In September 2020, the Co-organisers of the 19th Informal ASEM Human Rights Seminar series presented the seminar’s follow-up training component with the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights (NCHR). The professional training on “Human Rights-Compliant Policing” was aimed at police investigators, public prosecutors and other professionals involved in promoting and upholding the rule of law in Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) countries.

Over the course of 3 weeks of preparatory work followed by 3 virtual sessions, 28 participants representing 16 ASEM nationalities learned about a non-coercive, efficient, and human rights-based approach for conducting interviews with victims, witnesses and suspects of crime. The training made known international guidelines on investigative interviewing and associated safeguards as tools for law enforcement authorities and officers by a mix of criminal justice experts from Asia and Europe.

The information derived from police interviews is an essential part of the criminal justice system and has an impact on the outcome, reliability, and fairness of criminal procedures. The goal of investigative interviewing is to obtain reliable, accurate and effective information by taking a more evidence gathering approach, as the participants learned though this interactive virtual programme. The method has been described “as a tool for mitigating the use of torture, coercion and psychological manipulation, and for averting forced confessions and errors of justice leading to wrongful convictions and miscarriages of justice” by Dr Asbjørn RACHLEW, a police superintendent in the Oslo police district, a guest researcher at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights and a trainer of the Human Rights-Compliant Policing programme. The method has drawn a lot of interest from the international community in recent years, including a number of Asian and European countries which have implemented it as part of their investigative process and replaced their old interrogation techniques, as the training highlighted.

Participants benefited from the trainers’ vast and varied expertise in the area of law enforcement and police interviewing. During the first session, the participants were introduced to the concept and background of non-coercive interviewing by Dr Rachlew, and given guidance on how to gather complete and reliable information at the crime scene while ensuring memory is protected by Dr Becky MILNE, Professor of Forensic Psychology at the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Portsmouth. Dr MILNE underscored the importance of building a trusting relationship between the interviewer and the victim, suspect or witness of a crime, which reduces the risk of unreliable information.

The second session covered the main safeguards against torture and ill-treatment by Dr Alice EDWARDS from Convention against Torture Initiative (CTI), while Dr Ivar FAHSING, Detective Chief Superintendent and Associate Professor at the Norwegian Police University College discussed the role of confirmation bias in suspect interviews. Ms Santanee DITSAYABUT, Provincial Chief Public Prosecutor, Thailand, and Mr Knut ASPLUND (NCHR), on behalf of a representative of the Indonesian Police, concluded the second session by sharing regional experiences and challenges related to the implementation of non-coercive interview methods, with particular focus on Thailand and Indonesia.

The training ended with a panel discussion by Ms Ditsayabut and Dr Fahsing on the prosecutorial value and impact of investigative interviewing. The participants were also asked to present their lists of recommendations on “problematic areas” within their national legal framework or policy framework of their agency where they suggest amendments should be made to ensure the full implementation and integration of a non-coercive interviewing approach into law enforcement’s investigative practices.

The recommendations ranged from legal reforms, such as the right to have a lawyer, provision of legal aid and regulation of wiretapping, to changes in the criminal procedures and in the training and supervision of interviewers. However, for the reform measures to be far-reaching enough, it was pointed out that they need to be accompanied with a change in mindset and institutional cultures that rely on obtaining confessions.  

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Human Rights Training is a component under the framework of the Informal ASEM Seminar on Human Rights series. It was introduced to support the series' overall objective of promoting mutual understanding and cooperation on human rights in ASEM. The purpose of this training is to improve the capacity of ASEM Partners to promote human rights in their work.

The training on “Human Rights-Compliant Policing” served as follow-up to the 19th Informal ASEM Seminar on “Human Rights Education & Training”, which called for better access to human rights training for all those acting on behalf of the state and more effective implementation of human rights training among professional groups. For more details on the Seminar findings, go here.