Schulfunk – Waffenschmugglern auf der Spur – Tracking weapons traffickers

Schulfunk – An almost forgotten German expression from my childhood: Starting as a radio broadcasting service 70 years ago, meant to contribute to re-educating post-war Germany, Schulfunk developed into effective knowledge transfer, supplementing school education. Contemporary follow-on programs still exist, but the ancient label “Schulfunk” may get forgotten at some point. Today, it is about public broadcasters serving on their obligation to contribute to fact-based educational programs.

In a more sarcastic sense, I labeled any True Crime movie, or fictional reporting about crime, and movies about detectives solving crime cases, “Schulfunk”. Starting my professional career as a detective police officer myself, I was never too much interested in spending my evenings watching True Crime stories, or detective fiction. I found these stories too much detached from reality. Believe it or not, I preferred, and prefer until today, Science Fiction and Fantasy movies. Everyone has a weirdo side, right?

So, starting off a little bit on the funny side this morning, the screenshot below is about a piece of investigative journalism which was broadcasted by the German news channel “ZDF” March 24, 2021. Until March 24, 2023, you can watch this piece using the following link: https://www.zdf.de/dokumentation/zdfzoom/zdfzoom-waffenschmugglern-auf-der-spur-100.html

It pretty much is about my current line of work. It is in German language, but my small complaint sits with another issue, not the language.

Part of why I sarcastically labeled crime stories “Schulfunk”, distancing myself a little bit, has to do with the drama which appears to be a necessary part of broadcasting. Whether TV, movies on the big screen, or Youtube, nothing goes without music, and nothing goes without some sensational takes with which the subject matter at hand is presented in a way causing interest on the side of people looking for something to watch.

I get it, it is part of the human nature. I used it myself, when I was designing media campaigns for my colleagues and friends in Bosnia & Herzegovina during my time as Head of the European Union Police Mission. Just on a personal note, I find the dramatic music in this piece about weapons trafficking from the Western Balkans a little bit too heavy for my personal taste.

But after getting that out the way, I just wanted to reference this piece of journalism in my blog. And I wanted to do this without too much commenting, explaining, or describing my part in the work of my government, together with colleagues from France, and the European Union, in supporting the implementation of a strategic initiative which the six jurisdictions of the Western Balkans have agreed upon themselves. (We talk about jurisdictions, instead of States, in order to include Kosovo under the United Nations Resolution 1244 within a politically sensitive context).


If you want to understand what the Roadmap for a sustainable solution to the illegal possession, misuse and trafficking of SALW and their ammunition in the Western Balkans by 2024, is about, I would invite you to begin with browsing the website of SEESAC (https://www.seesac.org). SEESAC is the South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons. It holds an instrumental role in supporting the implementation of this Roadmap, which was jointly developed by the Western Balkans Authorities, under the auspices of Germany and France, in coordination with the European Union, and with SEESAC’s technical assistance.

The Roadmap is the most comprehensive arms control exercise in the region, covering all key aspects from securing the stockpiles of weapons and ammunition to mainstreaming gender in SALW control and countering firearms trafficking. It represents a firm commitment to addressing the threats posed by the misuse and illicit possession of weapons in the Western Balkans and Europe at large and is a result of strong cooperation on SALW control in the region which SEESAC has fostered since 2002.


I especially like the final stretches of the reportage. After some good investigative work attempting to make connections between trafficking of weapons, ammunition and explosives through crime and organised criminal groups on the one side and some disturbing indications about some of these weapons and explosives ending up increasingly in the hands of right-wing extremists in Germany, the documentary ends with explaining the Roadmap which I referenced above. Bojana Balon, the Head of SEESAC, is being interviewed. And some impressive pictures deal with what we prefer to do with these weapons: Seizing them, and destroying them.

So, in the best tradition of the gun with the knot in its barrel which you find on the compound of United Nations Headquarters, here a few pictures. No need to reference any copyright, I took all these pictures myself.

Never stop reminding

Every now and then I browse through the folder with draft blog articles. At times, I am just jotting down a link about something that caught my attention when I was reading it. On other occasions, a thought crosses my mind and I am writing it down. And at some point, something materializes from it as a real piece of writing. It is a creative process and the direction into which my writing takes me is not a straigthforward path.


The title of this blog entry came first, and I archived links on stories which did upset me at the time of reading a few weeks ago:

https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/asien/afghanistan-gefaengnisse-folter-101.html: A heartbreaking article published by German news provider “Tagesschau” on torture in Afghan prisons.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-56021205: BBC reporting about the first phone call between U.S. President Joe Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping, in which Joe Biden is raising the issue of human rights abuses in China, including the detention of more than a million Uighurs in what China calls “re-education programs”.

There are so many more. Looking into each and every corner of the World, serious concerns can be brought up here in a list of articles which would be long, longer, never ending. Nobody is able to keep track, neither being able to notice them all, nor being able to speak out on them all. But does it mean to give up?

Thoughts about this made me chosing the title “Never stop reminding”, not least because part of the strategy of human rights abusers, of autocrats, dictatorial governments, corporate enterprises confronted with criticism, or any individual accused of abusive behavioir is to sit it out, to wait, to see the story disappear.

Like individual conscience requires to constantly register what is wrong, or right, or justified, the same is true on a societal level. And just leaving it to others, or to media, or watchdogs, it amounts to becoming complicit, first through looking away, then through inaction.


After I wrote the second blog entry on violence against women, “An upsetting update – Violence against Women“, a friend sent me an article from the German newspaper “TAZ”: “Die Feigheit der Maenner” or “The Cowardice of Men”. The OpEd by Waltraud Schwab states that men who are integer and sensible to gender issues, but remain silent, become complicit with perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence.

Inaction can take many forms, like, looking away or pretending to not being aware. Inaction of this type can happen whilst the same individual will take a decisive position against sexual violence and abuse in meetings. I have witnessed it often: Managers coming back from meeting their superiors, passing the message about gender equality policy down the chain of command, and then, in the hallways, you will hear them talking under their breath. And others, who notice this schizophrenic attitude, remaining silent. Or, as the TAZ notes: Becoming complicit.


Of course it is not easy to speak up. It may be uncomfortable. It may create alienation. It may lead to being labeled self-righteous, dogmatic, fundamentalist, zealous, or naively idealistic. It is not easy to find the right balance in this. Once an individual is labeled this way, ostracising him or her serves the silent majority, and the perpetrators. But, what is the result of remaining silent? Pretty much the same outcome, in terms of serving those who abuse.

So, as always, it is a matter of balance. Yet, the healthiness of a society can also be measured by whether, and to which extent, this society keeps a living register of things considered to be wrong, unethical, fundamentally harmful for individuals and communities, or outright criminal. Such a living register is comprised of formal elements like public institutions of governance, or institutions which should be constitutionally protected in their independence, such as media, and the set of registers also requires maximum involvement of civil society.

But nothing of that can take away the responsibility of an individual to be actively part of it.


Does it make sense? Or is it just self-righteous rambling? Well, that is very much depending on the attitude with which the above is being judged. And at the end, I rather like to be looked at as rambling than being looked at as someone who contributes to the silence of the lambs.


Therefore, here two more news from today:

https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/eu-sanktionen-117.html: The European Union is imposing sanctions on China because of human rights violations related to the Uighurs.

And a masterpiece of investigative journalism uncovering the hydra of organized crime circumventing sanctions against North Korea, supplying the Dictator’s regime with oil.


Enjoy your Monday! My next article will be more focused again. Except, if it will not: https://zdfheute-stories-scroll.zdf.de/corona_psyche/index.html is a brilliant piece in German, about how the ongoing pandemic-lockdown has neurophysiological impact on the brain, including fatigue, inability to remember, or to focus.

The Pandemic and its Impact on Domestic Abuse and Violence

This -slightly longer- article focuses on gender-related aspects of domestic violence. After some introductory comments, I will present a view on the general scope of an endemic problem. I will also look into the specific context of the role of weapons, especially firearms, in that context, and the significantly higher victimisation of women including through the use of firearms. After that, I will discuss the alarming rise of domestic violence which we observe as a consequence of various measures undertaken to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. I will advocate the protection of the most vulnerable first. In this, I will focus especially on women and children.

As an introduction:

I began this blog entry based on discussions with friends on the consequences of the pandemic for women through heightened levels of aggression, abuse, and violence. So I wanted to write about the impact of the restrictions and lockdowns on domestic abuse and violence experienced by women. Though this still is a major thread in my writing here, after some research and thinking my reflections on the topic of domestic abuse during the pandemic became broader.

