UDHR@75: Right to Education.

 

Photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez

 

This blog forms part of a series celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Recognising the numerous conflicts and the daily breaches of human rights taking place across the globe, this series aims to highlight both the challenges and the opportunities to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights elaborated in the UDHR.

 

 

Right to Education

Article 26 UDHR

‘Everyone has the right to education […].’

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises the right to education. However, how true is it that everyone has a right to it and that it is a fundamental element for the full development of the human personality?

Education is a critical tool for people to fully develop their personality, talents and abilities, thereby boosting their chances of finding employment, participating more effectively in society and escaping the clutches of poverty. According to UNESCO, the potential reduction of the poverty rate by 50% is contingent upon ensuring all adults complete their secondary education.

Childhood and adolescence are pivotal stages in the life cycle, playing a crucial role in shaping an individual’s life trajectory and personal development. During these stages, children and adolescents prepare for the future and acquire, through education, the necessary tools to function successfully in their lives. When viewed from this perspective, a condition like poverty becomes a determining factor in people’s life trajectories. Additionally, the absence of access to quality education perpetuates the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

In other words, without education, the development and progress of people in society cannot be achieved. It is important to note that since the onset of the pandemic, there has been an increase in social inequalities. Consequently, it is imperative to address not only the existing structural problems within educational systems on a global scale but also the newly emerged or exacerbated challenges that have arisen due to the pandemic.

Three Peruvian children and a llama smiling to the camera

Photo credits: Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash

At present, children and adolescents are excluded from education for various reasons and within them poverty continues to be one of the main barriers. In Peru, it is possible to find differences between access to education at all levels, particularly between individuals living in poverty and those who are not. According to a recent report from the National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (INEI in Spanish), in 2021, 37.6% of individuals who lived in poverty, aged 15 and over, managed to study at most one year of primary education or they had no primary education level at all. In contrast, in the non-poor population, this percentage was 24.6%. The figure illustrates the insufficient guarantee of access to the fundamental level of primary education. To address this issue, the Peruvian State should adopt measures to reduce the disparities in the effective enjoyment of the right to education between the population in a situation of poverty and those who do not face that condition.

Furthermore, it remains a pending task for governments across the world to reverse the devastating effects of the pandemic on education. The present state of education is of significant concern because it not only constitutes a breach of this right, but the consequences of not achieving the learning outcomes extend into the adult lives of students, potentially impeding their aspirations and life goals.

 

Photo of the author, Andrea Parra Estela

As part of the GJA UDHR@75 celebration, we invited present and past students to contribute their personal reflections on the relevance of the UDHR today. This blog is by Andrea Parra Estela, a UoE LLM in Human Rights and a qualified lawyer in Peru. Andrea is passionate and enthusiastic about the fields of Human Rights and Constitutional Law. She works as an activist and project coordinator at Asociación Civil Kumpay, a non-governmental organisation based in Peru.

UDHR@75: Right to a Nationality.

 

Photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez

 

This blog forms part of a series celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Recognising the numerous conflicts and the daily breaches of human rights taking place across the globe, this series aims to highlight both the challenges and the opportunities to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights elaborated in the UDHR.

 

 

 

Right to a Nationality

Article 15 UDHR

1. Everyone has the right to a nationality.

2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

 

Not long after the UDHR’s adoption, Hannah Arendt penned an essay titled “The Rights of Man: What Are They?” Later included in Arendt’s famous The Origins of Totalitarianism, the essay highlights a contradiction underpinning the UDHR. On the one hand, the document requires states to protect “universal” rights for all individuals. Yet on the other hand, international law is grounded in the principle of state sovereignty; states bear the sovereign right to determine who can enter and remain within their territory, who is eligible for citizenship, and who can access state-provided services. Thus, while all individuals theoretically have human rights, the state is a gatekeeper to the enjoyment of these human rights. To Arendt, this paradox could only be addressed through the recognition of a universal “right to have rights” as a precondition to the enjoyment of the rights enumerated in the UDHR.

Sign that reads 'every human has rights'.

Photo credit: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

No such right has gained recognition in international law, but traces of it might be found in Article 15 of the UDHR, which protects the right to a nationality, to change one’s nationality, and not to be arbitrarily deprived of one’s nationality. As the OHCHR has recognised, violations of the right to a nationality are conducive to violations of a broad range of other rights, including the rights to health, food, shelter, clothing, education, employment, and freedom of movement.

