Amnesty urges police force reforms in the Dominican Republic
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic, Wednesday October 26, 2011 – Amnesty International has called for authorities in the Dominican Republic to undertake urgent reforms of its police force to tackle “alarming levels” of killings and torture.
The human rights group said information from the Office of the Prosecutor General indicates that 154 people were killed by police during the first seven months of this year in comparison to 125 over the same period in 2010.
It said last year’s figure represents 10 per cent of all murders recorded for the period.
In a report released Tuesday, the group documents scores of cases of killings, torture and ill-treatment at the hands of police, and a lack of effective investigations.
“Authorities must ensure those responsible for the killings and torture face justice and that steps are taken to change the policies and practices that allow these abuses to take place,” said Javier Zúñiga, Head of Amnesty International’s delegation in the Dominican Republic.
“The official view continues to be that human rights violations are committed by a few corrupt or unprofessional officers who are swiftly dealt with and held accountable but the reality paints a very different picture.”
According to the group, the vast majority of the fatal shootings were described by the police as “exchanges of gunfire” with criminal suspects. However, it pointed out, in many cases, forensic tests support the allegations that police officers deliberately shot to kill.
The report also warned that police killings of young people could be taking place as a deterrent.
“Police killings should not become the way to solve the problem of repeat offenders and warn young people against crime,” Zúñiga said.
Amnesty stated that criminal suspects have been threatened with death while in police custody, have been beaten and denied food, water and essential medicines.
It said too that some have had plastic bags put over their heads and were hung from bars or nails by their handcuffs.
“The system for investigations of police abuse in the Dominican Republic is disorganised and lack proper procedures to handle complaints of human rights violations by the police,” the head of the local delegation explained.
“Whether a police officer faces justice for a killing or torture depends largely on whether the victim or their family lodges an official complaint, the level of publicity a case attracts and the political pressure exerted on prosecutors.
“We acknowledge that police officers usually face serious dangers while doing their jobs. However, we believe that their conduct is actually exacerbating the violence and creating a climate in which human rights are completely ignored.”
Police spokesman Maximo Baez has said that 156 officers have been charged since August 2010.