ASIA: Policing with unskilled labour causes the collapse of rule of law

A common feature in several Asian countries is that the police, who are supposed to carry out investigations into crimes and abuses of human rights, do not have the necessary competence to carry out such investigations. Today proper criminal investigations require ‘skilled labour’. The investigators require adequate general education as well as competence in various fields. They need to be persons with developed communication skills who are able to understand complex problems and be able to develop strategies to find the information needed for the proper detection of crimes and gathering of evidence that can be presented in court.

However, in most Asian countries the main investigation methodology is torture. The use of torture is the result of handing over investigations to persons who do not have adequate competence for the job. Unskilled in their profession, they try to respond to their obligations by the use of force in order to satisfy their superiors as well as the political leaders who want results.

Resorting to such unskilled labour is due mostly to the fact that adequate financial allocations are not made through national budgets for the proper development of the system of policing and for proper education and training of the necessary staff. Poor pay cannot attract talent; as the saying goes, if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. However, what is difficult to understand is why the leadership in the policing systems does not raise the issue of their inability to do their job properly with such unskilled labour. Civil society and the also the media are silent on the issue.

Perhaps one of the reasons why the higher ranking officers of the police do not raise the issue of the incompetence of their subordinates is because this whole issue is linked to the way corruption takes place in most societies. Persons with adequate competence would want to do their jobs without interference and therefore would resist attempts to absorb them into the network of corruption. Incompetent staff at lower levels, while taking some advantages for themselves through corruption, will not challenge the compromising position of their seniors.

Political leaders who do not want significant changes within the country in breaking down the patterns of corruption, on which the system is established, will also not appreciate a more competent criminal justice system. Such a system would carry out probes into the corruption of the politicians. As long as this system has its own internal contradictions it will not be a threat to the inadequacies of the political system. By some irony unskilled police officers protect such political systems.

Thus, the contradiction really is protection of the rights of the people on the one hand and, ‘the protectionÂ’ of corrupt political systems on the other. If the citizen’s rights are to be protected with competent officers the political leaders should agree to a reform of the political system. However, what actually takes place is a reversal of this situation. The politicians protect themselves by ensuring that those who deal with public security do not have the competence required to carry out the necessary inquiries, which is the primary requirement of security.

An unskilled police officer, when left to his own devices naturally tries to solve problems in the way in which he is capable. Unable to rely on his brain he relies instead on his muscles. The unfortunate victims are the citizens. The result of this situation also affects the entire system of the administration of justice. Unskilled investigators are unable to provide credible evidence that can lead to prosecutions. Prosecutors claim that due to the lack of evidence they are unable to prosecute even cases of massacres and other grave crimes. Even when cases are brought to court due to a public outcry the accused may in fact not be the person who actually did the crime but one who has been forced to confess to having done the crime. In some countries like Sri Lanka the successful prosecution rate is only four percent. However, in countries where it is not possible for the accused to withdraw their confessions the successful rate of convictions may be higher. In these countries human rights activists and observers complain that there are large numbers of persons in prisons who are in fact innocent.

The state is often unwilling to probe into allegations of torture and also allegations that there may be many innocent persons in prison. A genuine probe into these matters may expose the whole system and create some unforeseen problems.

One such problem is the threat by the police not to work at all if higher standards of accountability are imposed on them. There are instances when this situation has surfaced in several countries. Police officers have virtually threatened their higher ranking officers that unless they are willing to turn a blind eye to their wrong doings they will withdraw their cooperation.

When the system depends on unskilled labour it is not possible to expect a high level of discipline. When the states are criticised for violations of rights such as the causing of torture, custodial deaths and even forced disappearances by the police officers and the security apparatus, the political leaders of the country are faced with a dilemma that is quite simply, if they were to improve human rights then they would face a revolt by the police, on the other hand, if they do not improve human rights they will face criticism locally and internationally. Often the political leaders try to resolve this dilemma by aggressively attacking the critics of the country’s human rights record. These political leaders believe that they can better succeed in silencing critics rather than reforming a defective criminal investigations system. It is in this way political leaders become apologists for unskilled labour within the policing system.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has highlighted this problem over a long period of time. In our view the problem of dysfunctional policing should become one of the central issues relating to the protection and promotion of human rights in the countries of the region.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-194-2007
Countries : Bangladesh, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand,