Police Compliance with the Rights of Women under the Luanda Guidelines: Principles and Challenges (Side Event)


24 October 2016

Banjul, The Islamic Republic of The Gambia

As part of an ongoing collaboration to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights by Africa’s police services, the Special Rapporteur on Prisons, Conditions of Detention and Policing in Africa of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission), the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum (APCOF) and the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) held a side event on Police Compliance with the Rights of Women under the Luanda Guidelines: Principles and Challenges during the 59th Ordinary Session of the Commission. The event took place at 17:30 on Monday 24 October 2016 in Banjul, The Islamic Republic of The Gambia, and was attended by approximately 50 persons.

The side event was moderated by Hon. Commissioner Maya Sahli Fadel, member of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Internally Displaced Persons in Africa.

I/ Panellists Presentations

Hon. Commissioner Med S.K Kaggwathe ACHPR Special Rapporteur on Prisons, Conditions of Detention and Policing in Africa, introduced this important side event that fits very well with the overall theme of this 59th Ordinary Session, Women’s Rights, our Collective Responsibility, as follows from 2016 as the Africa Year of Human Rights with Particular Focus on the Rights of Women.

Hon. Commissioner Kaggwa mentioned that the Commission Guidelines on the Conditions of Arrest, Police Custody and Pre-trial Detention in Africa, adopted at the 55th Ordinary Session of the Commission, held in Luanda, Angola in 2014 (the Luanda Guidelines), provide a rights-based approach to arrest and police detention with a focus on vulnerable groups, including women. In this light, he indicated that the side event would consider the relevant principles of the Luanda Guidelines as well as the experiences and challenges in this respect.

In her presentation Melody Kozah, Research and Project Officer, APCOF, focused on how the Luanda Guidelines promote the rights of women. The Luanda Guidelines contain a rights-based approach to pre-trial detention, arrest and detention with Chapter 7 dealing with vulnerable groups. It is important to recall that the Luanda Guidelines do not create new rights but rather concretise and operationalise the rights of persons and the obligations of states that already exist.

The Luanda Guidelines contains general safeguards for women and girls, such as the principle that women and girls must be searched by women; that women and girls must be detained with women and girls only; and that supplies must be provided for women’s particular hygiene needs. There are particular rules for the protection of the rights of women with caretaking obligations as the treatment of such women has significant socio-economic consequences, not only for the women in question but also for their children and families. Thus, States are obliged to take into account the best interest of the child and to give women the opportunity to make provisions for the care of children and even to consider alternatives to detention. If the State does not provide alternatives to detention, the State must provide for the special needs of children being brought into detention facilities with the mothers and for the special needs of pregnant women. States need to take steps to ensure that nursing mothers have what they need, including that their dietary needs are adhered to.

The next presentation was made by Police Commissioner Nènè Amy Ouedraogo of the Burkina Faso Police Service who spoke about the experience of women police officers and on the added value of having women in the police service. Having women as police officers is, when compared to the long story of law enforcement, something quite recent.

Women in police services add considerable value and enable the police to respect and protect the rights of women:

·         Certain procedures can only rightfully be done by women officers; for example, women must only be searched by other women.

·         When women are in police custody, their rights are sometimes violated by the police. It is very seldom, however, that women officers are involved in serious violations of women’s rights. In this way, women officers can also help change the attitude of police more generally, including the attitude of male police officers.

·         It tends to be easier for women detainees to express their needs, in particular their most intimate needs, to female officers; this helps safeguard the rights of women detainees.

·         When women do police work, they tend to use their intuition, including to read the situation. This is an important asset when interrogating persons of interest, victims and witnesses and when investigating cases in general. With respect to cases involving gender issues, such as cases of family violence and other types of violence against women, sexual abuse of women and the much rarer cases of women who have killed their husband, often due to repeated abuse, it is particularly beneficial for women to take the lead.

Regrettably, there are too few women officers available to ensure that they are involved in all circumstances where this is appropriate or beneficial, such as when women are searched. Similarly, there are, in many cases, not enough cells especially for women.

State should prioritise the recruitment of women officers. However, it is not enough to recruit more women into the police service; the police services should also take steps to ensure that women have access to training and mentoring to ensure their promotion to positions with decision-making powers. In such positions, women officers can be spokespersons for the rights of women, in particular of women in custody, and help to ensure the provision of facilities necessary for women detainees.

Hon. Commissioner Maya Sahli Fadel noted that it is important to recognise that being police officer is not only for men. There is a need to mobilise more women to be police officers as this is important for the social and psychological situation of detainees and for others in contact with police.

The Policing and Human Rights Focal Point at the Secretariat, Josiane Somdata Tapsoba, proceeded to present the 8th African Newsletter on Policing and Human Rights. The 8th Newsletter also celebrates 2016 as the Africa Year of Human Rights with Particular Focus on the Rights of Women in line with the African Union designation. Thus, the Newsletter contains articles by police women, explaining their experiences and challenges working in the police and how they do a difference with relation to women victims, detainees, etc.

