouraged by divisive, discriminatory and inflammatory narratives spread or condoned by political leaders, local authorities, and parts of the media, and by the resulting atmosphere of near complete impunity for perpetrators.”

The experts said it is the prime responsibility of governments and political leaders to prevent such dangerous developments through non-violent means including, most notably, pro-active communication aiming at de-escalation, reconciliation, and the peaceful exercise of civil and political rights.

“Public confidence in the reliability, legitimacy and integrity of State institutions and their law enforcement officials is the most valuable commodity of any peaceful, just and sustainable society and the very foundation of democracy and the rule of law,” the experts said.

“We therefore urge governments and political leaders not to needlessly squander the trust of their people, to refrain from any unwarranted violence, coercion and divisiveness, and to prioritize and promote dialogue, tolerance and diversity in the common public interest of all.”


* The experts: *Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Mr. Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and Mr. Clement Nyaletsossi Voulé, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

And endorsed by: Mr. Ahmed ShaheedSpecial Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Mr. Vitit Muntarbhorn, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia; Mr. Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Mr Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing; Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Mr. Javaid RehmanSpecial Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran; Ms. E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; Ms. Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Mr.Francisco Cali Tzay,Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; Mr. Yao Agbetse, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Central African Republic; Mr. Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Mr. Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Ms. Isha Dyfan, Independent Expert on Somalia; Mr. S. Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory; Ms. Jelena Aparac (Chair Rapporteur)Ms. Lilian BobeaMs. Sorcha MacLeodMr. Chris Kwaja and Mr. Ravindran Daniel, Working Group on the use of mercenariesMs. Elina Steinerte (Chair-Rapporteur), Dr. Miriam Estrada-Castillo (Vice-chairperson), Ms. Leigh ToomeyMr. Mumba Malila, and Mr. Priya Gopalan, Working Group on arbitrary detention; Ms. Cecilia Jimenez-DamarySpecial Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons; Mr. Alioune Tine, Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Mali; Mr. Marcos A. Orellana,  Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights; Dr. Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea; Mr. Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food; Dominique Day (Chairperson), Catherine S. Namakula, Miriam Ekiudoko, Sushil Raj,Working Group of Experts of People of African Descent; Mr Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation; Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Mr. Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues, and Mr. Tae-Ung Baik (Chair), Mr. Henrikas Mickevičius, (Vice Chair), Ms. Aua BaldeMs. Gabriella Citroni and Mr. Luciano Hazan, Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Yasmine Ashraf ([email protected]/+41 22 917 2059)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Jeremy Laurence (+ 41 22 917 9445 / [email protected])

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