Can the authorities arrest outside India?

India: Check out poor police system

(Bangalore, Aug. 4, 2009) - The Indian government should thoroughly review the country's police system, which enables and even encourages human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. For decades, various governments in India have failed to keep their promises to punish the police for assaults and to set up professional police units that respect human rights.

The 118-page report "Broken System: Dysfunction, Abuse and Impunity in the Indian Police" documents a variety of human rights violations by the police, including arbitrary arrest, torture and extrajudicial execution. The report is based on interviews with over 80 police officers of various ranks, 60 victims of police assaults and a large number of interviews with experts and representatives of civil society. The report describes the behavior of police forces who work outside the law with inadequate ethical and professional guidelines, are subject to criminal influence and are unable to meet the increasing demands and public expectations. On-site research was carried out in 19 police stations in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh and in the capital Delhi.

"India is modernizing very quickly, but the police continue to use their old methods: abuse and threats," said Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch. "It is time the government stopped talking about reforms and changed the system."

A fruit vendor in Varanasi described how the police tortured him to force him to confess on various false charges:

“(My) hands and feet were bound; a wooden stick was placed between my legs. They started kicking me and punching me on the legs with lathis (batons). They said to me 'You have to name everyone in the gang of 13'. They beat me until I started crying and called for help. When I almost passed out, they stopped beating. One police officer said, 'Even a ghost would run away from this type of beatings. Why don't you tell me what I want to know? ´. Then they turned me around and poured water into my mouth and nose, and I passed out. "

Several police officers confessed to Human Rights Watch that they routinely abuse people. One officer said he was assigned to carry out an "accidental killing," as the practice of arrest and extrajudicial execution is commonly known. "I'm choosing a victim," said the officer. “I'll kill it. I run the risk of going to jail, but if I don't, I'll lose my job. ”

Almost all of the police officers Human Rights Watch interviewed were aware of the limits set by the law. Yet many believed that illegal methods, including illegal arrests and torture, were necessary means of exposing crimes.

The Indian government elected in May promised to actively reform the police system. It is now crucial that police officers who violate human rights are adequately punished, regardless of their rank.

“Police officers who torture or otherwise ill-treat people must be treated like criminals; whatever they are, ”said Adams. "If the law is violated, there should be no difference in punishing police officers or civilians."

Without apologizing for the assault, Human Rights Watch believes that the extremely poor working conditions of many police officers encourage human rights abuses. Lower-ranking officers often work in difficult conditions. You need to be on call 24 hours a day, every day. Instead of shift work, many have to accept long hours. Sometimes they live in tents or dirty barracks in front of the police station. Many are separated from their families for a long time. Often the necessary equipment is missing, including vehicles, cell phones, investigative tools, and even paper to write charges or notes on.

Some police officers told Human Rights Watch that they were using "simplifications" to cope with the extreme workload and insufficient resources. For example, they reduced the number of ads by refusing to register new ones. Many police officers said their superiors were putting pressure on them to resolve cases quickly. They received little or no assistance in gathering judicial evidence or testimony, methods that are considered time consuming. Instead, they illegally arrested suspects and forced them to confess, regularly using torture and ill-treatment.

"The working conditions and the pay of the police officers have to change," said Adams. “Police officers should not be forced to assault in order to meet the demands of their superiors. Nor should you have to obey orders if they lead to abuse. Instead, they should receive the training, equipment and support they need to behave professionally and in accordance with basic ethical principles. "

"Broken System" also documents the increased risk for marginalized groups in Indian society to be affected by police attacks. These are above all the poor, women, Dalits (so-called “inviolable”) as well as religious and sexual minorities. The police often fail to investigate when crimes are committed against these people, because of discrimination, their social status, lack of political contacts or because they are unable to pay bribes. These people are also at greater risk of arbitrary arrest or torture, especially if the police suspect them of criminal offenses.

Police laws from the colonial era allow authorities and local politicians to intervene in the work of the police. In some cases, police officers are ordered to stop investigating people with political connections. This also includes investigations into known criminals. In return, political opponents are then persecuted with false charges. These practices destroy public confidence.

In 2006, a historic ruling by the Supreme Court ordered a reform of the Police Act. However, the Government of India and most regional governments have partially or completely failed to implement the law. It has been suggested that police officers must first accept the urgency of police reform, including the need to hold police officers accountable for human rights violations.

"India's status as the world's largest democracy is being undermined by police who think they are above the law," said Adams. "It is a doom-loop. The Indian population avoids contact with the police out of fear. This means that crimes go unreported and go unpunished, and the police miss the opportunity to work with the population to prevent and solve crimes. "

Broken System provides detailed recommendations for police reform, drawing on investigations by government commissions, former Indian police officers and Indian groups. Among the main recommendations are:

  • The police are supposed to read out their rights to suspects when they are arrested, which increases the acceptance of this protective measure within the police.
  • Any evidence obtained by the police through the use of torture, cruel, inhuman or humiliating treatment should not be used in court.
  • National and regional human rights commissions and police complaints offices are to conduct independent investigations into reports of abuse and misconduct by the police.
  • Training and equipment, including the training curriculum of police academies, are to be improved. This includes training lower level officers to assist in investigations and providing basic forensic equipment to every police officer.