The Newsletter also includes other articles, such as an outline of the Lay Visitors’ Scheme in Malawi, a scheme aimed at promoting the implementation of the Guidelines and Measures for the Prohibition and Prevention of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment in Africa (Robben Guidelines) and the Guidelines on the Conditions of Arrest, Police Custody and Pre-trial Detention in Africa (Luanda Guidelines). The Newsletter also contains an article by the director of the police school of Niger on the gaps between the principles in the Luanda Guidelines and the reality on the ground. In line with earlier editions of the Newsletter, it contains an overview of the steps taken by the Commission relating to policing and human rights since the 7th Newsletter. Josiane Somdata Tapsoba strongly encouraged the participants to read the Newsletter as it is a unique opportunity to get some inside information on women’s experience working in the police in Africa.

The 8th Newsletter was handed out to the participants. It will also be made available on the website of the Commission.

II/ Interactive dialogue with the participants

Following the panellists presentations, Hon. Commissioner Maya Sahli Fadel gave the floor to the participants for the interactive discussion.

During the discussion, the following comments and inputs were made:

·         The presence of women within the Police Services is surely an important added value; a diverse police service helps to secure human rights for women and girls;

·         States must take steps to ensure that women police officers are given posts of responsibility so that they can effect change, based on their knowledge and experience. A woman police officer better understands when a woman comes to report rape; a man might be sensitive and understanding but a woman is in most cases better. Women are also more understanding of issues relating to sanitary pads and other hygiene needs;

·         Female police officers are doing quite a lot in Malawi, not least as investigators, where women police officers have made breakthroughs in important cases. Malawi is currently trying to improve cells for women detainees. As for children, according to the law they should not be placed in prison but rather in rehabilitation centre;

·         Liberia has a programme to recruit more women police officers (17.4% female are in the Liberia National Police Force). With regards to prisons in Liberia, women are not kept in the ordinary sections but in special sections for women and children. The Ministry of Justice of Liberia is currently working towards visiting places of detention to look at the conditions and make video recordings of the situation in prisons and police stations to be used to improve the situation and raise funds;

·         Even though more men than women commit crimes, there are more women than men in Africa and, thus, a need for women to take care of women;

·         The present police in Africa was inherited from the colonial powers; prior to that, Africa had its own way of law enforcement. In some ways it seems as if police in Africa are still adhering to the old values and ways of doing things inherited from the colonial powers whereas police in Europe has moved on. There is a need for a new way of thinking, e.g. sensitising police that demonstrators are not enemies of the State which is a view inherited from the colonisers as at that time protestors were seen as enemies that will destroy the colonial administration;

·         Africa must develop its own codes on how to treat women with children and these children when in custody; the rights of children must be taken better into account and be better researched, all in light of African values;

·         Sudan has had women police officers since 1960s, now women officers have even reached the rank of general;

·         There is a need to look at the dress code for police officers rather than continue to use European style of dress which is too hot in some parts of Africa. A dress code must be found that fits the values and climate of Africa and African values;

·         The Uganda Human Rights Commission welcomes the Luanda Guidelines; the Ugandan State and the Ugandan Human Rights Commission are realizing the importance of the Luanda Guidelines in terms of promotion and protection of the rights of inmates and are trying to take steps to ensure that the Luanda Guidelines are incorporated and implemented in the Country;

·         Women inmates face more challenges than men. An example is the need for sanitary pads or towels; women inmates really struggle, there is still no law and policy in Uganda addressing this issue, and prisons say that they have no budget for such items. Budget lines are also needed to take care of inmates that are pregnant as prisons have no facilities for pre- and antenatal care and for giving birth; there have been cases of miscarriages. The detention facilities for women are sometimes overcrowded and this greatly affects women conditions;

·         In order to ensure that human rights are protected, the Uganda Human Rights Commission trains police and prison officers in human rights and does unannounced visits to police stations and prisons;

·         It is not enough to ensure that women are employed as police and prison officers; it is also important to make sure that women police and prison officers are not discriminated against and that they are given senior responsibilities which can enable them to significantly influence change based on their knowledge. Women are sometime seen as weak, leading to women police and prison officers being given less attractive jobs, less promotion etc.;

·         There is a need to implement the Luanda Guidelines, not least as they relate to the rights of women with children and of children coming into prison with their mothers. Under Kenya law, the mothers may have their children up to the age of 4 years with them in prison but the regulations contains no specific provisions on the rights of such children. It is necessary to take steps to protect children who are with their mothers in prison as such young children live in deplorable conditions with inadequate diet and being exposed to the humiliating scenes that their mothers are subjected to, such as collective punishments and inhumane searches. The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights works on these issues, e.g. by visiting prisons;

·         The Rwanda Commission of Human Rights uses the Luanda Guidelines when visiting prisons. In Rwanda, women detainees are kept separate from men and have their own prisons. Children can only stay with their mother in prison until the age of three after which they must be sent to other family outside of prison. The Rwanda Commission on Human Rights has done an examination of women put in prison for abortion and the relevant laws are being revised;