Physical and emotional abuse including violence are a disturbing reality in intimate relationships and families. I will reference data published by the NCADV and other information a few paragraphs below, but for starters: Already before the pandemic, in the United States, 1 in 7 women and 1 in 25 men have been injured by an intimate partner. At least once in their life, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. And according to statistical data just taken from the United States, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men has been raped during their lifetime. 1 in 10 women suffer from rape within what they would consider their own zone of safety and comfort: Within an intimate relationship. I don’t have to look for other data sources but can state due to heuristical and professional experience that the situation, for example in countries in Europe, will not reflect a significantly less disturbing picture. Exact numbers might vary, but we are not talking about a fringe problem. We are talking about a huge challenge.

However, there is an emerging body of data indicating that phenomena of domestic abuse and violence are on the increase throughout the pandemic. As the pandemic lasts, lockdowns are protracted and are getting more and more rigid throughout this winter. It is all but certain that the problem will continue to grow, perhaps exponentially, the longer and more severe these restrictions are. As the fight against the pandemic is now reaching a full year of implementation, and will continue, there is no reasonable doubt that these developments will have a medium and long term negative impact.

Why should this make all of us concerned? Like every parent I want to see my children experiencing only safe friendships, happy relationships, and I want to see them becoming capable of raising happy children of their own. The thought of witnessing a beloved child being on the receiving or giving end of an abusive relationship is a horror scenario for every loving and caring parent. It is only natural to push this thought aside, hoping that this may be something that my children, our children, won’t have to go through. Parents may engage in wishful thinking, and some denial, hoping that this may not happen to own daughters and sons, but may just be some distant risk, a risk more for other societies, other communities, may be for less privileged people, or just plain and simple for others. The reality is starkly different: Your daughter has a high chance to experience violence in sexual relationships, your son may be significantly at risk becoming a perpetrator, and to a lesser extent, a victim. Both your daughter and your son may experience helplessness and mutual abuse in toxic relationships. Both will experience the stress of raising children, many will experience single-parenting, and they will likely experience the crushing defeat when, despite best intentions, they yell at their own children, or slap them, or worse. It has happened to most of us in various shades of grey, let us be honest. We have been on the receiving side, and we have been on the giving side. And this prediction, based on time-tested statistical data, is one main reason why to focus not only on women, but equally pressing on the suffering of children experiencing violence and abuse in domestic environments, and their social neighborhood: Every statistical data will confirm that those who have been victimised in their childhood are way more likely to repeat this abuse, or to subject themselves to abuse, by way of what psychology calls re-enactment, once they have grown out of age. In addition, their proneness to alcohol, substance, and behavioral abuse leading to addiction is exponentially higher. What we do to our children, our children will carry this into their parenting and into their intimate relationships, and into their coping strategies.

That is why we need to be concerned about the widespread phenomenon of domestic violence and abuse. And that is why it’s increase throughout the pandemic is so much a concern for all of us.

So, on Covid-19: Statistical data and personal experience in a vast network of friends make it clear to me that this already existing problem is amplified by how we try to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus. We need to talk about how to protect the vulnerable, and how to capacitate people so that they are able to withstand the frustration, fear, and anger, instead of leashing out against the vulnerable. Of course, we need a sound combination of prevention together with deterring measures, we need education as much as vigilance in detecting abuse. We need zero-tolerance. But all of that starts with numbers, and with understanding the problem, and then the challenge.

As a consequence, an already serious problem is becoming even more dangerous, and especially so for vulnerable groups including women and children. This matters to all of us, because it can happen to ourselves, and to our loved ones. This is not a scenario one can stay distanced from. Like I, many readers will be able to reference situations within their own social circle where violence happened. We need to find solutions, and we need to collectively engage now. Shaming and fingerpointing is no option, people who we deeply care about may find themselves being victims, or perpetrators, tomorrow.

Some more detail on the general problem of domestic violence and violence in sexual and intimate relationships:

Throughout my international work violence against vulnerable community members and against women and children has been a constant experience I am faced with in literally every heart-numbing aspect. Of course this is especially visible in situations of conflict and war. I have written several times about the fundamental impact of trauma that victims of such horrible violence have to experience.

Letting war and conflict aside for a moment, domestic violence against vulnerable individuals, often women and children, is a tragic daily mass-occurence within all societies. It affects the fabric of families and communities and is often not allowed to be visible, because of taboo, denial, and shame. It is challenging to see in all its aspects for external observers because of this built-in hide-and-deny-mechanism. It requires active communication to see it. International humanitarian workers see it, of course. Social workers see it, directly or indirectly, of course. You have to be “within” to be able to see.

My national policing work before I entered into international work was riddled with experiences of this domestic violence against women and children, and violence against members of the LGBTQ-community. My understanding of the primary reasons for why it can be challenging to detect such abuse roots in this time. It also transcends into my international experiences, because this mechanism of how domestic violence is being kept away from visibility as much as perpetrators and victims can manage (and neighbors looking the other way), it appears to be pretty universal. It is the same in all societies I have been in.

When I talk about violence in domestic contexts, I do not mean physical violence only. As horrible as forms of physical violence are, they are a sub-set. There are forms of emotional abuse and violence which equal the severity of impact and consequences and in some cases create even more pain, suffering, and long-term damage. Victims of violence can also be men, and perpetrators can be women, even children. Statistical data exists aplenty. Here are a few reference points for a more general narrative: A Deutsche Welle article, and one in The Guardian. For an initial mapping of the scope of the problem, I will refer as an example to statistical data published by “The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)“, a U.S. NGO. Some excerpts:

“1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner contact sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking with impacts such as injury, fearfulness, post-traumatic stress disorder, use of victim services, contraction of sexually transmitted diseases, etc. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. This includes a range of behaviors (e.g. slapping, shoving, pushing) and in some cases might not be considered “domestic violence.”

1 in 7 women and 1 in 25 men have been injured by an intimate partner.” “1 in 10 women have been raped by an intimate partner. Data is unavailable on male victims.“1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence (e.g. beating, burning, strangling) by an intimate partner in their lifetime.”

“The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%. … 19% of domestic violence involves a weapon.”

“1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States has been raped in their lifetime.”

So, before focusing on aspects of violence during the Covid-19 pandemic, I needed to set the record straight by at least indicating that women and children form a majority of victims, but that violence against men, carried out by their female or male partners, is not the rare expection, but albeit smaller, a considerable case group.

On the role of weapons in cases of domestic violence:

For the United States, NCADV states that “The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%. … 19 % of domestic violence involves a weapon.” This points directly towards the area of support by the German Federal Foreign Office assisting other countries in reducing the illicit impact of small arms and light weapons and effectively controlling the legal aspects around them. This support policy of the German government is very broad in its strategic motivations, it includes, for example, reducing stock and illicit possession of leftover weapons from war and conflict, support to harmonization of law, policy, enforcement and criminal justice aspects, curbing the illicit flow and criminal use of weapons by organised crime and terror inside and outside the European Union, and more. However, in this holistic undertaking the German government places strong emphasis on all gender related aspects. Germany has founded the “Gender Equality Network for Small Arms Control GENSAC” as a global initiative. On this website you find the following description: “The Gender Equality Network for Small Arms Control (GENSAC) aims to make Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) control more gender responsive and amplify international, regional, national and local best practices of those who have been doing “arms control behind the curtain”, including representatives from civil society organizations, women’s groups, conflict prevention and development communities.”

Like the scope of the problem of domestic violence and the significant over-representation of women becoming victims is huge, so is the role of firearms and other weapons in it. At the same time, practioners like myself stress that women are under-represented when it comes to policy-making in areas where they are much more affected by a problem than male members of a society. We want this to change, and it includes the dangerous role that weapons play in cases of domestic violence. I invite you to look into the very comprehensive material which has been made available by one main partner of the German government in my current line of work, the “South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SEESAC)“. On their very comprehensive website, gender in Security Sector Reform features high, and you will find various publications and research on domestic violence and the over-representation of female society members in the group of victims. The gemstones of gender related analysis which can be acccessed in SEESAC’s publication library are numerous. Scratching the surface, here some select fast facts, this time valid for South-East Europe (SEE):

97.2% of all legally owned firearms in SEE are owned by men. Men committed 98.4% of firearm-related criminal offenses in South-East Europe, 98.5% of all firearm-related incidents and 98% of all firearm- related homicides. Men account for 83.8% of victims of firearm-related homicide compared to 16.2% of women.