For many of us, our enjoyment of the right to a nationality is something we can take for granted. Yet the past few years have highlighted the fact that millions’ lives are punctuated by the fear of losing nationality or the uncertainty of statelessness. In India, the implementation of the National Register of Citizens for Assam saw up to 4 million Assamese residents rendered stateless. The Register predominantly affected minority groups residing in Assam, such as Bangladeshi migrants, who could not prove paperwork proving their ties to India. The recent violence in Gaza has, yet again, reminded the world that millions of Palestinians, across multiple generations, have lived their lives as stateless persons. And many countries around the world maintain, at the behest of the UN Security Council, laws that allow for the deprivation of citizenship of persons suspected of involvement in terrorist activity.

Most striking about these examples is the role of international and domestic law in legitimising deprivations of the human right to nationality. Such deprivations are neither accidental nor coincidental; rather, they are brought about through the implementation of sweeping domestic legislation, of exceptionalist international security laws, and through the imposition of unjust legal geographies. Thus, to strengthen the UDHR, we must first acknowledge, and address, the ways in which law itself is unleashed upon human rights.

 

As part of the GJA UDHR@75 celebration, we invited present and past students to contribute their personal reflections on the relevance of the UDHR today. This blog is by Dr Vivek Bhatt, an Interdisciplinary Fellow in Human Rights at the University of Aberdeen Law School and a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM), Utrecht University Law School. Dr Bhatt graduated from the UoE PhD Law programme in 2020.

UDHR@75: Article 14 and Climate Refugees

Photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez

This blog forms part of a series celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Recognising the numerous conflicts and the daily breaches of human rights taking place across the globe, this series aims to highlight both the challenges and the opportunities to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights elaborated in the UDHR.

 

 

Article 14 and Climate Refugees 

Article 14(1) of the UDHR

‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.’

Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that people have the right to seek asylum from persecution. This right traditionally applies to those who are persecuted due to race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, as specified in the subsequently adopted Refugee Convention. However, the understanding of what necessitates seeking asylum has evolved over the last 75 years since its inclusion in the UDHR. In the 21st century, this is now changing again to adapt to new challenges such as climate and environmental displacement. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, current predictions suggest that by 2050, there could be 1.2 billion people displaced from climate and environmental threats, making climate refugees a ‘top priority’ for the UNHRC going forward.  

Throughout its history, the right to asylum in the UDHR has evolved to encompass situations beyond its original understanding. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) are an example that demonstrates the dynamic nature of the right to asylum. IDPs are individuals who are forced to relocate on similar grounds as refugees, although they do not cross international borders. Despite bearing similar protection needs described in Article 14, internally displaced persons (IDPs) were not traditionally considered under the asylum framework. However, international protection gradually became applicable for IDPs, expanding the grounds for receiving protections under this right. Additionally, this framework has recently been applied to people displaced by natural disasters. Although the term “refugee” has been avoided, the support processes share many similarities with those of refugees and have therefore also been addressed under this framework. 

The ongoing changes to international protection needs that emerge as a result of climate change threats suggest the necessity to broaden the scope of Article 14. Inhabitants of certain island nations, such as Kiribati, have already needed international protection due to displacement from rising sea levels. However, with a traditional understanding of asylum, it remains difficult to extend protections to people displaced by environmental factorscreate an applicable framework to resolve the discrepancy between the need and access to protection. The current use of the asylum regime in state practice and the acknowledgement of the limitations of a persecution-based understanding of protection demonstrates both the opportunities and challenges of utilising this framework for future problems. 

The future is expected to bring an increasing number of individuals impacted and displaced by climate change and environmental threats. As a result, it is imperative to develop how international law can support these individuals. The past success of Article 14 and the broader asylum framework to adapt dynamically to changing necessities demonstrates its applicability in addressing climate refugees. Since the need for international protection remains the same from the traditional understanding of refugees to climate refugees, Article 14 is becoming highly significant in the search for solutions to this global problem.  

 

As part of the GJA UDHR@75 celebration, we invited present and past students to contribute their personal reflections on the relevance of the UDHR today. This blog is by Şükrü Kağan Sürücü and Lucy Tomkins. They are PhD Law Candidates at the University of Edinburgh.

UDHR@75: Right to Effective Remedy

Photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez

This blog forms part of a series celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Recognising the numerous conflicts and the daily breaches of human rights taking place across the globe, this series aims to highlight both the challenges and the opportunities to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights elaborated in the UDHR.

 

 

Right to Effective Remedy 

Article 8 of the UDHR

‘Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.’