·         The national departments of health and/or of education must step in to help fill budgetary deficits to cater for the special needs of women and children in pre-trial detention. This alternative has been tried in the Republic of Guinea;

·         Mauritania does have women police officers and that they do add value. However, women officers must also be placed in decision-making positions and they must be trained in human rights. Women officers can help to improve the relationship between police and society, and to reduce tensions between civil society and police while promoting dialogue, especially relating to women;

·         Women police officers are particularly important in situations of conflicts where they can help prevent rape and other forms of abuse, and gather evidence as victims tend to be more comfortable speaking to a female officer. Therefore, it is important that women are part of peacekeeping missions. The relevant African Union organs should be encouraged to ensure, for example through the system of quota, that women officers are represented in peacekeeping missions and play a role in terms of prevention, intervention and provision of assistance for women victims.

The discussion also raised the following questions:

·          What does the police do with women suspects in police stations when there are no provisions for detaining women suspects? Where are such detainees kept? Or are they maybe not detained at all?

·         Does the African Union have a policy for the percentage of women officers that a national police service should have? Will the African Union come up with specific quota to ensure that women are well represented in the police services of the Member States?

·         Whereas police officers tend to understand the reasons for keeping women with children and pregnant women out of custody, lower level magistrates tend not to appreciate the challenges associated with such detention. Therefore, will it not be useful to synergise work done to train police on human rights with training of lower level magistrates?

Following the comments and questions from the floor, Hon. Commissioner Maya Sahli Fadel invited the panellists to provide additional comments or responses they may have.

Melody Kozah thanked the participants for the many comments. She emphasised that the Luanda Guidelines help to reinforce the rights already contained in the African Charter, such as the right to dignity (which then translates, for example, to the obligation to provide sanitary towels to women detainees). The Luanda Guidelines specifically highlight the preference for alternatives to detention for pregnant women and mothers with small children. She noted that a number of countries have established special crèches for children that are accompanying their mothers to prison, but that it remains a preference to provide alternatives to detention.

Commissioner Nènè Amy Ouedraogo similarly thanked participants for the comments. In reply to the question on what to do with a woman suspect in the absence of space for custody specifically for women, Commissioner Nènè Amy Ouedraogo used the example of Burkina Faso and indicated that in such cases, the police contact the prosecutor’s office and inform them about this issue. The prosecutor must then provide guidance, e.g. if the woman could be release on surety. If custody cannot be avoided, the police officers will try their best to find a solution, as no officer will put women detainees in the same cell as males. A solution, for example, could be to place the woman in an office at the police station. In sum, she highlighted that the officers are trying to respect as much as possible, the provisions of the Luanda Guidelines with the available means on ground.

With regards to the proposal to have quotas for female officers, Commissioner Nènè Amy Ouedraogo indicated that in Burkina Faso approximately 750 assistants’ police officers are recruited every year among which 50 women are recruited; even though this is small percentage, she thinks it is already a good start. For the management level positions, there is no minimum women number or quota required. Women help change the mind-set of the whole institution.

To improve respect of women’s rights, the National Police School of Burkina Faso gives an important place to the training of police officers in human rights, including by the development of practical training tools, such as training manuals for the trainers, training guides and pocket guides for police officers.

With respect to uniforms, in Burkina Faso Police, the reflexion is ongoing to consider the specific needs of women in certain situation such as pregnant female officers.

It would be welcome to look at synergies between training for police officers and for lower level magistrates. In this light, Commissioner Nènè Amy Ouedraogo particularly advocated for sensitising judicial officers to use flexible measures for small thefts rather than treating the theft of a biscuit in the same way as the theft of a car; it is shocking to see a woman sent to prison for stealing a biscuit in a time of need.

In relating to the issue of quotas for women officers, Josiane Somdata Tapsoba referred to Art. 8 (e) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol) which provides the principle that States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that women are represented equally in law enforcement organs.

In his closing remarks, Hon. Commissioner Kaggwa mentioned that the panellists had responded to most of the issues raised by participants. He indicated that from his experience from Uganda, he was aware of cases of male officers harassing women officers and also using their power to “punish” women officers, e.g. by sending them to the rural areas. Hon. Commissioner Kaggwa emphasised that it is important to keep in mind that women police officers are competent, not only as investigators, meaning that there is no reason why women police officers should not be able to rise in the ranks. In this respect, Hon. Commissioner Kaggwa was pleased to hear about police women in Sudan achieving the rank of general but mentioned that during a recent meeting with the highest echelon of the Sudan police he had not met any women. Hon. Commissioner Kaggwa indicated that it is important that women are not appointed for show. He welcomed the idea of training magistrates and police officers together and having female officers in peacekeeping missions. In the view of Hon. Commissioner Kaggwa, it is not for the African Union to set a particular quotas; this must be a national issue the same way quotas are established in others matters at the national level.

Finally, Hon. Commissioner Kaggwa thanked his Colleague Hon. Commissioner Maya Sahli Fadel for facilitating the event, the panellists for their important statements, the participants and the partners of his Special Mechanism, APCOF and DIHR and Josiane Somdata Tapsoba.