21 January 2021
The MYPOL project has had to adapt to the outbreak of COVID-19 and the current situation in Myanmar in order to continue promoting the reform of its police force. María José Urgel, FIIAPP’s project coordinator, offers us an overview of MYPOL and the reassessment of its aims and activities.
MYPOL is a FIIAPP-led European delegated cooperation project tasked with providing support to the Myanmar Police, offering a preventive and effective service and respecting international standards, human rights and gender awareness.
In order to achieve this ambitious goal, two offices have been set up in the country, one in Yangon and one in Nay Pyi Taw. From the field and in coordination with the FIIAPP headquarters in Madrid, we have focused on several areas of police intervention: improvements to criminal investigation and crowd management, modernisation of human resources and professional training, improved accountability and legal frameworks and ensuring a closer relationship between the police, civil society and the media.
For a little over a year and a half, FIIAPP has also incorporated a gender perspective in MYPOL. Today, it has a gender strategy and a women, peace and security programme in place, mainstreaming gender in the five areas of intervention and implementing the entire strategy at the institutional level.
Four partner cooperation agencies cooperate on the project– NICO from Northern Ireland, GIZ from Germany, DCAF from Switzerland and CIVIPOL from France – who pass on specific technical knowledge to the Myanmar police with a main focus on training, preparation of procedural guides and protocols and awareness-raising activities.
The exchange between public administrations, a fundamental characteristic of FIIAPP, is provided by the Spanish National Police, which heads up the mass management area.
In order to understand the context of MYPOL, the country’s history should be taken into account. Much of the current situation has been shaped by long years of military dictatorship, a protracted civil war with various ethnic groups coexisting which is still to be resolved and big social and cultural barriers that hinder the equality sought for women. There is also significant poverty that has been accentuated by Myanmar’s internal conflicts.
Since 2011, the country has been transitioning towards democracy, a process that has yet to be consolidated. In recent years, ethnic tension in the north of Rakhine state, better known as the Rohingya crisis (the Rohingya being a Muslim minority in a predominantly Buddhist country), has seen a dramatic increase in violence in the area, adding to tensions between the international community and Myanmar.
COVID-19 and the initial underestimation of its impact took us by surprise, representing an additional challenge. Within a few months, many of the training activities had to be temporarily suspended due to restrictions imposed by the government. This also affected the joint dialogues between the representatives of MYPOL, the police and the authorities.
In addition, in recent months, the MYPOL project has had to work within a complex political climate prior to the elections held in Myanmar last November, with mobility restrictions due to COVID-19 and continued violence in some areas of the country.
Nevertheless, the ability to adapt to change and the creativity employed by the entire team in order to adjust the strategy for MYPOL has ensured that the implementation of our activities represents an important contribution to the country, without losing sight of the project’s initial objectives. After a great deal of internal reflection, the decision was made to focus efforts on the following areas, among others:
– The strengthening of our capacity within MYPOL in gender matters, seeking to ensure that the experts who lead the different thematic areas of the project identify the most important gender aspects on which to work and measure their impact. As part of this institutional reinforcement, we have implemented our own sexual harassment and discrimination policy which is mandatory for all MYPOL personnel and which has been accompanied by a series of awareness-raising courses.
– The preparation of information brochures and the consolidation of police action coronavirus protocols which have been distributed throughout the capital.
– The provision of virtual workshops to replace face-to-face activities.
– The preparation of election orientation guides for police trainers that have focused further on the protection of freedoms and human rights, respect for the media and the provision of a safe environment, especially for women.
– The preparation of forensic action manuals and protocols to apply gender perspectives in police interviews. Guidelines have been drawn up regarding police arrest, following international security and human rights standards.
– The creation of new bodies in MYPOL, including the Critical Incidental Management Team which is responsible for analysing the COVID-19 situation in the country and its impact on the evolution of the project.
– The renovation of police unit training facilities and the provision of the equipment required to carry out criminal investigations correctly.