The right to an effective remedy is the bedrock of human rights protection, offering a lifeline to those victimized by violations. It ensures access to justice through domestic courts, a critical element in upholding the rule of law and societal order. Without this avenue, vulnerable individuals are left without recourse, paving the way for unchecked impunity and the perpetuation of human rights abuses. However, pursuing an effective remedy isn’t a straightforward path, often proving practically unattainable, particularly for victims facing multiple violations or encountering legal and bureaucratic obstacles. Factors like exorbitant court fees, unfair time constraints, restricted legal aid, or the inability of domestic courts to apply international human rights law due to unincorporated treaties pose significant challenges, a reality observed in Scotland’s legal landscape. 

I was nominated by the University of Edinburgh’s School of Law for a Work-based Placement, in lieu of a traditional dissertation, to explore access to justice in collaboration with the Human Rights Consortium Scotland. This immersive experience delved deep into Scotland’s legal dynamics, emphasizing the complex relationship between the Scottish Government and the UK’s central Government, the limitations surrounding international human rights law within domestic contexts, and, most crucially, the barriers individuals encounter daily while accessing justice. At this pivotal juncture, the Scottish Government faces an opportunity—considering the incorporation of core human rights treaties. This step could empower the people of Scotland to assert their rights fully, especially in cases concerning economic, social, and cultural rights, thereby reinforcing the right to an effective remedy. 

My professional background in Sweden’s public sector and multiple publications on the topic of international criminal justice align closely with the insights gained during this program. In short, the necessity of the right to an effective remedy is as fundamental as core human rights such as the right to not be arbitrarily detained or the right not to be discriminated against. It serves as the linchpin ensuring the practical applicability of human rights, tearing down barriers for victims of abuses, and transforming the abstract as well as aspirational content of human rights treaties into tangible, actionable rights.  

The evolution of human rights and the ongoing quest for meaningful protection remain in constant flux. National contexts present diverse challenges at different stages of advocacy. Yet, this diversity underscores the immutable truth—human rights efforts must never stagnate. Despite past progress, the call to fortify human rights and advocacy remains unyielding. In conclusion, the right to an effective remedy is not merely a legal doctrine; it is a shield for the oppressed, a beacon guiding justice, and a cornerstone of a society built on fairness and equality. Scotland’s stride toward incorporating core human rights treaties could mark a transformative leap toward equitable justice. It’s a testament to the evolving landscape of human rights—an evolving journey where stagnation finds no room. The pursuit of justice and the fortification of human rights remain perpetual endeavours, resonating with the essence of Article 8—never static, always advancing. 

 

As part of the GJA UDHR@75 celebration, we invited present and past students to contribute their personal reflections on the relevance of the UDHR today. This blog is by Alexander Pedersen, who graduated from the LLM in Human Rights in November 2023.

UDHR@75: Recognition Before the Law

Photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez

This blog forms part of a series celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Recognising the numerous conflicts and the daily breaches of human rights taking place across the globe, this series aims to highlight both the challenges and the opportunities to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights elaborated in the UDHR.

 

 

 

Recognition Before the Law 

Article 6 of the UDHR

‘Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.’

Article 6 is beautiful in its simplicity and profoundly important. It underpins all other rights within the UDHR. It is premised upon two interconnected ideas, that a person retains their humanity and the protection of human rights regardless of where they are on our planet, transcending borders; and that everyone is entitled to recognition as a person before the law.

A person has human rights, no matter where they are. Whether you are a ‘tourist, a student, a refugee or an immigrant,’ Article 6 brooks no distinctions upon the basis of nationality, citizenship or statelessness. Where human rights are premised upon nationality or citizenship, they are often denied to entire groups of people due to ethnicity and religion, such as the Rohingya in Myanmar. Statelessness becomes an unwanted gift of disenfranchisement, passed down to the next generation.

Historically, a denial of personhood in the law has been the handmaiden perpetuating the slave trade, colonialism, and the annihilation of indigenous peoples and their way of life; utilised to exclude women, persons with disabilities or with mental health issues, children and victims of enforced disappearance such as those in Argentina, from the succour of the law.

Article 6 underpins all other rights within the UDHR. It is the foundation upon which a person can hold rights such as equality within marriage (Article 16), own and dispose of property (Article 17), have their privacy and bodily integrity respected (Article 12) and rely upon their rights and seek redress when they are violated (Article 8). A denial of personhood before the law, means that a person no longer has rights, but is dependent upon charity, a state of vulnerability and likely servitude.

As a human rights lawyer, having represented people, who the law has historically denied personhood to – women, children, persons with physical disabilities and mental health issues; this is an article of faith for me.

 

As part of the GJA UDHR@75 celebration, we invited present and past students to contribute their personal reflections on the relevance of the UDHR today. This blog is by Smita Shah. Smita is a PhD researcher at the University of Edinburgh, examining how child fair trial rights are implemented by military courts. She has practised as family law and international human rights law barrister at Garden Court Chambers, UK.

