Britain’s College of Policing, the professional body for police training, has made millions of pounds in the last three years by training forces in countries that use the death penalty.
Among the countries where the college offers training in “leadership, forensics and intelligence” are Bahrain, China, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Uganda. In all, 21 of the countries where the college operates training programmes have the death penalty. Yesterday Amnesty International revealed that executions worldwide are at a 25-year-high, with at least 158 people killed in 2015 in Saudi Arabia alone.
At least 25 of the countries in which the college operates have forces that have been accused by campaigners of human rights abuses and torture.
BuzzFeed News has seen a document that shows 242 officers from the college have been deployed in the last three years to Qatar, where police have been accused of torture and abuse.
In the Dominican Republic, another country where the college operates, 87 people were killed by the police in the first half of 2014. Amnesty International has written an open letter to nation’s president saying that it has documented cases of torture, forced disappearances, and arbitrary arrests in the country.
Despite the concerns over the countries in which it operates, the college has made vast profits on its overseas training contracts. A freedom of information request by campaigners and seen by BuzzFeed News reveals the college earned £6.2 million (including £2.7 million from the Middle East and £1.3 million from Africa) in the last three years by offering the training.
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade, which carried out the FOI request, told BuzzFeed News: “The police college has worked with some of the most repressive police forces in the world. There is very little information about what the work involves and no evidence that it has resulted in improved human rights anywhere.
“A number of the police forces involved have been accused of torture, and many uphold and enforce extremely repressive laws, including the death penalty. The UK police college should not be giving legitimacy to these practices or profiting from the oppression taking place.”
There are questions of transparency around the exact nature of the training provided by the college. It does not disclose commercial details, partly because, it says, doing so could “expose vulnerabilities in the capability of overseas police forces that could be exploited by criminals”. Documents discussing the contracts that have been unearthed by campaigners, such as this agreement with the Kingdom of Bahrain, have done little to illustrate the nature of the work.
Earlier this year the BBC’s World at One revealed that more than 250 officers from Saudi Arabia had been given specialist training, but the college refused to disclose the content of that training (and the amount it was paid). The Financial Times columnist David Allen Green said it was “hardly reassuring” to know that the International Policing Assistance Board, which approves the deals, has never rejected a training proposal.
A spokesperson for the College of Policing said: "Any training of overseas law enforcement officers is overseen by the cross-governmental International Policing Assistance Board (IPAB) which comprises policing representatives and those of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Home Office, Ministry of Defence, Department for International Development and devolved administrations.
"IPAB coordinates the delivery of the Government's overseas interests and reviews training initiatives to ensure that they support the UK's international priorities.
"All training delivered by the College meets the highest international standards and respect for human rights and dignity is interwoven into programmes.
"Decisions about UK policing assistance overseas must reconcile the difficulties of working with countries whose standards of human rights may be at odds with our own with the opportunity to address national security concerns, reduce harm to individuals, help to protect UK citizens overseas and contribute to reform in those countries.
"The College has never provided overseas assistance without IPAB’s recommendation."
Alan White is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Alan White at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.