x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Transparency is crucial in cases of police abuse

As 13 police officers face trial on charges of abusing a detainee, there is an opportunity to instil confidence that public officials are not above the law.

The allegations touch the bedrock of the rule of law: 13 police officers, including a lieutenant colonel, stand accused of beating a Pakistani prisoner to death in Dubai last year. Each officer will have his day in court, and judgement in this particular case should be withheld accordingly until then.

But the fact that it is being prosecuted is a rare moment of transparency that could instil confidence that abuses by public officials are not above the rule of law.

Every country in the world has seen criminal acts tarnish its police forces. It is one of the most fundamental betrayals of the public's trust. This recent case, where the victim was accused of a crime, only emphasises that even suspects in custody are entitled to a due process of law.

Justice can never be served at the end of a stick. Not only is extra-judicial corporal punishment antithetical to the country's values, it serves no purpose because forced confessions are unreliable.

Dubai's prosecution in this case proves the will to punish offenders within the police force - and to apply the transparency that is the greatest deterrent to future abuses. The Public Prosecution, which works so closely with the police, should be commended for taking up the case.

That type of judicial oversight needs to be present in every circumstance. There have been other allegations of brutality in the country's prisons that have not always resulted in transparent investigations. In some cases, prosecutors are accused of even sanctioning the use of violence; in a case pending before the Supreme Court, a prosecutor is charged with asking police officers to extract a confession by force.

As these cases are brought to light, they underscore the development of the UAE's judicial system, but there is more to be done. Not every claim of abuse is legitimate, but increased transparency into police activities would prevent problems before they happen: rights groups and lawyers should have access to inmates; cameras on patrol cars and in police stations would ensure professional conduct; and officers should be better trained in the proper treatment of prisoners.

Police and public officials are there to protect the public's safety. The actions of a few cannot be allowed to undermine the essential service that public officials provide every day.