[1] Article 16 ICCPR, Article 15(2) CEDAW, Article 24 of Convention on Migrant workers, Article 12 on Convention of Rights of persons with disabilities, and Article 5 of African Charter, linked to slavery.

[2] Shah, S ‘The Legal Status of Intersex Persons in India and the Decision of the Supreme Court of India’  in (Eds) Jens M. Scherpe, Anatol Dutta, Tobias Helms The Legal Status of Intersex Persons, (Intersentia 2018)

 

UDHR@75: Dignity Brings About Change

This blog forms part of a series celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Recognising the numerous conflicts and the daily breaches of human rights taking place across the globe, this series aims to highlight both the challenges and the opportunities to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights elaborated in the UDHR.

 

 

 

Dignity Brings about Change 

Article 1 of the UDHR 

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.’ 

When I was a prisoner at 19 in Taiwan, I slept on the floor of my cell between two other men. We did not have running water and so filled buckets to use for cleaning and washing. Twice a week we were allowed 20 minutes of exercise. We had no rights which I was aware of, but I felt deeply that this was not how people should be treated and convinced it would not reduce reoffending.  

I was eventually transferred to prison in the United Kingdom which had its own challenges. Prisoners would queue at a shuttered window clutching a stinking prison jumper or wet pair of joggers to trade for a fresh one, only to be told there weren’t enough to go around. During the Beast from the East, I piled everything I had around me, including a damp towel, so I wouldn’t freeze to death as there weren’t enough blankets. Days would sometimes pass without being let out of our cells, and when we were, we had to choose between a shower, posting important forms, or exercise. Grime and slime coated the showers, with only the foolhardy or unfortunate braving them barefoot. Dignity was nowhere to be found.

I reached an open prison and was elected by my fellow prisoners to lead the Prison Council. I was determined to act with reason and conscience to change the injustices which had so grated on me – and to discover new injustices and fight those also. Previously the Council had been viewed as self-serving, but I endeavored to change that, and proceed in the spirit of brotherhood.  

Alongside my co-leader, we set up targeted forums to identify issues affecting prisoners. Black, Asian, and minority ethnic offenders felt they were being overlooked for jobs within the prison. We drafted, negotiated, and implemented a new employment policy which ensured that all jobs were properly advertised and interviewed for. Prisoners complained of swarms of rats, lack of heating in winter, and broken showers. We liaised with the works department and put-up posters informing people of how to report such issues, which resulted in faster fixes. We held regular meetings with senior management, sat on the prison equalities board, and lobbied for better access to work and education. Essential forms for day or overnight release were overcomplicated, creating barriers to rehabilitation for those offenders with poor literacy. We leveraged the goodwill we had built up with management and were permitted to rewrite the forms ourselves to be far more accessible. The improvements I secured made the prison safer, more effective, and not by coincidence – more dignified.  

Despite what some in Government would have us believe, we should not be meeting demand for prisons, but reducing it. When we take a person’s freedom that they were born into, we must not rob them of their dignity also. For it is dignity which inspires hope, and hope which inspires change. 

 

As part of the GJA UDHR@75 celebration, we invited present and past students to contribute their personal reflections on the relevance of the UDHR today. This blog is by Chris Walters. Chris is a law student and Longford Trust scholar.

The Ruth Adler Human Rights Lecture 2023 – Ms Mama Fatima Singhateh

 

On 14 March 2023, the Global Justice Academy hosted the Ruth Adler Human Rights Lecture by  Ms Mama Fatima Singhateh, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children. Focussed on the importance of child participation, she talked about her functions as Special Rapporteur, the human rights law regulating the principle of participation, the importance of applying this principle and the challenges and opportunities it faces. The connection between Ms Singhateh’s work as Special Rapporteur and focus on children’s participation is highly relevant here in Scotland in light of the role of child participation envisioned in the pending UNCRC Incorporation legislation and the Committee on the Rights of the Child’s most recent Concluding Observations on the UK’s implementation of the UNCRC.Ms Mama Fatima Singhateh is being presented by Dr Kasey McCall-Smith, Director of the GJA.

