In recent years, the alleged excessive display of power by officers through the use of physical force against non-opposing persons and the public display of special measures used against them has raised considerable public concern. However, the seriousness of the situation has been revealed by the data of the Prosecutor General’s Office, which shows that even though the number of complaints about alleged excessive use of physical violence by officers is high, it is difficult to investigate such cases due to the misuse or non-use of technical video recorders by officers.
In his report, the Seimas Ombudsman paid great attention to the provisions of the Convoy Rules that were interpreted differently during the practice of officers, when convoying detainees the officers used handcuffs, physical and psychological violence even in those cases when the detainee did not oppose or raise danger and complied with lawful instructions or demands of the officer.
“By systemic evaluation of provisions of the legislation of the Republic of Lithuania special measures such as handcuffs, means of detention or restraint, may be used by the officials even in the case when there is no imminent danger; however, only when the person does not comply with the officer’s lawful instructions or requirements or otherwise opposes the officer. In addition, physical abuse can only be applied after warning of the intention to use physical abuse and allowing a person to fulfill the legitimate requirements of an officer,” observes Augustinas Normantas, Head of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office.
When the Police Department expressed its opinion that under the conditions set out in the Convoy Rules there was an imperative duty for officers to use handcuffs or means of restraint, the Seimas Ombudsman noted that such an interpretation of the provisions was incompatible with the state’s international human rights obligations, since it is the obligation of the police officer to use any coercion only in cases of official necessity.
Another problem that the Seimas Ombudsman identified as a particularly sensitive issue is the emerging practice of denying the presumption of innocence when suspects or accused persons are presented as guilty in court or in public, disproportionately using means of physical restraint. In his report, the Seimas Ombudsman notes that the Constitutional Court has emphasized that the presumption of innocence is one of the most important guarantees of implementation of justice in a democratic state under the rule of law. Moreover, it is an integral guarantee of human rights and freedoms.
“The public handcuffing of a person in the presence of others without any evidence that he or she raised danger or opposed shall be considered an act equating to degrading treatment. It is also noteworthy that the use of handcuffs in practice must in no way take the form of a demonstration of power or public display of the handcuffed person. In all cases, the use of physical restraint against a suspected or accused person who does not oppose to officers is not compatible with international human rights standards,” adds the Seimas Ombudsman.
The report also points out that international human rights standards recommend that officers record and report on the use of coercion in their activities; however, the findings show that there is still a problem of non-use, misuse, and non-availability of technical video recorders at a time when officers are using violence against individuals. According to the Seimas Ombudsman, such practice of law enforcement officers creates preconditions for the risk of human rights violations.
At the end of the report, the Seimas Ombudsman draws the attention of the Minister of Justice Elvinas Jankevičius and the Minister of the Interior Rita Tamašunienė to the need to change the Convoy Rules so as to ensure that the officers, in exercising their right to use special measures, do not exceed their powers. Also, the Seimas Ombudsman drew the attention of the Minister of Justice to the exceptional need to ensure proper transfer of the presumption of innocence into national law in order to prevent suspects and accused persons from being shown at court or in public as guilty by publicly using means of physical restraint against them.
The Seimas Ombudsmen protect a person‘s right to good public administration securing human rights and freedoms, and supervise fulfilment by state authorities of their duty to properly serve the people. The Seimas Ombudsmen also conduct national prevention of torture in places of deprivation of liberty in accordance with the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office is a national human rights institution accredited by the United Nations.