Archive | November 2011

Oakland police brutality and the International Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials

Police brutality in Oakland is once again in the spotlight with another Occupy protester and Iraq veteran in the hospital following a severe beating by Oakland police. The veteran, 32-year-old Kayvan Sabeghi, underwent surgery on Friday for a lacerated spleen.

Sabehgi told the Guardian he was walking alone along 14th Street in central Oakland on Thursday – away from the main area of clashes – when he was injured.

“There was a group of police in front of me,” he told the Guardian from his hospital bed. “They told me to move, but I was like: ‘Move to where?’ There was nowhere to move.

“Then they lined up in front of me. I was talking to one of them, saying ‘Why are you doing this?’ when one moved forward and hit me in my arm and legs and back with his baton. Then three or four cops tackled me and arrested me.”

Prior to going into surgery, Sabeghi told his sister that the cops hit him in the abdomen four times, rupturing his spleen.

Sabeghi said he was handcuffed and placed in a police van for three hours before being taken to jail. By the time he arrived he was in “unbelievable pain.”

“My stomach was really hurting,” he said, “and it got worse to the point where I couldn’t stand up. “I was on my hands and knees and crawled over the cell door to call for help.”

“I was vomiting and had diarrhoea,” Sabehgi said. “I just lay there in pain for hours.”

Despite suffering agonizing pain, he did not reach the hospital until 18 hours after his arrest.

The Nov. 3 incident came just over a week after the Oakland police sent another Iraq veteran to the hospital with a fractured skull.

Scott Olsen, 24, was hit in the head with a police projectile during a protest following a heavy-handed police assault on the Occupy Oakland encampment. The demonstrators had been making an attempt to re-establish a presence in the area when they were blocked by police in riot gear.

Video taken of the incident shows that when fellow demonstrators went to the aid of Olsen, a cop threw a flash grenade into the crowd, further endangering the injured protester and those who were trying to help him.

Following this incident, the New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling on police to respect the fundamental rights of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators across the country:

State and local officials in the United States should respect protesters’ rights to free speech and assembly, and prevent and investigate the use of excessive force against them, Human Rights Watch said today. Apparent police misconduct and the unnecessary use of force in response to ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests around the country heightens the need for vigilance on the part of public officials to ensure that excessive force is neither authorized nor used with impunity.

“The United States’ tradition of peaceful protest is protected not only in US law but also under international law,” said Alison Parker, US program director at Human Rights Watch. “Even when protesters’ actions warrant police intervention, force should only be used where strictly necessary and then only to the degree necessary.”

Amnesty International also weighed in, urging authorities “to ensure that police show restraint in their response to Occupy Wall Street protests, following critical injuries suffered by a man in Oakland, Ca. in clashes between police and demonstrators.”

“The increasingly heavy-handed policing tactics used to quell the Occupy Wall Street protests are deeply alarming,” said Guadalupe Marengo, deputy program director for the Americas.

“The police must not resort to using excessive force, such as tear gas, unless strictly necessary.”

Just days after these statement were issued however, Oakland police again used excessive force against an individual who at the time was not even engaged in protest activity. The beating that Sabeghi suffered — who was walking away from area of clashes between protesters and police — was clearly unnecessary and in violation of the Oakland Police Department’s international obligations.

The Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979, establishes basic international standards for police behavior.

“In the performance of their duty,” it states, “law enforcement officials shall respect and protect human dignity and maintain and uphold the human rights of all persons.”

The human rights protected by the Code of Conduct are identified by national and international law, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

The Code states that “Law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty.”

The commentary on this provision lays out principles of necessity and proportionality in the use of force by police:

( a ) This provision emphasizes that the use of force by law enforcement officials should be exceptional; while it implies that law enforcement officials may be authorized to use force as is reasonably necessary under the circumstances for the prevention of crime or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders, no force going beyond that may be used.

( b ) National law ordinarily restricts the use of force by law enforcement officials in accordance with a principle of proportionality. It is to be understood that such national principles of proportionality are to be respected in the interpretation of this provision. In no case should this provision be interpreted to authorize the use of force which is disproportionate to the legitimate objective to be achieved.