Most telling is SEESAC’s Fast Fact – collection on the misuse of firearms in domestic violence in South East Europe: Homicide committed by a family member is the most common form of femicide in SEE. 61% of all killed women were killed by a family member, compared to 12.4% of all killed men. 38.6% of all killed women and 1.2% of all killed men were killed by an intimate partner. 43.5% of all women killed by an intimate partner in SEE were killed with firearms. 68.9% of women killed with firearms were killed in their homes, apartments or yards. 37.4% of reported domestic violence incidents which involved firearms had a lethal outcome.

Interim conclusion: Because of it’s short-, medium, and long-term damaging consequences including for future generations, domestic violence must be considered a zero-tolerance-topic, and the highest investment into how to prevent and to tackle consequences must focus on violence against women and children.

On emerging data related to the Covid-19 pandemic:

November 25, 2020, German news media reported warnings issued by the United Nations and the European Union: Lockdowns in Europe cause a worrying increase of registered cases of domestic violence against women and girls. December 19, 2020, the magazine “The Economist” focused on this increase with the headline “Covid-19 threatens girls’ gigantic global gains“. December 21, 2020, “The Wall Street Journal”, in its article “Covid-19 Is Pushing Women Out of Work. Just Look at Italy.” focused on structural abuse harming gender equality. December 26, 2020, German news media reported about warnings issued by the German victims protection organisation “Der Weisse Ring”, a highly renowned NGO. According to their own data, approximately 10 % more victims of domestic violence called their helpline during the first ten months of 2020. December 28, 2020, German new media reported a warning issued by EUROPOL. According to EUROPOL, cases of sexual abuse of children during the pandemic are strongly on the rise and perpetrators of pedophile behavior do not only increasingly look for child pornography in the Internet, but also attempt to increasingly contact children for purposes of abusing them. And concluding a list of disturbing data reference points, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development OECD, a global organisation, issued a report “Women at the core of the fight against COVID-19 crisis“, starting with the sentence “The COVID-19 pandemic is harming health, social and economic well-being worldwide, with women at the centre.”

Enough references. There is a ton more. However, whenever I make a statement, I try to provide evidence. Evidence still matters, truth still matters. And the truth is: An already existing worrying phenomenon with implications for all of us and for our children is becoming worse, the longer the pandemic lasts. In my prediction, this is not a linear deterioration, but will resemble exponential developments.

If I wanted to come up with a list of comprehensive action points, I think I would fail. And perhaps, nobody would continue reading this already long article.

However, a few points based on what I say at various points in my writing:

  • Domestic violence is a wide-spread phenomenon with very damaging short-, medium, and long-term, including generational, harming consequences.
  • With children being victims through witnessing this violence, or being subjected to it, long-term damage to their entire lifes is likely. For reference, I refer to my blog articles on trauma.
  • Prevention and deterrence has to focus on the most vulnerable groups first, and that includes especially women and children. Every prevented case of violence contributes to less domestic violence in future generations.
  • Women are under-represented when it comes to discussing, and implementing policy that affects, globally, their own well-being, economic, and security interests. This has to change.
  • The more relaxed the weapons policy of a country, the more likely is that women and children disproportionately suffer from severe forms of abuse, and violence, including through homicide and femicide. We have to continue to outlaw “male behavior” that equals masculinity with possessing and displaying weapons. Personally, I do encourage parents to even consider limiting the existence of toy-weapons in their households. Whilst I have professionally operated a large variety of small arms as a police officer, my children have not seen us parents encouraging, or condoning, the use of toy weapons.
  • Counter-measures curbing the spread of infections during the Covid-19 pandemic increase anger, frustration, fear, and aggression. At the same time the opportunities to “vent” these emotions in a healthy way have become unavailable. We have to increase a policy-discussion about this, and we have to do this now, instead of hoping that vaccinations may bring us to the end of the crisis quickly. We are, still, witnessing the darkest chapters of the pandemic, and this is not changing anytime soon enough.

Social Media Manipulation – An Example

So, here is a little story: STRATCOM is the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence. Recently, they re-ran a test of “the ability of social media companies to identify and remove manipulation”. The result is published, the report can be viewed and downloaded here. It is titled “Social Media Manipulation 2020”.

What did they do, in a nutshell? The researchers used thirty-nine authentic posts on FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Tic Toc. As far as I see from related news, for this they cooperated with two U.S. politicians, one a Republican, the other one a Democrat. The German news about it can be found on the German tech-news-site HEISE. Using these thirty-nine posts on social media, STRATCOM bought fake engagement on these posts from three specialised Russian service providers. Providers like these offer manipulated engagement with existing posts, for example. I guess they also offer much more, but this is just an example in which authentic posts of legitimate and appropriate information content were used, since this is NATO. The researchers paid the ridiculously small amount of 300 Euro to these Russian providers.

What did they get in return? 1150 comments, 9690 likes, 323202 views, and 3726 shares! Meaning plain and simple: I can create content on social media, with good, questionable or malicious intentions, and instead of hoping that I will attract many comments, likes, and views on my own, I can buy fake ones. Comments, likes and views increase the “digital weight” of the post. The more of this “digital value”, the more likely other people will look on these pieces of information or disinformation, and the more likely also these posts will be ranked higher by Internet search engines, such as Google. Finally, I can also buy distribution, through shares, of these artificially boosted posts. The more “oomph” I have in getting these informations pieces out into the right target groups, the more I increase chances of further distribution. And I pay very little money for it.

So, let me use a hypothetical example, but one which is commonly being used for manipulation purposes: I create a story with specific target groups in mind. Examples are countless. Like fake news stories which were designed for target groups of color in the U.S. in 2016. They were designed to raise doubt within these groups that a contender, in that case the democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, would be really interested in matters of grave concern for those communities of color. The unauthentic or fake pieces of news were designed to reduce the willingness of people in these target groups to participate in the elections. Many of us, I guess and hope, know about this form of manipulation. It also happened 2020, and it is fair to say that both domestic actors and foreign forces all over the world use this tactic in order to influence the outcome of an electoral process. It happens everywhere, it is commonplace. And it is manipulation at least, and more often violating law in many jurisdictions. But what it chiefly does: It contributes to burning credibility of truth to ashes. It leads to so much confusion about which information I can trust, and which not, that people may give up, or they just decide to only believe what their “friends” say.

By the way, coming to think of it: When sites like FaceBook (I don’t remember who came up with it first) began to abuse the term “friend” for the process of clicking a button asking somebody to “be my friend” and the invited party just accepting this request, I had a revolting feeling in my stomach. It lasts until today and is one of the reasons why I only engage minimally on social media. The notion of reducing the term “friend” to a digital connection with no real deeper meaning feels like the strike of an evil genius to me. It leads to the craving of having as many friends as possible, it is part of the addictive design of social media sites. It hollows out any real understanding of what friendship means. Terms like “friend” and “follower” are almost equal in their meaning. I need these digital friends for status and validation. Having friends has become an online currency. It is like a material possession, not an internal value which gives me the comfort of a deeper emotional, intellectual and spiritual connection to another person in whose well-being I take an interest. It adds to real-world-isolation because it strips the notion of having friends from what the term means in real social life. May be that is for a deeper reflection in another blog article. But ultimately, this manipulation can be used in order to get people into a network of “friends” for purposes of influencing them, depriving them from other sources of information, making them pawns in a game they do not understand, but crave to be part of. Emotions like the wish to belong mix with emotions such as fear, and anger, fake information is being used as a narrative giving them a feeling of meaning.

Back to the STRATCOM report: The first remarkable fact in the results of this research for me was the price for this form of manipulation. 300 Euro is so cheap that this service can be used as a mass tool, whenever this suits own devious interests. 

Secondly, this is a shadowy grey and a criminal market. The methodology can be used by State actors with sophisticated technology and staff at hand. Or money, just hiding traces and buying a service from some groups like the above. Likewise, non-State actors can use it for political purposes, for ideological purposes, for religious purposes, or as a marketing tool. Which is a hint towards how wide the scope of potential manipulation is. The targets are you and I, and we may, very often, not ever know that we were manipulated. So, this is a profound ethical issue with consequences for whether, and how, we want to regulate it, how we want to deal with it.

Thirdly, STRATCOM re-ran the test because they did it before. They did that because the industry promised they would get better at identifying manipulation like this, better at identifying fake, or robot, accounts. Better at curbing influence. The conclusions of the report state that “platforms continue to vary in their ability to counter manipulation of their services”. Read the details, I’m not going to rank services here myself. But there are platforms where manipulation requires a small effort and where costs are one thenth of what is to be invested on other platforms.

