The price of justice

True story accompanying image

عربي

Picture the scene: you own a small shop on a busy street in a capital city. Arriving at work, it’s clear there has been a burglary. Someone has burst through an inside wall, there’s rubble and smashed glass everywhere. The door of the safe is hanging open, and the money has gone. So has US$15,000 worth of merchandise.

You go straight to the police, but as soon as you start explaining what’s happened, the on-duty officer stops you. He can’t write anything down, he says, until he’s been paid. And he wants several hundred dollars. Next, the detective arrives to take finger prints. He wants his money, too.

That was the scene that 33-year-old Hussein* says he confronted. The owner of an electronic shop in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, Hussein’s business is located just blocks from where the country’s deposed president is under house arrest, and the road is lined with countless police cars day and night. Despite this, he says that there was little chance of finding an officer to help him. Like almost 60 per cent of Yemenis, he had to pay a bribe before the police would listen to him.

“Security is extremely fragile in Yemen, and the police are paid little, so if you want something done, you need money,” says Tawfiq Al-Budiji, Executive Director of our centre in the country. “We’ve heard of cases where families of kidnap victims have been asked to hand over thousands of dollars before the police would take up the case.”

In Hussein’s case, the bill was US$1,200. “If I hadn’t paid, there would have been no chance of an investigation,” he says. Many in his position would not have been able to pay – US$1,200 equates to the GNI per capita in Yemen, a country where an estimated 55 per cent live in poverty.

And even if you manage to find the cash, Hussein says, there’s still the chance you’ll get out-bid.

“I was contacted by the deputy police chief while the investigation was supposedly on-going”, he says. “He offered to pay me half of all damages as long as I dropped the charges.” Hussein believes that while he was paying the police to investigate the crime, others might have been paying them to ignore it. Months have passed, he says, but still no-one has been arrested.

His testimony paints a grim picture of access to justice in Yemen, and it’s only one of many we’ve heard.  This is why our Yemeni centre is launching a national campaign to tackle police corruption at the root. Throughout December 2013 we’re teaming up the national anti-corruption commission to offer targeted trainings and awareness-raising campaigns across the country, helping ensure officers have the skills they need to stamp out bribery.

Action is needed urgently, says Tawfiq. “Corrupt policing is undermining basic security and basic dignity,” he says. “The people of Yemen deserve officers who work to benefit the public, not their bank accounts.”

* Name has been changed

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