Private Policing and Human Rights

Law and Ethics of Human Rights 5 (1):113-136 (2011)
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Very little of the expanding debate over private policing has employed the language of human rights. This is notable not just because private policing is a distinctly global phenomenon, and human rights have become, as Michael Ignatieff puts it, “the lingua franca of global moral thought.” It is notable as well because a parallel development that seems in many ways related to the spread of private policing—the escalating importance of private military companies—has been debated as a matter of human rights. This Article asks whether discussions of private policing have been impoverished by their failure to employ the language of human rights. It begins by discussing the dramatic rise, over the past several decades, in the size and significance of private policing. It then summarizes the academic and public policy debates about that development and considers what, if anything, the language of human rights could add to those debates, and whether the addition would be welcome. One strand of the Article compares the debate over private policing with the debate over private military companies. Another strand compares private policing with private prisons, in light of the recent ruling by the Supreme Court of Israel declaring private prisons unconstitutional. The Article concludes that the benefits of introducing the language of human rights into debates about private policing are far from clear—with one exception. Human rights, particularly as codified in international treaties, do seem a promising way to get traction on a particular aspect of police privatization that has received less attention than it deserves: the way in which widespread reliance on private security firms may weaken public commitment to providing everyone with a minimally acceptable degree of protection against private violence



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