Fourthly, the report makes it clear that these actors are not a few, they are an industry. One chapter is titled “The Social Media Manipulation Industry”. With market rules which survived efforts to fight this industry. Quoting the report: “Social media manipulation remains widely available, cheap, and efficient, and continues to be used by antagonists and spoilers seeking to influence elections, polarise public opinion, sidetrack legitimate political discussions, and manipulate commercial interests online.” 

Fifthly, the report states that this industry prospered during 2020. I finish with quoting the three core insights which the researchers came up with:

  1. “The scale of the industry is immense. The infrastructure for developing and maintaining social media manipulation software, generating ficticious accounts, and providing mobile proxies is vast. We have identified hundreds of providers. Several have many employees and generate significant revenues. It is clear that the problem of inauthentic activity is extensive and growing.
  2. During the past year the manipulation industry had become increasingly global and interconnected. A European service provider will likely depend on Russian manipulation software and infrastructure providers who, in turn, will use contractors from Asia for much of the manual labour required. Social media is now a global industry with global implications.
  3. The openness of this industry is striking. Rather than lurking a shadowy underworld, it is an easily accessible marketplace that most web users can reach with little effort through any search engine. In fact, manipulation service providers still advertise openly on major social media platforms and search engines.” 

What do do? Of course, we have a regulation debate. Part of the findings relate to that social media promised earlier to root out this phenomenon, but that they have not become good at it. To me it feels like the contrary, may be because of unwillingness, sloppiness, or the sheer size of the problem. Or any combination of these three. However, regulation always leads to an escalation, or attempts to evade, if the business model generates revenue. Which it clearly does.

My take is to focus on education. I am not a young nerd. I am a nerd in my early sixties. This world rapidly changes, and often I don’t like the course. But disengagement is, I feel, not an option. It is about giving people the knowledge and skills to make their own informed decisions. That is a core principle of open societies based on democratic rules. Truth matters, so we need to know about how truth is demolished in the digital invisible world of the Internet. We need to be able to learn, staying curious about learning, engaging in meaningful discussions, empower people to better identify manipulation when it occurs, giving them the skillset needed for quality decisions for their own lives.

When I talk to my youngest children about how much of their personal information is sucked from their smartphones, iPads, and computers without their knowledge, I am often presented with a sense of “why bother, I don’t feel it, I don’t feel harmed, or hurting”. May be we need to find ways how to reinforce the understanding as to which extent the digital and the real world are interconnected. People seem to discriminate between these two worlds. 

Education is more relevant than regulation. Which motivated me writing this article. Hope you enjoyed reading it.

On Defunding the Police – Proportionality

Legitimacy:

Whether measures taken are legal and have been proportional

Whether agreed procedures have been respected

Whether there is accountability of the service and its personnel for their actions

 

June 14, 2020, I am waking up to an updated report from CNN about protesters flooding the streets of Atlanta after Rayshard Brooks, an Afro-American U.S. citizen was being shot dead Friday, June 12, by a white American Police officer. A restaurant was set ablaze, a highway was blocked by protesters. Police deploying tear gas, violent altercations in the video footage.

Whilst it is way too early to judge established facts about the circumstances of the killing of Rayshard Brooks in detail, I note that the officer has been terminated, a second officer was placed on administrative duty, Atlanta’s police chief stepped down and Atlanta’s mayor called for the officer who shot Brooks to be fired.

This morning I also read about the continuation of protests against racism and police violence all over the world, and about the discussions within societies over here in Europe about it, including my country, Germany. We have serious discussions over here on changing our constitution, related to the term “race”.

And I read about the emergence of violent right-wing extremists in London, I see pictures with them attacking police officers, and the police attempting to prevent altercations between right-wing extremist protesters and protesters of the Black-Life-Matters-movement.

For good measure, a friend of mine sending me an outstanding article from the NYT on Police Reform.

That is how I woke up.

I feel tired, upset, most of all I feel deeply saddened for another person dying at the hands of police officers in what would appear to be a serious violation of any application of proportionality of the use of force. I join those who say “Enough is enough, when does this end?”. I am upset about those who maintain these are single isolated cases. I can hear those already who will point towards Rayshard Brooks’ fight against being arrested, who will hold his fleeing from the police against him. It looks like he discharged a taser, which he took away from one officer, whilst fleeing, and I can hear those who will say “See…”.

Let me summarize from what I know from preliminary looking at reported facts: Someone is falling asleep in a car. The car does not move, but it is in the way of other cars wanting to use a parking lot, they have to drive around the car. A police patrol controls the car, the person who slept in the car is subjected to a test whether he is intoxicated. He fails the test. Again, the car is not moving. An altercation between the person and police officers can be seen on video footage, the officers attempting to arrest the person, the person violently refusing. At some point in the struggle, the person takes control over a taser which is part of a police officers’ personal equipment, and manages to run away. Police officers pursue him. He appears to discharge the taser in direction of the pursuing officers. He runs away. He is getting shot and killed.

I had already begun writing on an article on proportionality which I had started with the following sentence, a few days earlier:

June 11, 2020, CNN reported about Tulsa police releasing video footage of an arrest of two black teenagers being handcuffed for – you hear right – jaywalking. Not bystander videos, footage from the body cams of the police officers engaging the teenagers.

And now another example, pointing into the same direction: Where is the proportionality of police action, and to which extent does the police themselves contribute to escalating an action which then is justified for the use of disproportionate force? And why is this, in its overwhelming majority, happening to non-white persons? 

It is mind-boggling. In all my experience, it is systemic. The biased selection of persons of color being the subject of police control, it is an extremely well documented pattern. We have a corresponding discussion here in Europe about the question whether the police is biased by preferential selection of members of specific groups when deciding to take action: Minorities, persons of color, persons of Muslim faith, migrants. 

We also need to look at how the police is conducting themselves after deciding to engage in a situation. We name it “discretion in deciding whether to act” and “discretion in choosing the means with which to act“: The former: Does the police apply the same criteria for deciding to take action on equal criteria, notwithstanding, for example, the color of the skin? The latter: Is it more likely that the police will use excessive and disproportionate force, depending on the color of the skin?

Notwithstanding racial bias, the American policing system is very different from the system which I belong to, in terms of inherent readiness to apply force in all kinds of policing situations. I would say that the American system is very different in relation to when, and how, to apply force, from any system in the European Union. From my viewpoint, the entire system is based on an understanding of coercion by force which is entirely disproportionate. This, more often than not insanely disproportionate application of force perhaps is the single most contributing factor to escalation of violence in interactions between the police and citizens, and communities. Taken together with that the overwhelming number of persons subjected to it are black citizens, is justifying to state that American policing contributes to systemic measures of control of Afro-American communities. That is racism.

American policing is based on a culture which prefers flashing signs from police patrol cars such as “Stop – It’s the Law”, allowing officers to just hide behind “the law” instead of explaining why they are interacting with a citizen. A culture of control through a “Law and Order” attitude leaves no space for communication.

Cops are no saints. No public servants are. Being put into a position of power, individuals tend to exercise that power, and more often than not their reflex is to say: “Because I can”. In my police system, decades ago, we undertook deep rooted reform efforts addressing it: Being in a position of power requires, in our understanding, a profound humility, and a desire to use these powers only as a last resort. The opposite to it is trigger-happy-policing. And we make sure management is being held accountable to hold police officers accountable. Which is very challenging: Line supervisers tend to fraternise. Police Unions do. In the U.S., they even carry that attitude in their names: Fraternal Order. Management and leadership tends to avoid discomfort by standing up against a culture of fraternisation. After all, supervisers are human beings who prefer to be liked by their subordinates. Unfortunately,  it does not always work that way.

Twenty years ago I was at the helm of an international police comprised of roughly 4.500 officers from 53 United Nations Member States. In Kosovo, setting up executive policing whilst building the foundations of a new Kosovo Police provided a field laboratory in which all different national policing models and attitudes struggled to find a common denominator. We “were the law”, but which law? We were the police, but which police? We learned everything from scratch. The United States deployed roughly 500 police officers into this UN police, with colleagues from many different nations patrolling the streets, upholding order, investigating crime, making arrests.

And every single arrest carried out by American police officers, notwithstanding the circumstances, whether a murder, or a traffic citation, led to handcuffing.

Even more: Every single action leading to temporary restriction of movement of an individual, like, for identification purposes, or further establishing facts at a police station, was called an arrest. Which led to handcuffing. In this, the American policing attitude stood out compared to practice of literally any other national police contingent in this police organisation which we formed from scratch, with no available blueprint. 