The Special Rapporteur began by explaining her functions: In annual reports to the UN Human Rights Council and UN General Assembly on thematic studies, she addresses thematic issues such as the sexual exploitation of children online, sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism, including in the context of major sports events; the sale and sexual exploitation of children through prostitution and child trafficking; and sale of children for illegal adoption, transfer of organs, child marriage and forced labour. Furthermore, she analyses the root causes of the sale and sexual exploitation of children, identifies new patterns of the phenomena, exchanges good practices to combat this scourge, promote measures to prevent it, and make recommendations for the rehabilitation of child victims and survivors of sale and sexual exploitation, primarily targeted towards Governments, UN bodies, the business sector and non-governmental organisations. In addition to the annual reports, the Special Rapporteur undertakes country visits, sends out communications to States and other stakeholders on individual cases of reported violations and concerns of a broader nature, engages in awareness-raising and advocacy to promote and protect children’s rights, provides advice for technical cooperation, and contributes to the development of international human rights standard. In exercising these functions, the Special Rapporteur prioritises access to child-friendly spaces. Furthermore, she dialogues with children and hears their thoughts on the issues her mandate addresses.

Then, the Special Rapporteur turned to the issue of child participation and the human rights law regulating the topic. Children’s participation is a principle emanating from Article 12 of the UNCRC on the right to be heard. Even though the UNCRC does not expressly use the term’ child participation’, she affirmed that ‘the term has evolved and is now widely used to describe ongoing processes, which include information-sharing and dialogue between children and adults based on mutual respect, and in which children can learn how their views and those of adults are taken into account and shape the outcome of such processes.’  The Special Rapporteur also referred to the UNCRC, in general terms, as the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. She recognised that children’s lives had been transformed by the UNCRC but affirmed that ‘there is, however, more work to be done to better promote and protect the rights of all children’. Finally, she made a particular reference to the UNCRC Incorporation (Scotland) Bill: While celebrating Scotland’s bold step in fully incorporating the UNCRC into Scottish legislation, she noted that the Scottish government must ensure that it follows through by reintroducing revised legislation so that effective implementation can begin.

When referring to the importance and application of child participation, the Special Rapporteur reminded the audience of the extent of article 12 of the UNCRC: ‘Children have a right to participate in any decision-making process affecting them as well as influence decisions taken on their behalf’. She affirmed that participation helps children develop confidence in their worldviews and value. Additionally, she recalled practical approaches that have created positive changes in ways of working with children, such as using child-friendly spaces and forums and including them in public policy development and monitoring.

End FGM

Scottish Women’s Right Centre

A concrete example helped the audience to clearly understand Ms. Singhateh’s argument. The case was about role that children participation played in work carried out by an NGO against female genital mutilation (FGM). She explained that this secret practice was part of an initiation rite in a particular country. From focus groups with girls between 12 to 18 years old, the NGO learned about FMG and the rejection and embarrassment that it caused among them. With the active involvement of children, the NGO proposed restructuring the rite towards an ‘initiation without mutilation’. This turned into a successful campaign that produced a change in the places where it intervened and that was replicated in other communities. The lesson the Special Rapporteur takes from this example is ‘that deliberate and strategic actions to facilitate and create a conducive environment for children to participate in decisions about their lives can make a great difference in how the world perceives, protect, and promote their rights’.

In the last part of her lecture, the Special Rapporteur addressed the challenges and opportunities to child participation. By taking the audience through real-life stories she learned from survivors during her country visits, she highlighted the importance of raising awareness of the different manifestations of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation. She also referred to the government’s responsibility to design child protection policies that provide education and awareness raising, as well as ensure children have access to professionals where they can speak freely on any issue happening to them at home. In addition, she highlighted the need to provide professionals with skills and tools to effectively communicate with children, especially victims and survivors who have suffered abuse. Ms Mama Fatima Singhateh with Dr Kasey McCall-Smith and students from human rights the legal clinic

The Special Rapporteur also recommended involving children as trainers and facilitators of child participation and explained how they could participate at international-level gatherings designed for children and adults. Ms Singhateh concluded her lecture by ’emphasising the need to provide children with the opportunity to be heard, influence decision-making and achieve change’.

In line with the practical approach that Ms Singhateh gives to her mandate, she also accompanied the director of the GJA, Dr Kasey McCall-Smith, to a session of the human rights clinic. Students working on issues relating to the prohibition against torture and child rights budgeting were able to share their work with her and receive her questions and comments.

Ms Singhateh’s mandate as Special Rapporteur on the Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children was extended for another three years. We look forward to reading more about her innovative efforts on enhancing children participation in her endeavours on promoting and advancing their human rights.

 

 

Valentina Rioseco Vallejos

This post was written by Valentina Rioseco Vallejos. Valentina is a Chilean lawyer who holds an LLM in Human Rights from the University of Edinburgh. She is currently studying a PhD in Law, focused on incorporating a human rights approach to irregular migration. Valentina is a Research Assistant for the Global Justice Academy.

Comparing Police Discipline in the US and the UK: Lessons for American Law Enforcement – Part 2

This is Part 2 of a two-part blog post by Prof. Paul Clark comparing police discipline in the US and the UK. It identifies aspects of the UK approach to police discipline that could have a positive impact on the discipline process in the US.

