Initially used to serve the rulers, our policing systems are still militaristic in their approach
Policing in most South Asian countries is based on the old British model. Initially used as the tool to serve the purpose of the rulers, our policing systems are still militaristic in their approach. Police governance, oversight and accountability are thus among the key human rights concerns and government priorities in South Asia.
Accountability is a fundamental part of democratic and transparent policing. Police accountability is a system of internal and external checks and balances so that police personnel carry out their duties properly and are held responsible if they fail to do so. These systems maintain integrity in police organizations, deter abuse of power and enhance public confidence in policing.
Police accountability should be understood in a broader perspective of the environment the police operates in. The organization requires legal instruments and necessary authority to enforce them, resources and proper directives. Right training and equipment as per their professional responsibilities and assurance of proper work environment is also essential. Accountability can be ensured through effective ‘complaint mechanisms’ within the police department. These should in turn be easily accessible to the people and mandated to investigate and recommend disciplinary actions or criminal prosecution.
The police should also have mechanisms to provide regular feedback on the complaints so that progress on criminal cases can be tracked. This also enhances public confidence and helps address the underlying causes of a particular problem and ways to rectify them. Police organizations have hierarchy and chain of command to supervise and monitor police action at each level. It’s just a question of making them more effective.
In the South Asian context, lack of proper laws for modern policing is a challenge. Police organizations operate within an archaic legal framework. Modern policing also requires semi-judicial powers for their greater effectiveness in metropolitan areas.
Police organizations have been frequently accused of serving the interest of the rulers. Democratic policing requires the organization to provide opportunities for the public to voice their concerns.
Likewise, one of the major concerns of police organizations in South Asia is lack of infrastructure and equipment necessary to carry out their duties as per international norms of human rights and national laws. Substandard lethal weapons, poor police custodies and bad food allocations mark the police forces of the region. But these are not the only problems.
Police trainings have to be continuously reviewed and made relevant to meet contemporary needs.
South Asian police have a challenge to continuously maintain their combative capability in view of terrorism and armed rebellions here, and at the same time carry out their responsibilities of law enforcement and community engagement.
Police organizations of the region generally have oversight mechanisms at the internal, ministry and parliamentary levels. Ombudsmen also maintain oversight over the police through some specific state organs such as the National Human Rights Commission and the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority in Nepal. But lack of civilian oversight body/ombudsman specially assigned to investigate police actions is a big challenge. Internal mechanisms are ineffective in view of the constant political meddling.
Effective governance of the police is essential to prevent it from misusing powers. This is why to enhance public confidence and legitimacy of policing, there needs to be mechanisms of governance, oversight and accountability. Without such mechanisms police may be arbitrary and corrupt.
Different internal and external oversight mechanisms can improve police accountability. In view of allegations of human rights violations, it is about time police organizations in the region shape up. Police organizations here are, again, marred by inadequacy of laws and resources to carry out their obligations.
Political meddling in the police affairs has further aggravated the situation. Reformed police culture, accompanied with the establishment of police ombudsman capable of effective oversight, is the way forward.
The author is a Deputy Inspector General of Police