This is where my work on a common denominator on policing started. The way we did it was by beginning to talk about these differences. Talking leads to compromises on all sides. My colleagues and friends from U.S. police departments lowered their threshold of when to engage using force. My German colleagues accepted standards they were not used to in their home country. We all benefited. And we established the groundwork of  an understanding of community-oriented policing which transpired into the new Kosovo Police. In this transformation, my fellow American colleagues were instrumental.

I tend to write articles which are too long. Not this one. Or too academic, too complicated. Not this one.

Proportionality of action is, at the end of the day, depending on the values which underpin a system of policing. By all means, the discussion of how to reform policing in America must be based on American values. But I am not sure whether the excessive readiness of the use of force within the entire American system of policing can be used as a gold-standard. In my view, the opposite is true. It is not representing American values. Otherwise, there would not be so much opposition against it. 

This can get out of control if people taking to the streets are not being heard. Every defiant cop thinking this storm can be weathered is part of a very explosive mix. I congratulate the Atlanta Police Commissioner to taking immediate and decisive action, and then to resign, in order to support the case for police reform. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Defunding the Police – Policing as a Function

Policing refers to a function of governance responsible for the prevention, detection and investigation of crime; protection of persons and property; and the maintenance of public order and safety. Police and law enforcement officials have the obligation to respect and protect human rights, including the right to life, liberty and security of the person, as guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reaffirmed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other relevant instruments.

 

Main argument

In this part I am presenting the argument that it is necessary to identify the core role of policing in a jurisdiction. Funding then needs to prioritize the effective and efficient implementation of that core role, and provide the means to ensure that policing is carried out within the framework of rules which reflect on the values that underpin that implementation of policing.

I also say that it is entirely common to look at which functions a police organization could carry out in addition to their core mandate. Of course, there is funding needed for this as well. However, responsible governance needs to make sure that additional tasks for a police department do not negatively affect the core mandate of that department. Responsible governance also has to question whether police is well-suited for additional tasks that may require specific, or different training. Police training is different from customs training, from military training, from training for correctional services, or from training for social services. Do not use a hammer for screws, or a screwdriver for nails. It destroys hammer, nail, screwdriver, and screws.

It is entirely legitimate to look at whether there would be better ways to implement the additional tasks given to a police organisation, by other means, such as strengthened social services. That, again, would require to re-allocate the necessary funding. Which is a form of defunding the police.

Thirdly, law enforcement needs to be equipped for carrying out its tasks. There is a direct line between the identification of “what” I want to do “how”, and what I decide to use as a technical means of assistance. If a police department decides to procure or to accept military style equipment for carrying out its tasks, that will change the attitude of officers in how they understand the task of policing. If that is leading to problems (which is evident in the United States), then reform efforts may lead to giving up purchase and use of military style equipment. Defunding the purchase of military equipment may allow both for funding core tasks of policing better (such as giving more resources to community-oriented policing), or free funds for support the work of other parts of government, such as social services.

Taken together, all three lines of what is named “defunding” are no reason to believe law enforcement and their staff would be “punished”. Instead, the reform leads to better policing, and more of it, and it leads to better other services of governance, such as social services.


Supporting arguments

It is all too easy to throw out the baby together with the used water in the bathtub if one doesn’t take the necessary time for a careful look.

The current debate about reforming policing has gone way beyond the borders of the United States of America, and it is happening on grounds of both long simmering discontent and because of current justified anger and immense outrage. Crimes such as the murder of George Floyd have triggered it, and the confrontational and at times horribly abusive handling of the protests by the system of governance is escalating it: It proves the case that something is flawed on a fundamental level. This in turn has led to so much growth of the protest movement in size that we may see, for the first time, a real chance for substantial change.

The sheer size of the demand to reform policing in its fundamental aspects is inevitably causing tension between those who advocate reform, and those who hold conservative views. That is good for a constructive democratic discourse.

Comparing how things are done elsewhere can help, as long as those who describe what they do elsewhere, and how they do it, don’t pretend that they have better ideas and solutions. We all cook with water, hypocrisy is poison to the debate.

I see, however, that there is an element in this discussion which goes beyond the constructive exchange of arguments in a reform discussion:

There are those who dig in. Reactionist forces attempt to quell the reform movement by a combination of (1) de-legitimizing reformers’ motivations; (2) de-legitimizing reformers as persons “per se” by demonizing them; and (3) pretending to associate with the cause, in order to take out the energy for change. The longer the successful application of this strategy, chances are that reform runs out of steam. And like events in 2016 allowed reactionists to boldly roll back honest and deep-looking reform efforts, the same threat is looming over 2020.

An example for de-legitimizing reformer’s motivations: Accuse them collectively and with no supporting evidence that they want to abolish the police entirely, or to de-construct the State.

An example for de-legitimizing reformers by demonizing them: Accuse them of anti-constitutional attitude, label them “radical left”, or even “domestic terrorists”, and freely make use of de-humanizing them, talking about “low-lifes”, “loosers”, or even worse.

An example for pretending to associate with the cause: Jump on the band-wagon of talking about how serious the problem is, express sympathies, be a bit emotional if you can, make sure to spread your hollow words of empathy and sympathy widely, say that you fully agree, throw in a “however”, and talk about anything but the core argument that leads to the reform necessity. Make no efforts to turn your pretended sympathies to the cause into any action.

So: What is the core argument?

The core is related to the question what the function of policing is about. No more, no less. A reform discourse needs to look at this one first.

Second comes the discussion about how (aka by which organizational means) the function of policing is implemented. Here, things become complicated, because the way how policing is being implemented is based on historical developments that are entirely localised. America’s culture is different from France, Germany, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Sweden, Tanzania, South-Sudan, Jordan, Egypt. Or any of the 193 countries forming the United Nations. All are different. Because of their history.

But does it mean we can only talk about one country’s policing approach, and does it mean there is no possibility to come to a common denominator which we all agree upon? Do we have to engage in a never ending “My toy is fancier than yours”-debate?

The answer is: It is very much possible to come to a unified minimum understanding, because we have done and achieved exactly that. I have witnessed that, by participating in it. It took us give or take ten years from voicing the dream, through finding support, learning how to do it, until we had written it down and agreed. The result includes what I quoted in my “Statement of Solidarity“.

And this result is not a collection of lofty sentences. As the United Nations, we needed to put a common understanding of what is policing and how it should be done front and center, for purpose of maximum transparency: This is what you get when we help you, this is what we need you to agree upon when we help you, because we have a few red lines which we all must not cross in this partnership. This is what any UN Police officer will understand as her or his function, notwithstanding from where that officer comes. This is how we expect police officers to be trained before they deploy into a United Nations Mission meant to assist in handling a conflict, or recovering from conflict.

If you look up the entire work which began with the document I quoted from, you see that we broke it down into a detailed understanding: We do have a common understanding about how to carry out community-oriented policing. We share detailed understanding about intelligence-led policing. We do know what a tactical group of the Police, such as a company sized “Formed Police Unit” should do when protecting peaceful demonstrations, and how to engage with those who disturb the peace, become violent, carry out crimes. We do know how police should establish functions that ensure accountability towards the law and towards citizens. We do know how police officers should use force as the last resort.

We have written that all down, and much more. And all along the way, the United States of America was part of a truly global support for further development of this framework, stressing the need that it has to be operationalized through training. Which is what we do, all over the world, and including heavy support by the United States of America. For which I am grateful beyond words.

Does, therefore, police have to look the same anywhere? No. But it does mean that one always should look at whether we have gotten the implementation of the core function of policing right. You can assign additional functions of any kind. The discourse about whether this makes sense, or not, usually carries many practical and political arguments with weight in the specific local context. But it should always prioritize the question whether the additional tasks impede core tasks, and whether police departments are suitable and capable to carry out that task. Like any other profession, training and organization of work in the police creates specific mindsets, highly capable of implementing policing. But it does not mean that this mindset, or training, is the right one for the additional tasks that are being expected to be handled.

The way to ensure this is called management. And any reform of something which has taken root is no less than an art.

Sometimes, less tasks for the police will create much more satisfaction with results.

On Defunding the Police – Entry Point

Not everything that can be faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed that is not faced.

JAMES BALDWIN

 

This will only be the first blog entry on this topic. I will go into the substance of how I look at this discussion in following articles. This one is intended to make clear how I look at the entire discussion, as a concerned individual and retired police officer, and a former United Nations Police Adviser. Thus, expect that my statements in subsequent articles will be as rational as I can be, and I reserve the emotional part motivating me for contributing to this discussion to this entry article. So, keep looking for follow-on to this writing, it will come soon. Expect the juice being inside a rational, but passionate debate contribution. I always try to stay away from partisan positions, except when it comes to underpinning values.

