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UN Committee condemns use of force by Belgium’s police

The blood-stained police cell after Jozef Chovanec was taken to hospital. where he died later.

The United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) has issued a report condemning the lack of controls on the excessive use of force by Belgium’s police.

Belgium was the latest state signatory to the Convention to undergo a routine examination.

The CAT showed particular concern over police force, in the cases of several young men who have died recently in police custody (the most recent in Schaerbeek in Brussels on Thursday). So far there has been no formal conclusion that police force was behind the deaths.

The report also makes specific reference to the case of Jozef Chovanec, the Slovak who died after heavy-handed treatment by police at Charleroi Airport in February 2018.

The Committee also highlighted instances where disproportionate force was used to control crowds, for example, during unauthorized protests against COVID-19 restrictions in April and May this year,” a spokesperson said.

It voiced concern at what it described as the excessive use of weapons to disperse demonstrations, such as tear gas, batons and water cannons. The Committee also questioned the effectiveness of investigations by oversight bodies on illegitimate use of force, the low conviction figures and criminal penalties, as well as the very high rate of suspension of sentence.”

Earlier this year, the federal agency Unia, which oversees the implementation of anti-discrimination legislation in Belgium, issued its own report on the situation to submit to CAT.

The Unia report listed problems including the lack of reliable and centralised data on allegations of police violence, refoulement or deportation of foreigners despite the risk of torture and ill-treatment, and persistent shortcomings in the care of internees.”

Those points were also taken into consideration by CAT.

The Committee was concerned about prison overcrowding and prison conditions, including the dilapidated state of at least six prisons, inadequate showers and toilets, and lack of hygiene leading, in some cases, to infestations of cockroaches and rats.”

Overcrowding in European prisons remains a problem in one fourth of the prison administrations in the countries belonging to the Council of Europe. The Council has issued recommendations on good prison standards – the European Prison and Probation Rules.

The report also lamented the ruling of the Constitutional Court in February upholding the policy of detaining asylum seekers at the Belgian border. And it repeated Unia’s concern at the refoulement of asylum seekers – turning them away and sending them home despite the risk they will be subjected to ill-treatment, torture or worse.

CAT has now given the Belgian government one year to deliver its responses to the report, including changes that have been made.

The massive report was issued in Geneva on Friday. The government being in recess, an official response is not likely in the near future.