Police Scotland has defended two controversial contracts to train foreign police including a partnership with Jamaica, whose officers were accused of 168 murders last year prompting a global outcry.
A reply to a freedom of information request by Police Scotland revealed that its international contracts in 2017 also included a training programme in Sri Lanka, another state accused of gross human rights abuses including police torture.
The Ferret requested information (FoI) on training Police Scotland provided to other countries last year, both here and abroad, plus details of projects with private organisations.
The force’s reply revealed it had provided training in Anguilla, Cayman Islands, India, Malawi, Namibia, Pakistan and Zambia.
Police from Norway, Finland, Lower Saxony and the USA, attended courses in Scotland, as did the organisers of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
The FoI reply also said that Scots officers were sent to Jamaica and Sri Lanka to train their respective police forces, two projects criticised by human groups.
In reply, however, Superintendent Shaun McKillop of Police Scotland, said he fully acknowledged such concerns but added that not to engage with these nations would mean having no influence over improving the situation in the future.
McKillop – head of Police Scotland’s International Development and Innovation Unit – leads a team of five people at Tulliallan in Fife and has overseen foreign projects for two years.
He explained that police have been performing international work on a not for profit basis since around 2006-07, when training was mostly based at the Scottish Police College.
“When Police Scotland took the decision to work on development of the National Police College of Jamaica, we hope they considered the deeply troubling wave of civilian killings by Jamaican police which cannot continue to go unpunished." Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty International's Scotland Programme Director.
The force’s work abroad later expanded after it was asked to help the Sri Lankan government in 2009, when the nation’s 26 year civil war ended.
“Sri Lanka remains one of the key places for the UK government, so we continue to work for them through the conflict, stability and security fund,” McKillop said. “We’ve done some work for the UK government in Pakistan, looking at crime investigation in the Punjab. We’ve also worked for the Scottish Government in Malawi and Zambia.”
The Jamaican project is a new challenge for Police Scotland, with McKillop and colleagues tasked with developing the National Police College of Jamaica. The contract – funded by the European Union – is with the Jamaica’s Ministry of National Security.
But Amnesty International raised concerns over the relationship, following what it described as a “deeply troubling wave of civilian killings by Jamaican police” last year. Jamaican law enforcement officers killed 168 people – an average of three people a week – prompting a campaign by Amnesty that has generated 65,000 letters of protest.
Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty International’s Scotland Programme Director, said that the human rights organisation had “repeatedly sought assurances” from Police Scotland it would consider the human rights context in countries it engages with.
She also questioned whether working with police forces accused of murder and torture is “making a positive contribution or providing a de-facto shield for human rights abuses”.
"We make it clear, right at the outset, that any work we’ll be doing with the host country is going to be human rights compliant, based on a human rights approach." Shaun McKillop, Head of Police Scotland’s International Development and Innovation Unit.
In reply, McKillop said: “Before we operate in any of these countries we have to undertake an overseas security and justice assessment. We absolutely recognise there are issues – as highlighted by Amnesty – and we work very closely with Amnesty.”
The work in Jamaica is designed to improve the training of police officers across the country, McKillop said, adding that Police Scotland “has human rights at its core”.
He added: “Human rights is the thread, particularly when we’re doing international work. We make it clear, right at the outset, that any work we’ll be doing with the host country is going to be human rights compliant, based on a human rights approach. And they have to acknowledge and accept that before we will ever work with them. Jamaica is no different.”
Later this month a deputation from Jamaica will come to Scotland, an opportunity for Police Scotland to reinforce the above message, McKillop said.
He also defended his unit’s role in Sri Lanka, a relationship running for nearly 10 years now, despite ongoing concerns over the use of torture by police.
Freedom from Torture (FfT) – a charity that treats torture survivors from Sri Lanka in Scotland – said it was concerned there was a “lack of focus on human rights issues, especially torture prevention”.
Ann Hannah, of FfT, said torture continues to be a problem in Sri Lanka. She added: “Recent public threats by the Sri Lankan defence attaché in London suggest that there is a culture of impunity that remains unchallenged.
“Without reforming the structures that have allowed torture to continue and signalling publicly that this is an essential pillar of engagement, this sends a message to perpetrators that they can continue to act without consequence.”
When asked why state torture remains a problem in Sri Lanka nearly a decade after Police Scotland began its work there, McKillop said it was important to keep engaging with the country.
He said: “The British High Commission review our training on a regular basis, as well as our own monitoring. We are continuing to work with them and to press them. I understand the concerns, we absolutely understand the concerns, and have regular conversation with the British High Commission and Sri Lankan Police about these concerns.
“Because we are working with them, we are able to have these conversations with them. It’s not ideal but we will continue to work and do what we can to improve that situation.”
McKillop pointed to his unit’s work elsewhere, saying the force is striving to protect vulnerable children and women. In Malawi, for example, they train local police on child protection and gender based violence.
Officers have worked with Malawi’s Victim Support Unit (VSU) to see how its approaches could be improved, and they sent detectives to the 10 worst affected districts, as identified by the Malawi Government.
The aim is to improve how police in Malawi deal with victims of serious sexual crimes and look after their needs, and they’ve advised colleagues that a multi-agency approach can help to ensure that victims are supported through the whole process.
McKillop added: “We brought three key members of Malawi Police Service to Scotland and showcased the Scottish approach to them. Not because we wanted them to adopt the Scottish approach – what we wanted them to do was to identify areas where they could actually take that practice and deliver it in Malawi.
“And through that, we were able to sit down with them and develop what we call a first responders’ course, a training course for their officers, for their Victim Support Unit, to give them the skills to gather evidence in a far more effective manner at first point of contact.”
As of last week, Police Scotland will have concluded its first responder training in Malawi to 195 VSU officers across the country, and later this year the unit will return to evaluate the situation. “We’ve already seen some positive signs and we will take that on and develop it further,” McKillop said.
A version of this story was published by The Sunday Post on 8th April 2018.