Europe's police must show restraint
Restraint is the buzz word of the week. The key is whether Europe’s police can manage it.
There’s no doubt it’s going to be difficult. The whole of the continent is gripped by austerity. Hard-won benefits and cherished pensions are being slashed as Europe’s leaders – left and right – look to re-balance the books by cutting public services after a decade blighted – depending on your point of view – by over-zealous bankers or excessive public spending.
The result is a wave of protests across Europe which sadly has too frequently led to violent clashes. This weekend a general strike in Greece ended in violence in Athens – The Daily Mail told of Greek police firing water cannons and fighting running battles with protesters who were hurling petrol bombs.
This Wednesday general strikes are planned in Spain and Portugal. Both countries are in recession, have high unemployment levels and have just announced savage cuts to public spending. So in short you are looking at millions of angry people on the streets. And the predictions are that scenes witnessed in Athens will be replicated in cities across the Iberian peninsula.
But it shouldn’t be like that. Yes, this year has already seen numerous protests marred by police violence – Amnesty documented some of them in our recent briefing Policing Demonstrations in the European Union. Protestors have been kicked, shot at and wounded with rubber bullets and sprayed with tear gas. But this is not a war. It is the right for people to protest peacefully. And that’s what the police and the authorities across Europe need to remember.
Our briefing provides a list of dos and don’ts for Europe’s police forces. Top of the list is the need to introduce strict guidelines on the use of potentially lethal riot-control devices such as pepper spray and tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets as Sky reported. Restraint in other words is the key. Otherwise, in 48 hours we could once more be witnessing another wave of violence as Europe’s protests shift from one end of the Med to the other.
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.