EU must get to grips with policing to justify Nobel Peace Prize

Most people would agree that the police are supposed to protect the public - upholding our rights at the same time as keeping order and making sure people are acting lawfully. In Europe, we don’t expect to be beaten up, detained arbitrarily or denied access to medical treatment by the very people who are there to protect us.

Shockingly though, that has been the experience of protestors against austerity cuts across the EU. A new report from Amnesty shows that many in Spain, Greece and Romania have been beaten and kicked, sprayed with tear gas, and shot at and wounded with rubber bullets by police officers. Worse, the abuses have gone uninvestigated and unpunished.

Take for example Yiannis Kafkas in May 2011 in Athens, Angela Jaramillo in August 2011 in Madrid, Andrei Ristache and his father, Augustin, in January 2012 in Bucharest were posing no apparent threat to the police or the public when they were severely beaten by police officers as a result of which they needed medical treatment.

Journalists and photographers covering the protests have also been victims.

Take Paloma, a journalist covering the miners’ demonstration in Madrid in July this year. She was hit by a rubber bullet as police tried to disperse the largely peaceful demonstration. She told Amnesty how the previous year she was beaten by a police officer with a baton during a demonstration against the Pope’s visit to Madrid. She filed a complaint but the case was closed as the perpetrator could not be identified.

Another journalist, Manolis Kypreos, suffered total loss of hearing in both ears after police threw a stun grenade at him while he was covering a demonstration in Athens in June 2011. In August 2012 police used tear gas and fired rubber bullets and other impact rounds at peaceful protestors opposing gold mining operations in northern Greece.

All this has been revealed only two weeks after the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s true, the EU has made progress on human rights and promoted peace and democracy, but the violent behaviour by the very authorities that are supposed to protect us shows there is still a long way to go.

Amnesty’s report issues a list of do’s and don’ts for the continent’s police services and calls on governments to prevent and investigate these human rights violations immediately.

As more demonstrations are expected this autumn and winter, governments must make it clear to their police forces that no abuses will be tolerated, that all complaints into police brutality will be properly investigated and those responsible held to account

They must spell out and reiterate that police officers may use force only when strictly necessary. They must introduce strict guidelines on the use of potentially lethal riot-control devices such as pepper spray and tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets.

The police – often the most visible arm of the state – have to walk a fine line between protecting the right to freedom of assembly and maintaining public order. They can do this successfully if they respect existing international standards and good practice guidelines when policing demonstrations. Only by getting to grips with its police forces will the EU truly justify its Nobel Peace Prize.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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