Thursday, June 18, 2015
Amnesty: Hawaii—and all other states—fail to comply with international law on the use of lethal force by police
States are required to respect and to protect the right to life …. The police in any society will at some point be confronted with a situation where they have to decide whether to use force and, if so, how much. Enacting an adequate domestic legal framework for such use of force by police officials is thus a State obligation, and States that do not do this are in violation of their international obligations.—UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions
by Larry Geller
Amnesty International has determined that no state is in compliance with international law with regard to police use of lethal force. The report, Deadly Force : Police Use of Lethal Force in the United States, was released today and highlighted in an article on The Guardian website.
What did the report say about Hawaii?
- All 50 states and Washington, D.C. fail to comply with international law and standards on the use of lethal force by law enforcement officers.
- None of the state statutes require that the use of lethal force may only be used as a last resort with non-violent and less harmful means to be tried first.
- No state limits the use of lethal force to only those situations where there is an imminent threat to life or serious injury to the officer or to others.
- Hawaii is cited as among 22 states that allow law enforcement officers to kill someone trying to escape from a prison or jail.
- Only three states provide that officers should create no “substantial risk” to bystanders when using lethal force: Delaware; Hawaii and New Jersey.
From the executive summary:
Hundreds of men and women are killed by police each and every year across the United States. No-one knows exactly how many because the United States does not count how many lives are lost. The limited information available however suggests that African American men are disproportionately impacted by police use of lethal force. While the majority of the unarmed African Americans killed by police officers are men, many African American women have also lost their lives to police violence.1 Police officers are responsible for upholding the law, as well as respecting and protecting the lives of all members of society. Their jobs are difficult and often dangerous. However, the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and countless others across the United States has highlighted a widespread pattern of racially discriminatory treatment by law enforcement officers and an alarming use of lethal force nationwide.
[Amnesty International, Deadly Force : Police Use of Lethal Force in the United States (pdf), 6/18/2015]
The summary continued with a list of those shootings that have received national media attention, and notes that there are many others.
With regard to a state’s obligations:
One of a state’s most fundamental duties which police officers, as agents of the state, must comply with in carrying out their law enforcement duties, is to protect life. In pursuing ordinary law enforcement operations, using force that may cost the life of a person cannot be justified. International law only allows police officers to use lethal force as a last resort in order to protect themselves or others from death or serious injury. The United Nations (UN) Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms provide that law enforcement officials shall not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or the defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, and that, in any event, “intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.” Furthermore, international law enforcement standards require that force of any kind may be used only when there are no other means available that are likely to achieve the legitimate objective. If the force is unavoidable it must be no more than is necessary and proportionate to achieve the objective, and law enforcement must use it in a manner designed to minimise damage or injury, must respect and preserve human life and ensure medical aid are provided as soon as possible to those injured or affected.
The report is worth reading and could, perhaps, spur reform of state law in Hawaii.
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