As part of this drive to adapt to change, we have kept two elements very much in mind – the importance of establishing local alliances and the need to strengthen relationships with our four partners.
Local alliances have helped us understand the consequences of all these changing circumstances. We have increased the number of national advisers and advisers specialising in police and gender matters as well as strengthening our alliances with civil society, especially with women’s organisations that have worked on gender awareness within the police for many years.
Strengthening relationships with our counterparts has helped us to better understand how the different approaches and specialist areas of our partners can be used in a more strategic way in the face of the current situation.
FIIAPP has taken advantage of all the opportunities for improvement that have presented themselves, even in the most difficult moments for the project. We have learned that taking advantage of difficulties has helped us to learn lessons from the social change processes undertaken and identify our achievements, limitations and potential in order to improve our work, this being an area we will continue to be committed to.
María José Urgel, coordinator of the FIIAPP MYPOL project
21 July 2020
In this post, Chilean National Defender, Andrés Mahnke, talks about the progress made in Chile's criminal defence with the EUROsociAL+ project
The so-called “social outcry” started in Chile on 18 October 2019 and transformed the country’s agenda, not only because its citizens demanded it, and because it exposed the activities of public institutions which now, more than ever, were struggling to cope with hitherto unseen scenarios stemming from the demonstrations.
The Chilean social outcry attracted international interest, since it included loss of life and hundreds of people with ocular mutilation, numerous complaints of serious human rights violations, and destruction of public and private infrastructures, among other consequences. As a result, the country received visits from representatives of several international human rights organisations, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
In all these areas, Chilean justice and its actors had to take action, monitored by the justice system and the close scrutiny of an empowered citizenry and the international community. In this context, a series of adjustments and learnings took place, which started to become visible during the first quarter of 2020, and which had their acid test during March of this year.
However, this story had an unexpected twist, which dominated all scenarios and modified all agendas: the SARS-CoV2 Coronavirus, which causes the disease known as Covid19 . A few weeks after the disease reared its head in Chile, it forced a change to the electoral calendar for the beginning of the constitutional process and caused something which was unthinkable just weeks earlier: the end of mass social protest in public spaces. People went home and the streets were empty, in the same way as happened almost all over the world.
But reflection on the changes to the justice system and the lessons learned from the ‘outbreak’ must not stop. In fact, they have become even more essential to resume the fluidity of public activity when the health emergency ends. Nor does the outcry seem to have disappeared, rather it has been put on hold with a few resurgences due to the lack of food during the quarantine. Everything suggests the social and economic impact of the pandemic will exacerbate existing inequalities. Therefore, this period has been an opportunity to integrate our learning and anticipate future scenarios.
In the social protest scenario, one indirect effect was connected to the work of the different actors in the criminal system facing an unprecedented challenge in terms of coverage and operational capacity, because of the notable increase in the number of people detained and processed.
Between 18 October and 13 November 2019, the Chilean Public Criminal Defender’s Office – a public institution that guarantees the right to defence and which is made up of 722 officials and 524 external providers – attended to 20,645 people under arrest, an increase of 25.4% compared to the same period of the previous year.
These increases, however, were even greater during the initial days of the crisis. Between 20 and 28 October, a period during which much of Chile was under a “state of constitutional exception”, the institution registered 10,712 defendants undergoing detention reviews, representing an increase of 70% compared to the same period in 2018. Furthermore, whereas on average there are between 600 and 650 daily detention reviews in the country, at that time they increased to 1,100 daily hearings, reaching a peak of 2,508 detention reviews on 21 October.
Beyond this work, an initial conclusion showed that an indeterminate number of detainees were not assisted by public defenders, either because the Public Ministry had decided not to transfer them to detention review, or because the police did not report that they had been arrested. This meant that there was no jurisdictional control of these activities and there were no records.
This triggered a contingency plan in Public Defence to attend to people detained in the police units, because by institutional design, defenders are in contact with the detainee just before the detention review hearing before the supervisory judge. Although public defenders set up informal service centres in police stations and other police detention facilities, this gave direct coverage to only 105 of the 900 police stations in the country.
