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13.10.2005 Crime & Punishment

African Societies urged to reform their Police Forces

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Accra, Oct 13, GNA- Mr Sam Okudzeto, the Chairman of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Advisory Commission, on Thursday appealed to African societies undergoing democratic reforms to reform their police to meet current trends.

" As African societies transform themselves, the police, too, must undergo a process of transformation. They must become 'democratic Police'- Police forces that exist primarily to serve and protect the people, rather than the regime in power and to promote respect for the rule of law".

Mr Okudzeto, a private legal practitioner, said this during the launch of the 2005 report on International Policing and Human Rights in the Africa Region of the Commonwealth in Accra. The report, which calls for reforms of Police organisations within the Commonwealth, was on the theme " Police Accountability: Too important to neglect, Too Urgent to delay".

The report provides a comparative overview of accountability arrangements in policing highlights good practice and gives recommendations for reform to assist governments, police officials and civil society in developing countries and strengthening effective accountability regimes.

Mr Okudzeto said the conduct of the police was an important barometer of state governance and this could help shape the health of nations. He acknowledged that a truly legitimate police force must thoroughly be committed to guaranteeing basic physical security without violating the rights of citizens.

" Yet, in many commonwealth countries, most citizens perceive the police as violators of the law. Experiences of citizens all across the Commonwealth have shown that the police often commit serious human rights violation in different ways - from practicing discrimination to dereliction of duty and inflicting excessive use of force". Mr Okudzeto said whether in a democracy of dictatorial regimes police have performed the same functions and that the distinction between good and bad policing was the protection of civil and political liberties of individuals.

He said an unaccountable and unreformed Police Service breed abuse of the rights of the vulnerable like women, children and minorities while corruption, violence and fear thrives while the rule of law remains a mirage.

Mrs Maja Daruwala, Executive Director of the CHRI, said most commonwealth Police organisations had not been reformed even though they were established during the colonial era.

" Despite the various constitutions introduced by states, there have been virtually no attempts to reform police institutions to meet new trends".

She noted that it was important for Commonwealth countries to seek practical realisation of human rights among their peoples and that access to information was a step towards access to justice. Mr Okudzeto and Mrs Betty Mould Iddrissu, Legal Director at the Commonwealth Secretariat, jointly launched the 113-page report. 14 Oct 05

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