Who Polices the Police? The Role of Independent Agencies in Criminal Investigations
The events of 2020—ranging from the death of George Floyd at the hands of an officer of the Minneapolis Police Department, to the systemic torture of protesters in Belarus, to the deaths of individuals detained during lockdowns in India and Kenya—provide stark reminders that the state’s use of force, if left unchecked, can easily turn to brutality. While governments rely on police and other law-enforcement agents to maintain order and investigate crimes, the question of who will investigate crimes allegedly committed by the police themselves remains a critical human rights issue.
Despite the global growth of civilian oversight efforts, abuse and scandals persist. While many civilian review boards have been created to oversee police, very few have adequate investigative powers. Most only have the power to make recommendations for disciplinary action or prosecution, with no ability to implement or ensure follow-up on those recommendations. Clearly, there is a need for more oversight agencies with greater independence and more extensive powers.
This publication explores the efforts of independent investigative agencies (IIAs) to investigate and prosecute allegations of serious crimes against police and other state agents. It examines approaches that various IIAs have taken in conducting criminal investigations and prosecutions of state agents for alleged crimes including death, serious injury, sexual assault, torture and enforced disappearances. The publication includes recommendations for improving the independence, efficacy, and transparency of IIAs.
Case Watch: A Mother’s Search for Her Son Leads to Groundbreaking Decision on Disappearances in Mexico
In a major victory for the hundreds of disappeared people and their loved ones in Mexico, the nation’s highest court recognized the mandatory nature of urgent actions issued by the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances.
How Independent Agencies Can Begin to Hold Police Accountable
Countries around the world are building agencies independent from the police to conduct and prosecute allegations of serious crimes by police or other state agents.
Prisons and Jails Should be Prioritized for the Coronavirus Vaccine
Under international law, vaccinating prison populations against COVID-19 is an obligation that falls to the government—and because they are particularly at risk, incarcerated persons should be among the first groups to be vaccinated.