Paul F. Clark is Professor and former Director, School of Labor and Employment Relations at Penn State University in the United States.  His research has focused on employment relations, labor unions, and the globalization of labor markets.  His current focus is on police unions and police disciplinary processes in the UK and the US.  He has authored or edited six books and his research has appeared in the leading scholarly journals in industrial and labor relations, applied psychology, and international labor issues.  He has served as a visiting professor at universities in Scotland, Australia, and New Zealand and is currently President-elect of the U.S.-based Labor and Employment Relations Association.

 

A preliminary examination of the UK police complaint and discipline processes indicates that these processes differ significantly from, and work more effectively than, those in the US.  This suggests that there may be elements of the British system of police discipline that could be adapted and adopted by American law enforcement.

One of the key differences between police discipline processes in the UK and the US that could have a positive impact on the US process is the UK’s emphasis on learning versus punishment.  In 2020, an in-depth analysis of the police discipline and complaint process in England and Wales led to major reforms.  One of the significant changes made was to establish “a culture of learning” as a key part of the discipline process. Toward this end, police supervisors are directed to divert incidents that do not constitute misconduct into either “an unsatisfactory performance procedure” or “a reflective practice review,” both of which help police officers learn from their mistakes and remain on the force.

The emphasis on learning and correcting behavior that UK law enforcement has adopted in recent years is an approach that American police unions and police departments, should consider.  In the long run, working to create a culture of learning in US police forces would have many benefits.

Photo bt King’s Church International on Unsplash

Another mechanism that US law enforcement should consider to build public confidence is independent oversight boards.  These agencies play a much bigger role in policing in the UK than in the US.  In England and Wales, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) oversees complaints about police misconduct.  The Police Investigations and Review Commissioner plays this role in Scotland and the Office of Ombudsmen does so in Northern Ireland.  These processes are clearly works in progress and they receive mixed reviews from police federations, and sometimes from the public, but to ensure that police do not investigate police behind closed doors, these agencies are necessary.

There has been a movement in recent years in the US to establish such bodies.  However, only about ten percent of police forces have done so and they are mostly in urban areas with large police forces.  And their performance has been mixed.  Still, independent oversight of police forces appears to be a necessity if public confidence in police is to be increased.

US law enforcement also needs to adopt a national database to identify police officers who have been fired for misconduct or incompetence, like the ones that exists in the UK.  Currently, in the US only a handful of states keep such a list.  Unfortunately, in many states officers fired by one police department are regularly hired by police forces within that state or in other states. A national list would identify officers fired for cause across the country.  Any officer appearing on this list would be banned from being hired by any other police force.

Finally, the extremely decentralized nature of the American law enforcement system means that police disciplinary systems are established by each separate police force.  In the UK, the police disciplinary processes are national in scope.  This means that there is one disciplinary process that covers all police in England and Wales, one that covers all police in Scotland, and one that covers police in Northern Ireland.  These national processes bring consistency to police discipline in each country.

With 18,000 police forces in the US (compared to only 43 in England and Wales, and one each in Scotland and Northern Ireland), there are essentially 18,000 different discipline processes.  This is highly problematic.  It means that reforms to the police discipline system in the US cannot be implemented on a national basis.  However, individual states do have the authority to order changes for the police forces in their state.  The widespread reform of police discipline processes in the US would most effectively be accomplished on a state-by-state basis.  Establishing a consistent police discipline process across all fifty states is unrealistic. Yet, it might be possible to get a significant number of states to adopt such a process.  This would be an important step towards improving the effectiveness of American police discipline processes.

Comparing Police Discipline in the US and the UK: Lessons for American Law Enforcement – Part 1

This post is the first of a two-part blog by Prof. Paul Clark comparing police discipline in the US and the UK. Part I focuses on the relevant similitudes and differences between police discipline in the two countries and highlights the connections between police trade unions and police discipline.

Paul F. Clark is Professor and former Director, School of Labor and Employment Relations at Penn State University in the United States.  His research has focused on employment relations, labor unions, and the globalization of labor markets.  His current focus is on police unions and police disciplinary processes in the UK and the US.  He has authored or edited six books and his research has appeared in the leading scholarly journals in industrial and labor relations, applied psychology, and international labor issues.  He has served as a visiting professor at universities in Scotland, Australia, and New Zealand and is currently President-elect of the U.S.-based Labor and Employment Relations Association.

 

Recent high-profile cases of police misconduct in the U.S. have heightened racial tensions and increased public awareness of systematic problems in American law enforcement.  The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of Minneapolis and Louisville police in 2020 were met by widespread protest around the world and for calls for police reform.

