Human Rights and Police Ethics course focuses on Roma relations

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04 November 2010

‘Human Rights and Police Ethics’ was the subject of a course held in Solna, Sweden on 29-30 September 2010. The aim of the course was to achieve an understanding of the role of the police as protectors of human rights and the risks of violation of human rights by the police. The teaching method adopted was mainly based on case studies where ethical and human rights issues were identified and elaborated, alternated with a more theoretical approach.

Twenty-four participants from 16 countries took part in the course, in which one of the most important topics were the importance of building trust and understanding with all parts of society, and being sensitive to the needs of groups who are marginalised and live in vulnerable conditions.

The first day of the course was dedicated to the issue of treatment of detainees and how prior expectations may influence interpretation and evaluation of ambiguous evidence in criminal cases, especially during interviews with suspects. Harriet Jacobsson Öhrn and Christer Nyberg, Swedish National Police Academy, conducted a seminar on two case studies in which the police officers were convinced the suspects were guilty but later turned out to be innocent.

Day two of the course was focused on the subject of prejudices and everyday racism and how these affect both the targets and practitioners. The way Roma are treated in a country is said to be the litmus test of a civil society and of its democracy. Maciej Zaremba, investigative journalist and writer, delivered a presentation about a case in the north of Sweden where a Roma family had been described as dangerous and causing terror in the village where they live. The fact that said Roma family had been harassed by neighbours was never brought into the equation. Had there been a tendency within local police forces to underestimate offences directed at Roma and to act with greater suspicion towards them? Is there a risk of taking sides and acting favorably towards those who are considered to be the 'common people' and to be suspicious towards stigmatized groups? Can this affect professionalism in spite of ones best intentions.

José María Medrano Juarez, Spanish Guardia Civil, gave a presentation that covered historical facts from two cases in which the police and Roma successfully cooperated in Spain. One of the cases, concerning the search for a small girl, highlighted close cooperation in the organisation of the search.

A substantial amount of time during the seminars was dedicated to the police’s responsibility for defending the human rights of Roma and the development of methods that go beyond prejudices and stereotypes.

The issue of learning from mistakes was also a continuous theme throughout the course. This is an important challenge in all aspects of life, and how such learning is encouraged is important. This was discussed both in relation to mistakes due to confirmation bias and stereotyping and to cases where police wrongdoings have been revealed.

Ji?í S?va, Police College of the Ministry of the Interior in Prague, gave a lecture on Human Rights beyond the obvious. The focal point of the lecture was:

It is an easy thing to sign an action plan. The moment of truth arises when good intentions are transformed into concrete actions.

The course was organised by the Swedish CEPOL team with support from the Czech Republic and Spain.

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