Terror, violence and the abuse
of human rights
The liberal view of policing conceives of police actions as contextualised by the rule of law. Police intervention and the use of force are justified both by the legitimacy of such actions in a legal sense and by the political legitimacy of a consensual social order. This model provides little assistance in understanding police functions which rely on extra-legal or illegal actions. This chapter explores the related issues of police violence, terror and the abuse of human rights. I have used a broad concept of violence which includes obvious physical assault as well as the use of terror, torture and ill-treatment. Within the category of violence I also discuss the failure to exercise a level of duty of care. The outcomes which arise when police fail to adequately perform their responsibilities, particularly those which arise from a duty of care to persons in their custody, are often disastrous. Many Aboriginal deaths in custody have arisen through failure to exercise a required duty of care. I have termed the results of this failure the ‘violence of neglect’.
The following discussion of police violence is contextualised both historically through a consideration of the role of terror in policing Aboriginal communities, and within the contemporary discourses on human rights. I aim to draw out the continuities in the use of violence against Indigenous people, while at the same time placing contemporary manifestations of violence and illtreatment within the context of the abuse of internationally recognised human rights standards.
Terror has been a powerful weapon in the history of colonisation (Taussig 1987; Morris 1992). It has been a component of the Australian colonial process from the first days of settlement. The