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.”