This gap need to be filled urgently, since numerous people’s rights have been violated, as described in reports from the human rights organisations who visited the country.
Institutionally, the Chilean Public Criminal Defender’s Office activated different measures, such as strengthening the dissemination of rights , coordinating with the rest of the actors in the system, and opening channels for collaboration with the police, among others.
However, the main initiative that followed the period of social crisis in Chile stemmed from the support lent by EUROsociAL+, European Union programme managed by the FIIAPP, whose specialists are currently collaborating with Public Defenders to prepare a ‘Criminal defence protocol for the initial hours following arrest‘.
Its main objective is to find a means to provide coverage that guarantees the right of detained persons to a defence lawyer in the shortest possible time, thus protecting their right to technical defence. Furthermore, as international organisations that promote and protect human rights have revealed, the presence of a defence lawyer is a safeguard to protect the detained person’s other rights, particularly to prevent torture.
These actions enable comprehensive, effective achievement of the institutional mission to guarantee the right to defence of any accused person at all stages of the criminal process, preventing violation of rights and strengthening judicial detention review, providing public defenders with more tools to appeal against the punitive power of the State on an equal footing before the courts of justice.
The objective is always the same: to reinforce institutional commitment to the rule of law, a peaceful society and democracy in Chile, a task for which we are grateful to have the steadfast, permanent support of European cooperation.
By Andrés Mahnke M., National Defender (Chilean Public Criminal Defender)
In relation to the work done together with the Chilean Public Criminal Defender’s Office, the EUROsociAL+ programme has just published a diagnosis of the criminal defence of people in the first few hours of detention in the Latin American country.
29 August 2019
Posteado en : Reportage
The project addresses access to justice for people in vulnerable situations. This documentary video presents a paradigmatic case: that of the Mapuche woman Lorenza Cayuhan
Access to justice is a hallmark of the EUROsociAL+ programme, which is funded by the European Union and managed by FIIAPP, and is one of the dimensions through which the fight against exclusion and inequality is being organised.
Despite the notable advances in this area in the Latin American region, there is still a need to improve and guarantee access to justice for certain at-risk groups in order to strengthen social cohesion. Within that framework, the Brasilia Rules on Access to Justice for people in a vulnerable situation, which was approved by the Ibero-American Judicial Summit, are a key instrument for guaranteeing access to justice and contributing to social cohesion in the region. Since the beginning of EUROsociAL in 2005, the programme has supported the countries in the region as well as regional networks, not only in initially defining the Brasilia Rules in 2008, but also in revising and updating them in 2018 and in their dissemination and implementation at the national level in Latin American countries.
The case of Lorenza Cayuhan, which is presented in the video, is paradigmatic in this regard because it shows multiple discriminations (intersectionality of discrimination) for being a woman, Mapuche, pregnant and deprived of freedom, as was ultimately recognised by a ruling of the Chilean Supreme Court of Justice.
EUROsociAL+ Democratic Governance Policy Area
11 November 2016
El acceso a la Justicia de los ciudadanos está en la base de las garantías judiciales que tienen la consideración de derechos humanos.
No country or community can function peacefully if its inhabitants are unable to assert their rights in an established system of justice or defend themselves against accusations brought against them. Access to justice by citizens is based on legal guarantees that take into human rights consideration.
Nonetheless, in reality we face numerous difficulties in applying them in a practical and effective way. And, regrettably, when this is the case we see the natural consequences – greater levels of social inequality or high rates of violence – which are often attributed to other factors, such as poverty, when in reality poverty is not a cause but rather an effect, and precisely an effect of the fact that, among other factors, many people are excluded from justice.
The mechanisms for accessing justice should be designed for citizens in general, they should be properly contemplated at the legislative level, and they should also be given the necessary resources to function adequately. Some countries have a more pressing need for cooperation in order to address these needs.
