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The NAM representatives and foreign experts discuss police reform in Belarus

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The National Anti-Crisis Management Office held a press conference on the NAM’s internal affairs reform project. The authors of the project presented its key provisions and foreign experts spoke about the experience of transformation and work of the MIA in other countries and its application in the realities of Belarus.


The head of the NAM, Pavel Latushka, justified the need for police reform: "One of the serious problems in our society is the problem of the future functioning of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which has become a punitive rather than a law enforcement body. The illegitimate authorities have de facto given the police a licence to use violence and murder. What’s more, in the coming days all this will have a legal basis. If you have a police card in your pocket you will be able to kill and rape with impunity. Do we want such "protectors"? That is why we need reform. This opinion is supported by the public as well as by adequate MIA officers".

The main goal of the reform is to create a socially-oriented service aimed solely at protecting citizens, independent of state authorities. And one of the tools to achieve this goal is public control over the work of the MIA.

"The cure for the virus of dictatorship is public scrutiny. Society should decide who is worthy of serving in the police and who is not. Decide on complaints against employees. Keep an eye on the weapons procured, the number of police units. To point out, in the form of a free media outlet, gaps in the work of officials or violations of the law by officers. The public should have real mechanisms to remove any official from office. Such mechanisms of public control will be introduced everywhere in the New Belarus police", — said Svetlana Hilko, head of the NAM working group on the reform of the MIA, retired captain of justice, former investigator of the Investigative Committee of Belarus.

The authors also propose a decentralisation of the MIA, greatly expanding the powers of officers in the field and fundamentally changing the principles of interaction between the "top" and "bottom" in the power structures. Konstantin Hilko, ex-captain of criminal investigation of the MIA of Belarus, explained: " "We propose that the chain of command, headed by the ministry, should be turned upside down, making all district police departments in charge, not just one central apparatus. The regional and republican branches of the MIA would be given the functions of supporting, assisting and backing up the district departments. Decisions about the performance of the police and its evaluation will be made by people living on the ground and directly related to it. The local police will report to the local community and will be accountable to the residents of the district.

Director of the Ukrainian Centre for Sociology of Law and Criminology Serhiy Baglay said that the main indicator of the effectiveness of reform and police work should be feedback from citizens and warned against mistakes of Ukraine: "We, like in many other European countries, have introduced into the law on the National Police the trust of the population as the main criterion for evaluating the police work. But the reform in Ukraine began in 2014, the law on the National Police, which prescribes this provision, was adopted in 2015, and the first survey only took place in 2019. In addition, a different methodology was used in 2020, so it was difficult to see the dynamics. The lesson learned from this experience is that a mechanism for conducting such surveys should be thought about from the first days of the reform.

Khatia Dekanoidze
Khatia Dekanoidze

In her turn, Georgian MP Khatia Dekanoidze, who has been involved in MIA work and reforms in Georgia and Ukraine at the highest level, stressed the importance of a wide range of transformations and political will. In her view, it is not enough to change the image, form and grassroots composition of the officers, or to prepare a good law or draft. Full reform implies, among other things, replacement of management, revision of the training and recruitment system, and its success depends to a large extent on decisive action by the authorities and the ability of the authorities to resist the temptation to pursue their own interests with police resources.

Erika Marat
Erika Marat

Erika Marat, chair of the Department of Regional and Analytical Studies at the National Security and Counterterrorism Institute (USA), also called attention to the need for a comprehensive approach. "Police reform should take place in tandem with reforms in other agencies. There should be constant inter-agency coordination between the MIA and other government agencies. If there are no accompanying reforms, such as the prosecutor’s office or the health care system, police reform will be delayed. In addition, it is already necessary to create a platform for communication between the MIA and civil society," the expert believes.

Nicholas Pelman, Professor of Political Science at Lehman College (USA), also spoke at the press conference, analysing the Ukrainian experience of the MIA transformation. Among his main recommendations for Belarus based on the example of the neighbouring country: to ensure active participation of civil society at all stages of the reform without exception and to prevent the influence of political and any other groups on the police.

The NAM has already received hundreds of suggestions and feedback on the reform from citizens and MIA officers. On their basis, the working group will improve the draft and then present it for another round of public discussion. The authors will then conduct an audit of the current legislation to develop the necessary amendments and regulations to implement the reform ideas.

The NAM’s project on police reform was developed by people with experience in senior positions in various law enforcement structures in Belarus: from the Investigative Committee and the riot police to the departments for fighting economic crime and the Academy of the MIA. The authors have also consulted practicing lawyers and professors, as well as Belarusian and international human rights and other civil society organisations. You can read the text of the NAM’s project on police reform and leave your feedback on it at Strazhi.com.

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