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17 May, 2012

Police as spoiler of criminal investigations in South Asia

Basil Fernando

The following is a comment from a reader to an AHRC Urgent Appeal on the issue of dowry deaths in India. We reproduce this short comment by the reader because it represents the general perception about the police in all South Asian countries in their role in criminal investigations:
"Police in maximum measure finds the wrong person because some unavoidable circumstance had made them bound to forget the proper code of investigation. Most of the officers are educated and trained but, lack of adequate personnel, lack of proper infrastructure, over burdened in duty hours, pre historic prosecution procedure, inevitable political pressure, every such things keep morality of the force downward. Intentionally, our police force was not updated and a discrimination within our public mind has been created against the force. Unfortunately, these personnel belong to the same society as ours, but, we don't believe in them and they don't believe on us. British era procedure of suing persons and torture them for confession is the common practice, which is uncivilized and unfortunate. But, if the respective Govt. is sleeping, who will make it?"
" .......we don't believe in them and they don't believe on us". That is exactly the way the relationship of police to the public is perceived both by the public as well as the police officers themselves. This may sound funny. However, the matter is too serious to be regarded merely as ludicrous.

It is on this very relationship between the police and the public that the functioning of any civilised society in modern day rule of law terms revolves around. A lot is spoken of today on public security has become rubbish in terms of this relationship between the public and the police. When people do not believe in their policing system what kind of public security can there be?

However, if we go by the statements from the heads of state or the top officers of the defense departments, we are made to think that these honourable gentlemen have not time for anything else since they are so preoccupied in trying to ensure the security of the public. After all, they tell us how seriously they are working on the elimination of terrorism, of organised crime, of the widespread drug industry, the issue of the trafficking of women and children and so many other terrible social evils. And of course, they also tell us how concerned they are about the elimination of corruption with which the public, in all South Asian countries, is disgusted with.

However, the people don't believe in the police and the police do not believe in the people.

When this is the case how are our presidents and prime ministers and the ministers in charge of security establishments and many other highly paid experts who have taken upon themselves this duty of ensuring public security are to keep their promises?

As long as the relationship of the police to the people and the people to the police is one of distrust any talk about public security can be nothing but pure bluff.

So the ludicrousness is not just about the public/police relationship but it is about the claims of good governance in South Asian societies.

If good governance is to become a seriously pursued objective the first issue to be dealt with in all South Asian societies is a fundamental police reform. Until this institution is reformed the distrust will remain.

The attention of the South Asian intellectuals, opinion makers and policy makers needs to be on the issue of police reforms and not on the so-called issue of public security. When the shift in attention from so-called public security to ways of achieving a fundamental police reform happens the social discourse in South Asian societies will become more sensible.

Basil Fernando is Director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, a regional non-governmental organization that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights.

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