On values, I am very clearly partisan: I am United Nations hard-core, including all values on humanity represented by the UN, and developed within the UN-system. Which, by way of reminder, is the community of 193 Member States of the United Nations. We are the UN, as long as we contribute to the spirit of the UN, rather than disengaging from the UN. Like in the narrow context which will follow, engagement requires willingness to listen, rather than to yell. Any discussion which is lead in the spirit of finding consent requires to accept that it is legitimate for others to differ.

A friend of mine (who happens to be a journalist) suggested that I engage in the current discussion on policing and reforming the Police. He reminded me that, in 2014, I participated in a “Black Lives Matter” demonstration when I was living in New York (working as the UN Police Adviser). The picture is from December 13, 2014:

25B8A860-8474-470B-BE49-C1FE4896F235

August 9, 2014, Michael Brown had been shot dead by a Police officer, in Ferguson. Earlier, July 17, 2014, Eric Garner died after being put into a chokehold by a Police officer, in New York City. I am singling out two out of many events that led to renewed calls for reforming policing in the United States. Both in the U.S. and internationally, brutal instances of police abuse of power, including most serious crimes, sparked outrage leading to large and peaceful demonstrations. The “Black Lives Matter” movement stems from there. As a human being, and at that time being a temporary resident in the United States, I joined my fellow American friends in their peaceful call for addressing systemic racism reflected in the Criminal Justice system, and through abuse of power through individual police officers.

Already at that time the reform discussion on policing had much deeper roots, and there is a direct line connecting the history and those days of 2014 with what happens today, 2020. However, today the outrage is amplified, and there are signs that the calls for reforming policing, and the Police, are, finally being heard. Good.

Yes, peaceful demonstrations are proving that they are one of the most essential means and an inalienable right for citizens to participate in a democratic discourse about issues that matter.  And the subject matter of discussion is genuinely international: A friend of mine reported about participating in a demonstration in Berlin last weekend, with estimated 15.000 participants. It is one of many current events in Europe and elsewhere. Societies including my own German society have undertaken to conduct a self-critical discourse on the question as to which extent policing over here may also be unduly influenced by racial bias. Good.

Would all of that have happened without large-scale demonstrations? In my view, absolutely not. That is, by the way, why those who do resist these reforms, individually and institutionally, fear the demonstrations and thus attempt to label them with anything that would allow for discrediting intent of the demonstrations, manipulation of the course of the demonstrations and how they unfold, and the malicious labeling of individuals taking part in such demonstrations. These attempts are being conducted through manipulation, establishing and spreading unverified claims, false facts and lies, and using and spreading conspiracy-mongering strategies.

Most respected former U.S. public servants, including retired military officials are voicing their deepest concern about those who have adopted well-honed strategies practiced by systems and autocrats all over the World which have been criticised for exactly doing this by the very same United States of America. Good, because I hope the light can shine again, soon, and credible.

It looks like the peaceful demonstrations are here to stay. Good. Double down.

The range of topics in that discussion leading to these demonstrations is highly complex and beset with an enormous amount of emotions. It is about racial bias. It is about white supremacy. It is about countless cases of individual suffering and fear. It is about wrongful convictions, and a system of biased mass-incarceration, especially targeting communities of color. It is about the question how policing should be carried out, and how to hold police officers and other public officials accountable for their actions, including criminal actions. And much much more.

Within the current context of the United States, the contemporary development also can only be understood if put into the context of a society that is literally devouring itself, unraveled by a political partisan war ripping the fabric of consent into pieces about what is identifying and unifying all Americans, and what is so-called “un-American behavior”. It may well be that both sides blame the other for being un-American. The World is in disbelief. The ripples of instability stemming from this development have long arrived at the shores of Europe, Africa, Asia, and elsewhere. They bounce back from there, hitting the United States’s shores on the Atlantic and Pacific sides. Will that all calm down and settle into a new order, and will this be done with, or without violence?

Certainly, COVID-19 may have been a spark that set many things on fire. Fire? Not good in light of Global Warming. Oh yes, Global Warming is a fact. So, please, let us settle for consentual discussions allowing the young generations of this World to define our and their present, and their future.

These discussions need to be narrowed down. Topics have to be identified which can be taken forward, notwithstanding the complexity of the development as a whole. And in my view, it is extremely critical to take emotions out of these discussions, and to avoid antagonisation as much as possible. At the end of the day, a society needs to find an own consentual way forward in which positions converge into acceptable compromises. For, otherwise, there is no societal peace. And we do know that, without peace, there is no security. With no security, there is more heat. We can’t blame others for our own disengagement. But we always have the choice to engage. That’s why I am quoting James Baldwin.

This includes reforming policing, and the Police. After having settled on what policing is, the question how to implement it, follows second. Third then, one needs to consider how to fund what we want, and to re-allocate funding to where it is needed, and to stop funding of issues which run counter the implementation of what a society wants. So, in this third step, it is about de-funding, being part of a funding, and a reallocation-of-funding debate.

I should be clear: There is no way to establish a society with no self-policing of the rules that this society has given itself.

The violent death of George Floyd is a crime, one police officer is charged for second-degree murder and manslaughter. Three police officers are charged with aiding and abetting murder. George Floyd was subjected to police action after he was alleged to have used a counterfeit 20 USD bill for buying cigarettes. The police action ended in eight minutes and fourty-five seconds of suffering inflicted by some of the most cruel behavior I have seen in a while. And believe me, I have seen a lot.

It started with a counterfeit 20 USD bill. Why was Eric Garner being put into a chokehold, again? Proportionality of enforcement will be a point I will touch upon, later.

But I will say here that the reform discussion is triggered not by these few cases only, but because of the allegation that such behavior is systemic. That, also, makes it understandable why some try to argue that these actions are single cases. Which is not true. Truth matters, so look it up yourselves.

Another point in this first writing, attempting to look at the scope:

200415-michigan-protest-video-tease__415481.focal-760x428This picture was taken April 15, 2020, at Michigan Capitol

Of course I am respecting that the United States hang on to the Second Amendment. I have a personal opinion (horror and disbelief that people protest against the COVID-19 lockdown whilst carrying weapons of war), and I can also assure you that in Germany such an event would have led to as many SWAT-units as are available coming down on what would be considered a violation of strict weapons laws. But, of course, this is legal in America, thus the protest can be considered a peaceful protest.

The question I want to ask: Do you see one Afro-American person in that picture? Take a second and imagine all the individuals being black. And then, honestly, answer the question whether the indifferent action of the Police on occasion of that event would have been the same. Honestly, please!

Chances are the reaction would have been very different. That’s what I was saying in my post “Statement in Solidarity“: “Representative policing aims to ensure that the human rights of all people, without distinction of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, are protected, promoted and respected and that police personnel sufficiently reflect the community they serve.” At this moment, an overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens believes that this is not the case. Instead, we are facing a cultural form of racism, different in argument from previous forms of biological racism, but on grounds of the same attitude and thinking of white supremacy.

Statement in Solidarity

Floyd

With the “Report of the Secretary General on United Nations policing” to the United Nations Security Council as of 10 November 2016 (S2016/952), the United Nations adopted, for the first time ever, a common understanding of the function of policing, and how it must be carried out by police and law enforcement officials. This understanding can be found in https://police.un.org/en/policy-united-nations-police-peacekeeping-operations-and-special-political-missions-2014, Sections 14 to 19.

Policing refers to a function of governance responsible for the prevention, detection and investigation of crime; protection of persons and property; and the maintenance of public order and safety. Police and law enforcement officials have the obligation to respect and protect human rights, including the right to life, liberty and security of the person, as guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reaffirmed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other relevant instruments.

Pursuant to the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, police and other law enforcement officials are required, at all times, to fulfil the duty imposed upon them by law, by serving the community and by protecting all persons against illegal acts consistent with the high degree of responsibility required by their profession.

For the United Nations, the function of domestic policing must be entrusted to civil servants who are members of police or other law enforcement agencies of a national, regional or local government, within a legal framework that is based on the rule of law.

In accordance with United Nations standards, every police or other law enforcement agency should be representative of and responsive and accountable to the community it serves.

Representative policing aims to ensure that the human rights of all people, without distinction of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, are protected, promoted and respected and that police personnel sufficiently reflect the community they serve. Fair and non-discriminatory recruitment and retention policies are expected to encourage, among other goals, an adequate participation of women and minority groups.

