Human Rights Watch (HRW) has collected information on 26 incidents in which Belgian federal and local police appear to have acted in an abusive and discriminatory manner in anti-terrorist operations following the attacks perpetrated in Paris and Brussels in November 2015 and March 2016 respectively. The incidents, reported by HRW in a report published on Friday on Belgium’s counterterror responses to the attacks, included threats, insults against Muslims and Arabs, and brutality.
Ten of the cases were linked to allegations of excessive force, including four cases of beatings while in detention. All the victims but one were Muslims and all except two were of North African origin, HRW reported.
The international human rights NGO highlighted the case of Fayçal Cheffou, wrongly suspected of being the “man in the hat” who had been wanted after the March 22 attack in Brussels. Cheffou, who was held for four days, recalled an incident in which a group of police officers threw him to the ground, stripped him of his clothing and beat him while calling him a “dirty Jihadist”.
Another man interviewed by HRW, identified as Rachid, was arrested in his home in a case of mistaken identity. The officers forced their way into his apartment, then took him to a police station where he said he was beaten and called a “dirty Arab” and “dirty terrorist”.
The association also reported the case of Zouzou Ben Chikha, a Flemish actor, who said he had been riding a bicycle when police insulted him and forced him to take off his shoes in the pouring rain, during a control operation in Ghent.
“All the people interviewed said they had lost all confidence in the police because of the treatment they received,” said HRW researcher Letta Tayler, who authored the report.
“With 26 incidents, Human Rights Watch is not able to determine whether this is a general trend within the police,” she added, “But it is perceived as such in some minority communities. We feel that people’s perception is very important because it builds walls between the communities in a society.”
The NGO called for measures to be taken to guarantee the impartiality of the Comité P, the permanent committee that monitors the police services and some of whose investigators are ex-police officers.
The Belgian authorities should ensure that its investigating team can conduct impartial investigations and enjoys the confidence of people who have made complaints, the NGO said in its report.
It also asked the government to publish the results of its report on ethnic profiling by the police.