Dear Inspector General of Police,
The efforts of the Police Force, under your command, to combat high-handedness or rights violations and corruption within itself, are commendable. To take up ‘arms’ against the most notorious cankerworms which have eroded people’s confidence and trust in the Force, over the years, is an act of courage.
Practicalising these good intentions, walking the messages on the giant billboards, moving from rhetoric to action, bridging the credibility gap, sustaining congruence, will be the defining high marks of your leadership. I believe in you, your dogged determination to both do the right things and do things right. Your legacy, that large footprint we leave on the sands of time, is in your hands.
Recent media report, on television and newspaper, indicate that you are also making some headway in curbing criminality and thievery in the communities. Whether this is heightening internal security or that people now feel safer in their communities, I cannot tell. But bravo for the good work.
However, I have been perturbed, and angry, by the fact that the national television shows the full faces and all of the accused who have been arrested in various parts of Greater Banjul Area. If you are not aware of this act, I bring them to your notice; if you are, I urge you to order your officer s to stop forthwith this act. It is a violation of the human rights of these accused persons; and I know you know as well that this act is an affront to Section 24 (3) (a) of the 1997 Constitution which guarantees the right of every person accused of a criminal offence to presumption of innocence ‘until he or she is proved, or has pleaded guilty’.
Showing alleged offenders on the national television, when they have not yet been adjudged guilty by a competent court of law, is to subject them to trial by the media and the people. What is the added value of such an act? To shame them? That certainly is not the role of the Police, moralizing or pontificating. What if the court finds them innocent or acquits them at the end of the trial? Whose restores the damage to dignity, name and honour? Who pays for such a injury or damage?
The Police and Police Ofifcer are human rights protectors, having the obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of people. “In the performance of their duty, law enforcement officials shall respect and protect human dignity and maintain and uphold the human rights of all persons” , UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, Art. 2…. People do not lose or forfeit their human rights just because they have violated the law or acted irresponsibly. The obligations to respect and protect their rights sill remain. We leave it to the courts only to punish. It is not enough that the Police catch the criminal; they must do so while upholding the alleged offender’s human rights. Every Police officer has taken an oath promising to uphold the rule of law and the Constitution of The Gambia. And the Rule of Law and the Constitution set the expectations for the behavior of the Police, the standard for the work they do.
When police officers violate the rights of accused persons, even one right, they become not law enforcers but law breakers, transgressing the dignity of the people, eroding crucial public confidence and support, hampering effective prosecution in court, punishing the innocent and removing ‘law’ from ‘law enforcement.
When law enforcers and their agencies uphold and protect the rights of accused persons, they build and foster public confidence and cooperation, get successful legal prosecutions in court, serve the fair administration of justice, set example for respect for the law by others in society, become closer to the community and therefore in a position to prevent and solve the violations of the rights of people and bring honour to their uniform, their agency and their Government.
I honestly think that as the Chief Police Officer, a primary duty bearer and a human rights protector, you should make your officers know that respect for the rights of accused person, or any one in conflict or contact with the law, is not an option, a question of favour or kindness, or an expression of charity. Human rights generate and impose obligations on them that must be honoured and fulfilled. These rights are guaranteed by the 1997 Constitution of The Gambia and are essential principles of the Rule of Law.
I hope you would, by the obligations you have, put a stop to the showing of the full face of alleged offenders on the national television. It is easier to ‘hide’ these faces and protect dignity. And this must define our actions:
“The law in our society is supreme. No one – no politician – no government – no judge – no union – no citizen is above the law. We are all subject to the law. We do not get to pick and choose the laws we will observe and obey. Each of us must accept the rule of all laws, even if we have to hold our noses in complying with some of them.”
May your road be rough. I pray.