Responsive policing ensures that police respond to existing and emerging public needs and expectations, especially in preventing and detecting crime and maintaining public order and safety. Policing objectives are informed by the public safety concerns of the communities they serve and are attained lawfully, efficiently and effectively and in accordance with international norms and standards in crime prevention, criminal justice and human rights law.

Accountable policing means that police are accountable to the law, as are all individuals and institutions in States; that police are answerable to the public through the democratic and political institutions of the state, as well as through civilian democratic oversight bodies and mechanisms to improve community-police relations; that police are accountable for the way they use the resources allocated to them and that effective mechanisms are established for accountability over police conduct, including any allegations or established human rights violations committed by the police.

For the United Nations, the rule of law refers to a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards. It requires, as well, measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency.

 

As one of the chief architects of this United Nations policy, I stand in solidarity with the countless citizens, in the United States of America and all over the World, who exercise their right to demonstrate peacefully. I join them in expressing utter outrage in the face of widespread racism, white supremacy, and a systemic and horrifying abuse of power including most serious and heinous crimes by police officials against communities and individuals of color, and minorities.

I call on my fellow police colleagues to stand in humility and in support of the communities they serve, to walk with them, and to protect them. The streets belong to citizens peacefully exercising their rights and enjoying their freedom. They are neither a battle-ground to be dominated, nor a place for curfews preventing peaceful citizens to exercise their most basic human and citizen’s rights, including the freedom of opinion and speech. Curfews can only be possible under most serious and temporary circumstances.

No public official shall use his or her power for violently pushing peaceful citizens aside.

I call on my fellow police leaders to exercise a strict no-tolerance-policy towards acts of violence and the systemic disrespect of police officials towards the communities they are obliged to serve. No zero-tolerance-policy against violence and criminal conduct is legitimate in a democratic society if those who are mandated to serve and to protect peaceful citizens show no respect to the law, to the values underpinning the laws, and to fellow citizens, themselves.

I commend those police officers who apologize to victims of police violence and abuse of power, but I also say: You must work long and hard to earn back the respect of those citizens who have lost faith in you. You are meant to protect, rather than to be an instrument of “law & order”.

My heart goes with all victims of police abuse of power and horrible crimes including murder, conducted by individual police officers, supported by a cruel and self-serving, selfish and dividing attitude by those who believe they can exercise unrestrained power, rather than fulfilling an obligation to serve all citizens who have democratically elected them.

I am saddened, ashamed, and deeply sorry. I hope we can all breathe together.

 

Stefan Feller, Former United Nations Police Adviser and Director of the Police Division (2013 – 2017).

Berlin and Belgrade, June 06, 2020

Slaying the Hydra

This blog article for the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime is the more condensed and edited version of my previous article “Why global cooperation on peace and security is needed – An argument against divisiveness from the perspective of fighting organized crime.”

“UN Police – Slaying The Hydra, UN Police challenges to respond to organized crime” was published June 14, 2018 in the UN-TOC Watch section of the blog of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime:

International policing must gear up to tackle the challenge of organized crime as a major transnational threat to peace and stability, otherwise the many-headed beast will continue to thrive.

During my five years as the police adviser to the UN, the UN Police did a lot to raise awareness about the importance of fighting transnational organized crime within the broader context of peace and security, as evidenced by two groundbreaking resolutions in 2014 and 2017. The message is simple: for conflict prevention, and for peacebuilding efforts to be successful, the relevance of organized crime must be understood, its threats identified and vulnerabilities mitigated.

In contemporary conflict environments, actors who are not party to ceasefire processes or peace agreements may threaten such efforts towards stability. Many belong to a nexus that links transnational organized crime, violent extremism and international terrorism. Organized crime takes advantage of conflict and war to counter law-enforcement efforts, while extremism and international terrorism use organized crime as a business model. Thus, efforts aimed at re-establishing governance are attacked by criminals and violent extremists. This is a menace for countries shaken by conflict, as peace depends on legitimate governance in which all communities find their space.

The consequences of transnational organized crime – such as trafficking in human beings, forms of exploitation and slavery, and trafficking in weapons or narcotics – may also contribute to the current global rise of nationalism and populism. And, more recently, peace operations have become a target themselves.

Organized crime and violent extremism not only weaken existing governance, they also establish their own governance systems. Islamic State is a case in point, being an extremist ideology that has imposed an entire bureaucratic, public-services and tax system. The organization also uses criminal enterprise to generate revenue, much of it transnational. Hence it can be difficult to distinguish between individuals and networks representing ‘classical’ transnational organized crime and violent extremists who benefit from it.

Diplomatic and military efforts are limited or rendered toothless given the complex nature of the organized-crime threat. Individual states and the international community struggle against a faceless, multidimensional and highly secretive enemy. Unlike Islamic State, which exploits a sophisticated media machine, transnational organized crime has no public voice; instead, it thrives on deception, bringing to mind the many-headed Hydra of Greek mythology, which proved almost impossible to slay.

When faced with this sort of complex challenge, the authorities often resort to efforts of disruption. But every experienced law-enforcement officer knows that disruption can never be more than a temporary alternative to the real objective: permanently disbanding the network. Multinational organizations need long-term strategies – something that tends not to come naturally to political processes. And neither foreign ministries nor military forces have experts on transnational organized crime, crime prevention, community-oriented policing or intelligence collection within a civilian legal framework. Responding to organized crime in complex settings requires careful, thoughtful engagement, capable of sustaining a long-term effort. Policing expertise is essential. However, this sort of expertise has often played second fiddle to military responses, often with negative consequences.

Transnational organized crime is like a highly complex technological system that functions through an untold number of connections and nodes. Similarly, responding to it, much like operating a complicated piece of machinery, necessitates a detailed understanding of how the system works, otherwise there is a risk of further destabilization and thriving illicit activity.

 

Strengthening the peacekeeping/law enforcement response to organized crime

In June 2016, ministers of the interior, chiefs of police and other high-level officials from more than 100 member states gathered at the UN headquarters for the first-ever summit of UN police chiefs. Participants called for the need to tackle transnational organized crime and deploy more specialist expertise – based on specific capacity gaps within national institutions and priorities requested by host states. They encouraged stronger partnerships between the UN Police, the African Union, the European Union, INTERPOL, EUROPOL, the emerging AFRIPOL, AMERIPOL, ASEANAPOL, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and other partner organizations. In June 2018, the UN will host the second UN Chiefs of Police Summit, which will aim to take stock and move forward on organized crime.

Meanwhile, Secretary General António Guterres argues that the future of peacekeeping operations is linked to UN Police and that more investment in this area will be essential. The same sentiment can be found in the 2016 European Union Global Strategy. The EU is working on getting EUROPOL closer to crisis management missions of the EU abroad. The recognition that experts on transnational organized crime need to be provided to support actions within a foreign-policy context is slowly growing, although I don’t see this reflected in national police budgets.

Between 2014 and 2016, the UN also finalized the policy of the Strategic Guidance Framework (SGF). This long-standing, worldwide effort, supported by a global network of law-enforcement professionals, enhances the effectiveness of the UN Police in peace operations. Mapping out the interdependency of community-oriented policing and intelligence-led policing is but one of many examples of how the SGF tackles the challenges presented by transnational threats, including that of organized crime. The SGF has become an internationally acknowledged reference point for how to strengthen host states’ law-enforcement capacities and capabilities, giving international policing a first-ever framework. Meanwhile, the establishment of a Serious and Organized Crime Team in the UN Police Division, and the creation of an entire network of focal points on transnational organized crime are examples of efforts to translate the SGF framework into practice.

Such efforts are key to an effective global response to a global threat. But there is no space for complacency. We need to be seriously concerned. We are witnessing the erosion of a willingness to think globally in the face of global challenges and threats, in an environment where no local event can be separated from the global, and vice versa – often with unforeseen consequences. But populism thrives on the pretence that there are easy solutions to the world’s problems and that those who say otherwise are merchants of ‘fake news’. Nationalist sentiment rolls back global and regional achievements, and presents a threat to more integration. And, at the extreme end of the scale, a new wave of fascist movements are intent on destroying what has been achieved by liberal societies, including the rule of law. I know of no examples in contemporary history where such assaults on the rule of law and increasing patterns of authoritarianism have not led to greater levels of organized crime and corruption.

Impressive steps have been made in bringing about a truly global approach to international policing. But these achievements can easily be wiped out. New and resolute thinking is now needed to prevent organized crime from benefiting from the erosion of the rule of law. We have to better acknowledge the complex effects of transnational crime on conflict and war; we have to acknowledge that inadequate efforts to deal with conflict, or to help rebuild post-conflict settings, nurture transnational crime’s ability to thrive.