Photo by Gayatari Malhotra on Unsplash

The fact that Derek Chauvin, the officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck causing his death, had 18 complaints regarding serious misconduct filed against him since 2001 and was still working as a police officer, has contributed to the impression that American police are not being held accountable for their actions.

In the wake of these concerns, the movement to reform American policing has gained momentum.  This reform movement is looking at all aspects of American law enforcement including oversight, funding, training, use of force, hiring, pay, and recruitment.  However, one important element that has received minimal consideration in discussions about reform are the processes for disciplining police officers accused of misconduct.

While the British public has concerns about police misconduct, police are viewed more favorably in the UK than in the US.  In surveys conducted in 2020, 74 percent of people aged 16 and over in England and Wales reported having confidence in their local police, while only 48 percent of Americans held that view.

A preliminary examination of the UK police complaint and discipline processes indicates that these processes differ significantly from, and work more effectively than, those in the US.  This suggests that there may be elements of the British system of police discipline that could be adapted and adopted by American law enforcement.

To learn more about the UK police complaint and discipline processes, I spent the spring of 2022 in residence at the University of Edinburgh’s Global Justice Academy and the University of Oxford Law School.  Because England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland each have their own systems of law enforcement, they each have their own police complaint and discipline processes.  In the course of my work, I gathered information about the three processes and conducted 37 interviews with parties involved in these processes—police forces, police federations representing officers, independent public oversight agencies, and neutral hearing officers.  An analysis of the data collected identified a few elements that differ significantly from the discipline processes in the US and that, in my view, have potential to improve what is now, in many cases, a problematic process in the US.

Police disciplinary processes in the UK and the US have some elements in common.  Disciplinary processes are utilized to deal with both public complaints about officer conduct and internal charges made by police colleagues or supervisors.  Public or internal charges can result in an investigation into an officer’s conduct.  The results of the investigation are considered by police administrators and the charged officer (and the officer’s representatives) are given opportunities to respond.  If the charges are not resolved, the case can go before a neutral third party who renders a decision.

Photo by King’s Church International on Unsplash

One significant difference between the US and UK systems of law enforcement is that the majority of police officers in the US belong to trade unions (57.5 percent in 2019) that have the right to collective bargaining. Some of these police unions, mostly in large cities, have used their bargaining power to negotiate contract clauses that make it harder to discipline their members. These unions also generally take a more adversarial approach when advocating for their members in the discipline process than their counterparts in the UK.  For these unions, “defending the member at all costs” is the priority, even when the officer or officers involved have engaged in problematic behavior.

A recent analysis found that in 624 police discharge cases heard by arbitrators (neutral third parties) nationwide between 2006 and 2020, police officers were reinstated to their jobs 52 percent of the time. During the same period, in Minneapolis, in six of eight cases involving the discharge of police officers, the charges were overturned, and the officers returned to their jobs.

In the UK, police are not permitted to be represented by a trade union.  Instead, officers at all ranks are represented by professional associations that advocate for the good and welfare of their members (for example, constables, sergeants, and inspectors in England and Wales are represented by the Police Federation of England and Wales), but do not engage in collective bargaining.  While these federations and associations fight for their members when they feel they have been treated unfairly, they also tend to look more broadly at what is good for the policing profession and for the community.  In some instances, they may put the interests of the profession and the community ahead of those of an individual member.  For example, they might try to counsel a problematic officer into resigning from the force, rather than fight to get their job back.  One long-serving police federation representative told me he thought “he might be responsible for getting rid of more bad cops than the police force had.”

Certainly, some police unions in the US do what they can to make sure that officers not suited to policing do not continue to serve.  But in some notable cases where unions have won reinstatement for officers accused of excess force, racism, or corruption, these officers have continued to engage in misconduct. If they want to increase the public’s confidence in their members, the more aggressive police unions need to moderate their approach to representing their members and emphasize what is good for the profession and the community.

In addition to moderating their defense of “bad cops,” some US police unions need to consider rethinking existing contract language that makes it difficult for police departments to discipline officers (while still ensuring that they receive appropriate due process).  Both changes would have a positive impact on how the public views the police.

Finally, it should be noted that an additional reason that police officers fired for misconduct in the US (and sometimes in the UK) are put back on the job is that police management sometimes does a poor job of investigating and building discipline cases against officers.  Bringing a weak case before a neutral third party greatly increases the chances that a union will win the case and enable an undeserving officer to retain their job.  Where this happens, police managers need to improve their performance.

Continue reading part 2 of this two-part blog.

