Police brutality a serious problem: SAHRC

Police brutality is a serious problem in the country and the actions of the police officers allegedly involved in the killing of crime suspect Khulekani Mpanza in Krugersdorp two weeks ago highlights the long-term nature of this scourge‚ the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) says.

 Expressing its concern over yet another video depicting police brutality and human rights violations‚ it said the Constitution protected the rights of every person‚ including criminal suspects who were  presumed innocent until proven otherwise in a fair trial.

It said Mpanza’s unnecessary death had opened again “the raw debate on policing and crime‚ the extreme circumstances in which our police find themselves in exercising their law enforcement mandate and the constitutional requirements of human rights and policing”.

 “It appears that we have to work much harder on the law and law enforcement‚” it added.

The commission said it did not condone the criminal acts linked to the suspect prior to his killing‚ and acknowledged that policing was a hazardous occupation which saw several of their members killed in recent months.

“However we also acknowledge that we are living in a society which prohibits the police from taking the law into their hands.

“We emphasize the importance of police respecting the rule of law. Vigilantism and extrajudicial killings are outlawed‚” the SAHRC said.

It added: “The Constitution protects every person‚ including criminal suspects‚ and guarantees for everyone the right to life‚ and security of the person. It also protects criminal suspects on the right to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise in a fair trial.

“Section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act also states that police officers also has the right to defend themselves‚ but only if their life is under immediate threat from a suspect. This will include when a person takes out a gun and starts shooting at the police or other people. What the police cannot do is to shoot and kill a person who no longer poses any immediate threat to themselves or any‚ member of the public‚ which‚ based on the video footage circulating‚ seemed to have been the case in Mr Mpanza’s killing.

“Police brutality is a serious problem in the country‚ and the actions of these police officers highlight the longterm nature of this scourge. The killing of Mido Macia‚ Andries Tatane and the execution of some miners in Marikana are well documented‚ and cannot be divorced from the killing of Mr Mpanza‚” the SAHRC stated.

What was of concern to the SAHRC was that these cases‚ including Mpanza’s killing‚ were highlighted by the use of video and photographic images.

“We have to ask what is happening where there are no cameras and no shining lights? “ it quizzed.

The SAHRC said it had started to work with the SAPS on long-term plans to eradicate police brutality and to establish a culture of human rights in policing.

“The commitment by the SAPS to professionalise the police and to operate as an integral part of the new democratic order is appreciated‚ and we believe will go a long way in ensuring police officers act within the law.

“We will continue to engage the police management in light of the recent killing.

“The SAHRC welcomes the swift action of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate to arrest the police officers implicated in the killing of Mr Mpanza and to subject them to the rule of law. We call on the public to allow the law to take its cause‚” the commission concluded.

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