Myanmar: proposed Rakhine ‘civilian police force’ a recipe for disaster

by | Nov 4, 2016 | News

The Myanmar government’s recently announced plan to enlist civilians as a ‘regional police force’ in Myanmar’s troubled northern Rakhine State is likely to aggravate an already dire human rights situation, warned the ICJ today.

“In a country where the regular police and military are notorious for grave human rights violations, it’s difficult to extend the benefit of the doubt to poorly trained civilians,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia Director.

“Establishing an armed, untrained, unaccountable force drawn from only one community in the midst of serious ethnic tensions and violence is a recipe for disaster,” he added.

Over the last month the region has experienced increased tension and violence including attacks on border police and allegations of human rights violations by security forces, including attacks on Rohingya villages and sexual assaults.

Humanitarian assistance and independent monitors, including the media, remain severely restricted in the area.

The Rakhine State police are recruiting civilians for the force along ethnic and religious lines, officially excluding Rakhine state’s Muslims, most of whom belong to the area’s persecuted Rohingya community.

Recruits will reportedly be armed and paid by the border police after undergoing abbreviated training.

The ICJ considers that a civilian regional police force necessarily lacks the adequate training and oversight to perform policing functions in accordance with human rights and professional standards on policing.

Moreover, there does not appear to be an appropriate accountability mechanism in place to deal with instances of misconduct and human rights abuses, the ICJ says.

Such a ‘regional police force’ will be dangerously under qualified and prone to committing human rights violations, especially as they will answer to the military rather than civilian government, the Geneva-based organization adds.

According to the ICJ, if a new security authority is contemplated, it must be a professional police force, whose members are recruited and trained in accordance with principles of non-discrimination and respect for human rights.

Police must also be accountable to the law and subject to administrative and judicial oversight.

The ICJ calls on the governments to establish and enforce effective reporting and review procedures for all incidents involving the use of force.

The government and police must ensure the following accountability measures are in place:

  • Police are not deployed without comprehensive training on duties including restrictions on use of force and human rights obligations;
  • An effective process to review the use of force, conducted by independent administrative or prosecutorial authorities is available;
  • Access to an independent judicial process for persons affected by the use of force (including dependents) or their legal representatives, which is capable of providing for effective remedy and reparation for any abuses;
  • Superior officers must be held responsible if they know, or should have known, that law enforcement officials under their command are using force without taking all measures in their power to prevent, suppress or report such use.

Accountability and oversight is essential to protect human rights and prevent escalation of conflict: a new force should not be raised without these guarantees, the ICJ says.


Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Regional Director for Asia & Pacific, t: +66807819002


Under international law, any body authorized by the State to perform security functions and use force, including lethal force, must respect human rights in performing their functions.

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms set standards on the qualifications and the training of Law Enforcement Officials.

These Principles also provide standards on the use of force consistent with protecting the right to life.

Under the Principles, all law enforcement officials must receive continuous and thorough professional training, subject to periodic review. They must be screened and selected to ensure they have appropriate moral, psychological and physical qualities for the effective exercise of their functions.

Training must include appropriate guidance on the use of force with special requirements to carry firearms.

It must focus on issues of police ethics and human rights, especially in the investigative process, to alternatives to the use of force and firearms, including the peaceful settlement of conflicts, with a view to limiting the use of force and firearms.

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