 

 

Reflections on a Conversation with Mohamedou Ould Salahi

On 14 March 2022, the Global Justice Academy hosted a conversation between Mohamedou Ould Salhi, author of the best-seller Guantánamo Diary, and Dr Kasey McCall-Smith, director of the Global Justice Academy. The event was part of Mohamedou’s United Kingdom tour to talk about his experiences and what happens in the aftermath of torture and arbitrary detention. In the conversation, Mohamedou and Dr McCall-Smith, together with the audience’s participation, reflected on the post-9/11 human rights legal and political landscape.

Mohamedou was born in Mauritania, and as a young man studied and worked in Germany and Canada before moving back to Mauritania in 2000. Between 2000 and 2001, he was three times detained at the behest of the United States, questioned about the so-called “Millennium Plot”, and later released. However, in November 2001, Mohamedou was arbitrarily arrested in Mauritania, later transferred to Jordan and then Guantánamo Bay. Mohamedou eventually spent 15 years arbitrarily detained and was subjected to multiple forms of torture and ill-treatment under the ‘enhanced interrogation programme’. He was ultimately released without any charge or any form of redress by the US.

In his best-selling book, Guantánamo Diary, Mohamedou tells a Mauritanian proverb about a man who was afraid of a rooster. As the story goes, a psychiatrist asks this man why he is afraid of a rooster, an animal considerably smaller than human beings. The man replies that the rooster thinks he is corn. The psychiatrist says that the man is not corn, but a man indeed, so he should not be afraid of the rooster. Then, the man answers that he knows he is not a corn, but the rooster does not, which is why he is afraid. Unfortunately, this is the allegoric story about the many US ‘War on Terror’ detainees. Mohamedou and many other detainees tried for years to convince the US government that they were not terrorists just because they filled the ‘terrorist boxes’. In other words, they tried to convince the rooster they were not corn. Without access to fundamental human rights it was an almost insumountable task.

The event’s central theme was the conflict between national security and human rights. Through the ‘War on Terror’, led by the US after the events of 9/11, many men were arbitrarily incarcerated and tortured in order to gather information with the aim of protecting national security. These arbitrarily detained men, most of them Muslim, were deprived of their basic human rights, including the prohibition of torture and access to justice. The post-9/11 era is marked by states’ overwhelming concern for national security over human rights. Consequently, people are subjected to many forms of human rights infringements. Such abuses vary significantly from the most imperceptible and sometimes even consented breaches, such as infringements to the right to privacy and or access information, to the most gruesome violations as experienced and narrated by Mohamedou, including torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary arrest, inaccessibility to justice, and presumption of guilt instead of innocence.

One of the most shocking observations Mohamedou shared was the absence of justice and the rule of law in Guantánamo Bay. After years of being incarcerated without criminal charge or prosecution, Mohamedou petitioned for habeas corpus and was granted a release order in 2010. However, Mohamedou was only released in 2016. The six-year gap between the court order and its compliance is the result of the US judicial system’s lack of power in the Guantánamo Bay detention facilities. Although judges may grant habeas corpus orders, the judicial system does not have the power to enforce them. According to Dr McCall-Smith, the unreasonable amount of time it took for Mohamedou’s release indicates the disconnect between the US justice system and the organs that wield power in the context of national security. Even after his release, Mohamedou still faces the shadows of his arbitrary detention as the US keeps him blacklisted.

Guantánamo Bay must be closed.

In closing the event, Mohamedou and McCall-Smith discussed possible ways to move forward after the horrifying human rights violations perpetrated in the ‘War on Terror’. First, McCall-Smith and Mohamedou agreed that Guantánamo Bay must be closed. Of the 780 men detained in Guantánamo Bay, 38 men are currently imprisoned there, and less than 20 men have been charged with a crime, let alone convicted. The Obama administration promised to close Guantánamo, but only the US Congress has the power to do so. Thus, in this particular situation, McCall-Smith pointed out that the US ‘checks and balances’ system worked against the rule of law. Second, Mohamedou highlighted the necessity to hold accountable those who violated international law and the prohibition on torture. Without accountability, there is no possibility of democracy as the people become powerless in the face of the government. Finally, Mohamedou stressed the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation through actions. More than a beautiful thought, this idea entails states’ responsibility to reflect and reconsider the undermining of human rights as the formula to guarantee national security. Mohamedou’s experiences and scholarly debates have both shown that the suppression and outright violation of human rights has not guaranteed the security of peoples or states.

The recording of the event can be viewed here.

This post is authored by Helena de Oliveira Augusto. Helena is currently undertaking the Human Rights LLM at the University of Edinburgh. Helena is from Brazil, where she completed a Bachelor of Laws degree at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo.

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