For those of us working to defend the rights of citizens, it is very difficult to not see the tremendous challenges worldwide facing people with disabilities, displaced people and refugees, minorities, victims of trafficking and exploitation, persons deprived of their liberty, and people living in endemic poverty. We are talking about hundreds of millions of people.
The General Council of Spanish Lawyers, through its participation in cooperation actions, often focuses on working to ensure that the most vulnerable groups have access to protection of their rights through the justice system under the same conditions as their neighbours.
We have successfully undertaken numerous projects of this type in some European countries and, above all, in Latin America. We might highlight, for their representativeness, some implemented in collaboration with FIIAPP within the framework of European cooperation programmes such as EUROsociAL.
14 October 2016
Posteado en : Interview
Victoria Ortega Benito has been the Chair of the General Council of Spanish Lawyers since January 2016. She is also the first woman to serve in this role.
On the general website of the General Council of Spanish Lawyers, Victoria refers to the work of Spanish lawyers in the following terms: “We are becoming better and better professionals, although many of us have had to pursue training after finishing university and we continue to do so every day”. At FIIAPP, we wanted to learn about this reality.
What does your work consist of? How does the average citizen benefit from the work you do?
The General Council of Spanish Lawyers is the highest executive body that represents and coordinates the 83 bar associations in Spain.
Among its functions, apart from that of representing Spanish lawyers, there is a fundamental activity of regulatory organisation of the profession. Besides that, we work mostly in the area of advocacy that deals with its disciplinary part in the area of training, in relationships with the justice administration and everything having to do with legal aid. We also work to achieve more agile and effective justice, and we work on reports and studies.
Another important area of our work is in the cross-cutting international activity, where we fundamentally operate through our office in Brussels.
With respect to the office in Brussels, the work you do there is to be in contact with other European councils but also to do a bit of lobbying, isn’t that the case?
The impact Europe has is unquestionable and extraordinarily important for us, and we want to increase our work there while enhancing the possibilities for intervention.
In this international and therefore European scope, could you describe for us some of the achievements attributable to your presence there?
Yes. For example, I want to highlight the latest effort we have joined, which is the International Observatory for Lawyers in Danger (OIAD). There we have joined with lawyers’ councils in France, Italy, Germany…
It is an observatory that can have an extraordinary impact for colleagues who, for one reason or another, are in a situation of risk; we are working on this, and I believe that it will be successful and very positive.
In the area of the defence of human rights, what is your assessment of the work of the General Council of Spanish Lawyers in this area?
The very essence of law is the defence and promotion of human rights. Therefore, with the General Council of Spanish Lawyers Foundation, we have redirected this activity that we were pursuing with this group. In this, we have two scopes of action: national and international. It is one of the most respected and beloved institutions by the law profession.
The Council has collaborated in the EUROsociAL project for social cohesion in Latin America, which is managed by FIIAPP and funded by the European Union. What is an example of a success in EUROsociAL?
The tremendous work it has done for disabled Spanish prison inmates in Ecuador and for people who had completed their sentences but were still in prison. There we have worked very well and been successful.
Often times we work with great enthusiasm and idealism but the outcome is not positive. But here it has been which also serves as an inspiration for continuing our work in the future.
With respect to your appointment as chair, the first women reach this position, what is your assessment?
Let’s say that I value it as a start; the day we stop talking about this, the day it ceases to be remarkable, will be the day we have arrived at normalcy. I will say that my colleagues on the Council have given me a wristwatch with the inscription “there are no ceilings”. The day there are no ceilings, we will all have cause to celebrate.
22 July 2016
Posteado en : Interview
El Defensor del Pueblo es el organismo encargado de defender los derechos fundamentales y las libertades públicas de los ciudadanos. Se trata de una institución independiente que, como tal, desempeña sus funciones con independencia e imparcialidad, con autonomía y según su criterio. Además, el Defensor del Pueblo ha colaborado con la FIIAPP en diferentes proyectos de cooperación internacional. El último sobre la puesta en marcha de la oficina del Defensor del Pueblo en Turquía.