In addition to the initial use of unnecessary and excessive force, the Oakland police also flouted a provision in the Code of Conduct that requires them to ensure the health of individuals in custody, by leaving Sabeghi in agonizing pain before granting him medical access after 18 hours.

“Law enforcement officials shall ensure the full protection of the health of persons in their custody,” the Code states, “and, in particular, shall take immediate action to secure medical attention whenever required.”


ICC to investigate NATO and NTC crimes in Libya

In his first address to the UN Security Council since Muammar Gaddafi was killed last month, ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo said on Wednesday that the International Criminal Court will probe serious crimes committed during the Libyan civil war both by fighters loyal to Gaddafi as well as NATO and revolutionary forces.

According to Moreno Ocampo’s prepared remarks to the Security Council,

There are allegations of crimes committed by NATO forces, allegations of crimes committed by NTC-related forces, including the alleged detention of civilians suspected to be mercenaries and the alleged killing of detained combatants, as well as allegations of additional crimes committed by pro-Gaddafi forces. These allegations will be examined impartially and independently by the Office.

The Office was informed that the new Libyan authorities are in the process of preparing a comprehensive strategy to address crimes, including the circumstances surrounding the death of Muammar Gaddafi.    In accordance with the Rome Statute the International Criminal Court should not intervene if there are genuine national proceedings. Should the Libyan authorities decide to prosecute Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and Abdullah al Sanussi for the same crimes under investigation by the International Criminal Court, they should submit an admissibility challenge and it will be for the ICC Judges to decide.

He did not provide details of possible crimes by NATO forces but said his office will examine all allegations “impartially and independently.”

In the final weeks of the war, the Gaddafi regime alleged that 85 civilians were killed in a NATO air strike near town of Ziltan. General Khaled Hemidi filed a lawsuit in a Belgian civil court against NATO for killing his wife and three children in a June airstrike near the town of Surman.

The announcement that ICC would be investigating possible NATO crimes may have come as a surprise to the Security Council, which referred the case of Libya to the ICC on  February 26, 2011 in Resolution 1970. The U.S. State Department has referred to Resolution 1970 as “a comprehensive resolution to respond to the outrageous violence perpetrated by Muammar Qadafi on the Libyan people.”

The language of the resolution, however, does not specify that the Court’s mandate is limited to investigating violence perpetrated by Gaddafi, instead generally “condemning the violence and use of force against civilians.”

Regarding its referral of the situation in Libya since February 15, 2011 to the ICC, the Council recognized that States not party to the Rome Statute that established the Court had no obligations to it, but urged all governments to cooperate fully with the Court’s prosecutor.

When Moreno Ocampo, announced on May 16 that he would seek an arrest warrant for Muammar Gaddafi, the U.S./NATO alliance intensified its bombing campaign against the beleaguered North African nation.

As CNN reported,

Crowds in Tripoli gathered Tuesday morning outside two burning buildings, the aftermath of what a Libyan official said were NATO airstrikes on government facilities. Spokesman Musa Ibrahim said the buildings housed the Ministry of Popular Inspection and Oversight – a government anti-corruption body – and the head of the police force in Tripoli.

“Is this NATO’s protection of civilians or terrifying civilians,” a Gaddafi loyalist asked CNN reporters. “This is a civilian neighborhood. … Residents are terrified.”

Ironically, NATO leaders used the ICC’s arrest warrant against Gaddafi as a sort of tacit authorization for NATO to intensify its bombing campaign in the country.

The Christian Science Monitor reported on May 17, “The potential that the International Criminal Court (ICC) could issue an arrest warrant for Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi … could give NATO more latitude to target the dictator directly.”

“So far,” the Monitor reported,

NATO airstrikes have focused on military targets – this morning they hit two government buildings in Tripoli, including the Interior Ministry. However, the head of Britain‘s military said on Sunday that NATO needed authorization to also strike infrastructure targets. There is speculation that the ICC warrants could justify NATO efforts to target Qaddafi, rather than simply to “protect Libyan civilians under threat of attack.”

Now that Gaddafi has been killed an apparent extrajudicial execution, the ICC is preparing “to withdraw the warrant against Muammar Gaddafi and to end the case against him,” according to Moreno Ocampo. But to the ICC’s credit, the investigation is still open into other war crimes that may have been committed by NATO and its allies in the Libyan National Transitional Council.

