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Why Prioritizing the Enforcement of Law Over Upholding the Law Can Harm Human Rights – by Sarah Robinson

Recently, a video of a senior Johannesburg Metro Police Department official speaking to his members has been circulating on social media. Whilst this article will not go into the detail of what was said, it is concerning that the official’s remarks sent a dangerous message to the department’s members that they do not have to abide by the law to enforce it. This raises the important question of what impact prioritising law enforcement over upholding the law has on human rights.

To answer this question, it is necessary to examine what the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 says about law enforcement. Section 205 of the Constitution outlines the principles and guidelines that govern law enforcement in the country. It establishes a national police service and emphasises the importance of the police service being accountable to the community it serves. Additionally, the Constitution underscores the importance of respecting and promoting human rights in all law enforcement activities.

When law enforcement agencies prioritise enforcing the law over upholding it, there can be a significant negative impact on human rights. In such a scenario, law enforcement officials may resort to arbitrary arrests, detentions, and the use of excessive force in their efforts to enforce the law. This can lead to violations of human rights such as the right to life, freedom and security of person, freedom of expression and association, and the right to a fair trial. Furthermore, prioritising enforcement of the law over upholding it can create an environment of fear and insecurity, which can further undermine the protection of human rights.

Moreover, prioritising enforcement over upholding the law may result in a culture of impunity, where law enforcement officials are not held accountable for their actions. This can lead to a lack of trust in the justice system and further violations of human rights, as people may be hesitant to report crimes or seek justice. Furthermore, prioritising enforcement over upholding the law can have a disproportionate impact on vulnerable communities, such as those living in poverty, people of color, and LGBTQ+ individuals, who may be targeted by law enforcement officials, leading to violations of their rights and discrimination.

It is crucial to ensure that the rights of all individuals are protected and upheld in the justice system. Therefore, it is necessary to prioritise upholding the law over enforcing it and to ensure that law enforcement officials are accountable to the community they serve. This will help prevent human rights violations, build trust in the justice system, and create a safer and more just society for all.

Photo by Mikhail Pavstyuk on Unsplash