Ultimately, fighting crime is a civilian core function within society. As the Global Initiative advocates, networks can only be fought by networks – in this case, networks of law-enforcement and criminal-justice organizations. In states and regions already weakened by conflict and war, transnational crime thrives and domestic law-enforcement partner organizations struggle. Whether through outright assistance or temporary international involvement, we have to help our partners from the outset. It requires our active commitment not only with diplomats and soldiers, but also with police and justice expertise. And it requires doing things together, including with national and international law-enforcement agencies.

Why global cooperation on peace and security is needed – An argument against divisiveness from the perspective of fighting organized crime

Over the past five years United Nations Police significantly increased the awareness of the impact of serious and organized crime on conflict and war. In two groundbreaking resolutions on policing, (2185/2014 and 2382/2017) the UN Security Council recognized the relevance of efforts supporting the fight against transnational organized crime within the continuum of peace and security. For conflict prevention, peace operations and peacebuilding efforts to become successful, its relevance must be understood.

It’s as simple as that: First comes the threat identification, followed by the identification of vulnerabilities. Then there must be decisive mitigation.

In contemporary conflict environments, asymmetric threats originate from actors who are not party to ceasefire processes or peace agreements. Add interlocutors to the mix who are involved into peace processes and have second and third agendas. The former have no interest in supporting peace processes, the latter’s commitment is limited by the extent to which their own, often hidden, agendas can be implemented. The entire initial process might become unidentifiable, leaving us with the question “How did we end up here?”

All of these actors belong to a nexus tying transnational crime, violent extremism and international terrorism together. They thrive on and create corruption. Organized crime uses conflict and war to counter enforcement efforts, and extremism and international terrorism use organized crime as a business model.

This is a menace for host-countries affected by conflict or shaken by war, as peace requires security and depends on legitimate governance in which all communities find their space. Thus, the efforts of reestablishing governance are attacked by criminals and violent extremists. More recently, peace operations have become a target themselves. Whether peace operations make it or break it in assisting in mitigating this threat is something direly felt by neighbors, or even neighboring regions: The threat affects whole regions and has global implications.

More than that: Rampant consequences of transnational organized crime, such as trafficking in human beings and forms of exploitation and slavery, trafficking in weapons, or narcotics, all have an impact on the global rise of nationalism and populism.

Organized crime and violent extremism do not only weaken existing governance, they also establish their own governance: We know all too well that criminal networks regularly control societal aspects of the life of people. The Islamic State is an example for an ideology establishing the whole gamut of a bureaucracy, public services and taxes. Such extremism again uses crime for generating revenue, and most of it is transnational. When we draw network-relationship-diagrammes, it is sometimes difficult to separate persons and networks representing “classical’ transnational organized crime and those on the side of violent extremism. However, the immense role of transnational crime is undeniable.

Diplomatic and military efforts are limited or rendered even toothless because of the complex nature of the threat: Committed actors in host States and the International Community struggle with a faceless, multidimensional and highly secretive enemy. Unlike Islamic State using the entire media machine, transnational organized crime has no public voice, but is uses deception. Ancient Greek mythology comes to mind, every decapitation of one head of the Hydra causes its replacement with two new heads. When we are faced with this complexity, we often resort to efforts of disruption. Every experienced law enforcement officer knows that disruption can never be more than a temporary alternative to the real objective: Disbanding the network.

International, regional and foreign national actors in the same theater of operations are faced with an extremely high degree of complexity. Formulating a mandate for action by multinational organizations is challenged right from the beginning by the need for long-term strategies to be factored in from the outset. That doesn’t come natural for political processes. Secondly, the effective implementation of mandates by multiple actors depends both on coherent political backing and having the right means. They are usually provided by member States. But neither foreign ministries nor the military has experts on transnational organized crime, crime prevention, community-oriented policing, and intelligence collection within a civilian legal framework. This leads, thirdly, to that we all are willing to acknowledge complexity, but we do not always accept the consequence: a resulting need for a gentle, thoughtful engagement, with highly capable expertise from the beginning, sustainable in its ability to adapt within a long-term support effort. Traditionally, this sort of expertise often comes second when political decision-makers hear it. The military is heard first.

Imagine a board with many instruments and switches, and you have almost no knowledge of most connections under the hood. Transnational crime is part of an unknown number of such connections. Would you use a careful approach, attempting to understand better before operating the switches? Would you apply gentle changes that can be corrected, reverted, fine tuned as you go and understand better? Or would you use a wrench? Would you say “Yes, that’s a complicated thing, that’s for later and for others, I’m using the wrench anyway because I lack finer tools.” For the hammer, all things look like nails. The result of inadequate action on complexity is often the opposite of what was intended: Further destabilization and illicit control thrive.

In reality this means that (1) we have to do better to acknowledge the complex effects of transnational crime on conflict and war and (2) we have to acknowledge that inadequate handling from the beginning of any effort to prevent or handle conflict, or to help re-building post-conflict, nurtures transnational crime’s ability to thrive.

Ultimately, fighting crime is a civilian core function within a society. As transnational crime is a network of networks affecting many societies, networks can only be fought by networks. In this case, networks of law enforcement and criminal justice organizations. But within States and regions weakened by conflict and war, transnational crime thrives and domestic law enforcement partner organizations struggle and are suffocated. Whether through outright assistance or temporary international executive involvement, we have to help our partners from the outset on. Because our partners they are, they are peers in dire need, undermined by the enemy. It requires our active commitment not only with diplomats and soldiers, but with a wide range of police and justice expertise. And it requires doing things together, including national and international law enforcement agencies.

In June 2016, Ministers of the Interior, Chiefs of Police and high-level officials from more than 100 Member States gathered at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Organized by the Police Division of DPKO, this first ever summit of Police Chiefs under the United Nation’s umbrella (UN COPS) called, amongst other important issues, on tackling transnational organized crime, acknowledging the need to deploy more specialized expertise – based on specific capacity gaps of national institutions and priorities requested by host States. Participants encouraged fostering strengthened partnerships between the United Nations Police, the African Union, the European Union, INTERPOL, EUROPOL, the emerging AFRIPOL, AMERIPOL, ASEANAPOL, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and other partner organizations.

In June 2018, the United Nations will witness the second UN COPS, taking stock and moving forward, if possible. In the invitation, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres states that the future of peacekeeping operations is linked to UN Police and that more investment in this area will be essential. The UN maps the context: “Violent conflict and global challenges, including organized crime, violence and extremism conducive to terrorism, affect the safety, security and livelihoods of communities. These challenges undermine rule of law institutions, as well as the ability of police to prevent, detect and investigate crime, protect persons and property, and maintain public order.

This statement goes far beyond peacekeeping: It is a global challenge of great urgency. The same can be found in the 2016 European Union Global Strategy. The EU is working on getting EUROPOL closer to crisis management missions of the EU abroad. The recognition that experts on transnational organized crime need to be provided to actions within a foreign policy context is slowly growing, but I don’t see it reflected in national police budgets.

Between 2014 and 2016 the United Nations finalized the policy of the Strategic Guidance Framework SGF (https://police.un.org/en/sgf). This longstanding and worldwide effort, supported by a global network of law enforcement professionals, enhances the effectiveness of UN police in peace operations. It presents a consistent approach to how UN Police works, and especially the provision of support to host-State police services. Mapping out the interdependency of community-oriented policing and intelligence-led policing is but one of many examples for how the SGF tackles the challenges presented by transnational threats including organized crime. Handbooks are being produced and command training is being rolled out. The SGF has become an internationally acknowledged reference point for how to strengthen host State’s law enforcement capacities and capabilities, giving international policing a first-ever framework.

Such efforts are key for a global response to a global threat.

There is, however, no space for complacency. As a matter of fact, there is space for serious concern. We witness the erosion of a willingness to think globally in light of global challenges and global threats. Ours are times in which no local event can be separated from global, and no global event can be separated from local consequences. Because our world is complex, these consequences show up in often unforeseen ways. But populism pretends that there are easy solutions to the World’s problems and that those who say otherwise are “fake news”. Nationalism rolls back global and regional achievements and presents a threat to more integration. On the extreme end, a new fascism attacks achievements of liberal societies, including the rule of law.

How would the rule of the powerful instead of the rule of law not translate into more organized crime and corruption? I know of no example in contemporary history where it would have not. We have come an impressive part of the way, but it can easily be reverted during these times. New and resolute thinking is required to prevent organized crime from benefiting from the erosion of the rule of law.