The budget Super Committee and U.S. anti-corruption obligations

With a deadline for reaching agreement on a broad-based deficit reduction deal just three weeks away, it is becoming increasingly clear that the primary targets of the so-called Super Committee are popular social programs that millions of low-income Americans and senior citizens depend on for basic subsistence and health care.

“Nothing,” said House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Monday, “nothing, would send a more reassuring message to the markets than taking bipartisan steps to fix the structural problems in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.”

When asked whether the committee was looking to cut Social Security benefits, Super Committee co-chair Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash) said, “Everything is on the table, and we’ve made no decisions.”

Receiving far less attention than the potential cuts to these vital programs is the option of cutting military spending, begging the question of whether it is on the table at all. This is despite the fact that the Pentagon accounts for 20% of the federal budget and more than 40% of global arms spending. The Pentagon budget, in fact, is over six times larger than the military budget of China, the United States’ closest competitor in the field of military spending.

When it comes to the deal that the Super Committee must reach by Nov. 23 before automatic triggers on across-the-board spending cuts kick in, the Air Force Times reports, “There has been strong resistance to almost every imaginable cut in federal spending, but especially in possible cuts in the defense budget.”

Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee, according to the Air Force Times, oppose any additional defense cuts, a position that severely limits the options of the Super Committee, officially known as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.

Americans might be scratching their heads as to why their representatives in Congress are placing vital entitlement programs “on the table” while taking off the table wasteful Pentagon spending.

But a recent non-partisan investigation provides valuable insight, and should serve also as a reminder that the United States government – including the unelected Super Committee – is bound by international treaty to take necessary measures to counter corruption.

The report, “Tools of Influence:  The Arms Lobby and the  Super Committee,” jointly released Monday by the Center for International Policy and Common Cause, details the substantial monetary contributions made by the arms lobby to members of the Super Committee.

“The defense industry has a major stake in the deliberations of the budget super committee,” the report begins, “which is empowered to propose reductions in military spending.”

Pointing out that one out of every five dollars distributed by the Pentagon in fiscal year 2010 went to just five companies (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and Raytheon), the report notes that “these companies are pooling their resources – working through vehicles such as their trade group, the Aerospace Industries Association – in an attempt to keep Pentagon spending as high as possible in the face of pressures to reduce the federal deficit.”

The military-industrial complex spares no expense in utilizing its tools of influence on Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Super Committee in particular. “In the two most recent election cycles,” the report documents, “the defense industry contributed over $1.1 million to the 12 members of the budget super committee.”

Five former Super Committee staffers now serve as lobbyists for at least one of the nation’s top ten military contractors, with one, Shay Michael Hancock, working on behalf of three at the same time (Boeing, General Dynamics, and Raytheon).

Besides having nearly two lobbyists for every member of Congress, the industry had “at least 682 ‘revolving door’ employees in 2010 – people who had worked in government overseeing the arms industry before leaving government to work for a defense firm.”

All of this is a violation of the United States’ obligations under international law.

As a state party to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, the United States has agreed to take certain measures to prevent conflicts of interest and corruption in both the public and private sphere.

Specifically, in order to prevent corruption:

Each State Party shall, in accordance with the fundamental principles of its legal system, develop and implement or maintain effective, coordinated anti-corruption policies that promote the participation of society and reflect the principles of the rule of law, proper management of public affairs and public property, integrity, transparency and accountability.

Each State Party shall endeavour to establish and promote effective practices aimed at the prevention of corruption.

Further, states parties to the UN Convention against Corruption shall adopt such legislative and other measures as may be necessary in order to:

Prevent conflicts of interest by imposing restrictions, as appropriate and for a reasonable period of time, on the professional activities of former public officials or on the employment of public officials by the private sector after their resignation or retirement, where such activities or employment relate directly to the functions held or supervised by those public officials during their tenure.

In the U.S., we don’t refer to our system as institutionalized corruption, but that’s exactly what it is. The main difference between the American version of corruption and the petty corruption seen elsewhere in the world is that ours has a much deeper and broader impact. While the run-of-mill corruption in a country like Nigeria might negatively impact the quality of life within that country, American corruption spreads its injustice and chaos around the world.

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