Soledad Becerril, the Ombudsman since 2012, was the first woman to hold the office in Spain. In this interview, she tells us what the work of the Ombudsman’s Office consists of:
Do all citizens have access to the Ombudsman’s Office?
All citizens have access to the Ombudsman’s Office, on a non-discriminatory basis and, we hope, without any type of difficulty. Because, for submitting their complaints, they have toll-free numbers they can call, they can write to us directly by sending a letter, come into the Ombudsman’s Office physically to explain their problem and, of course they can also do so via Internet, using e-mail or through our website.
What types of complaints does the Ombudsman handle?
Complaints about public administrations. The Ombudsman does not handle complaints between private citizens or private institutions or businesses.
We also act through the corresponding ministry in the case of large companies that provide public services, such as telephony or transport, or, for example, matters related to banks, through the Bank of Spain. But we handle all types of situations and problems. In relation to disabled people, problems with local taxes, matters involving the national tax agency, waiting lists in hospitals, etc. In short, all types of problems and circumstances.
Are all of the complaints in Spain brought before the Ombudsman handled in Madrid, or are there also branch offices in the self-governing communities?
We cover the entire Spanish territory. There are also Ombudsman’s Offices in ten self-governing communities which have the capacity to act within the jurisdiction of the particular community.
How many complaints are received each year by the Ombudsman’s Office?
Around 20,000. And, a great number of them are submitted by individuals. Although groups, associations and institutions can also contact us.
In 2015, in the annual report we present every year to parliament, we realised that 50,000 people had submitted documents requesting action from the Ombudsman.
Are there priority issues for the Ombudsman’s Office?
We don’t have priority issues. What we do is to try to identify situations that are more urgent than others. For example, if there is a person in an irregular administrative situation who is about to be deported and we are aware that there are also circumstances of vulnerability involved, very unique or very special ones, we act rapidly before the person is deported.
If we are aware that a minor’s situation is very dramatic or very difficult, these situations are handled before other ones, but all issues are addressed.
What are the main challenges facing the Ombudsman’s Office?
The greatest challenge is to reach the greatest possible number of people and to ensure that the greatest number of people with a problem know how to contact the Ombudsman and can do so. That’s why the website is so important. To make us visible and make the population understand what we do, to be appreciated. This is fundamental, having the trust of citizens.
What are the greatest difficulties?
The same difficulties that all administrations, local governments, regional community governments or the national government have; budgetary problems related to getting more money allocated to assistance, social or health services.
What is the role of the Ombudsman in other countries?
Most countries in the European Union have ombudsman’s offices, as well as Ibero-American and some Mediterranean countries. We have helped them and assisted in training the teams working in these ombudsman’s offices.
Most recently we were in Turkey for two years (through a project managed by FIIAPP and financed by the European Commission). We showed them how we work in Spain and collaborated in training the staff there. In addition, we have an ongoing relationship of collaboration with the Ibero-American ombudsman’s offices, which follow the Spanish model.
What has the Spanish Ombudsman’s Office contributed in Turkey?
We provided part of the necessary training to its teams: how to handle matters, which areas they can take action in, how action can be taken, how to contact administrations, monitoring of legislation in force, respect for human rights… in sum, all of these fields.
How are Turkish citizens benefiting from this project?
Turkey is a very large country, with 80 million inhabitants; extending the action of the Ombudsman throughout the entire geography and to all Turkish citizens is going to take some time and a great deal of effort. But I hope that little by little they achieve it.
Are there plans to work on more projects in other countries?
If other projects come up, yes. We’ll do it based on requests for our help.
What is the role of the Ombudsman in refugee issues?
This is a very complicated issue because the procedures are quite convoluted, but the position of the Ombudsman is to carry out monitoring to ensure that Spain fulfils its commitments in this area. From the Ombudsman’s Office we speak out in favour of receiving, welcoming and integrating the people arriving in our country.