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10 Basic Human Rights Standards for Law Enforcement Officials
10 Basic Human Rights Standards
for Law Enforcement Officials
These 10 Basic Human Rights Standards for Law Enforcement Officials were prepared by Amnesty International in association with police officials and experts from different countries. They are based on United Nations law enforcement, criminal justice and human rights standards. They are intended as a quick reference, and not as a full explanation of or commentary on the applicability of international human rights standards relevant to law enforcement.
This document is intended to raise awareness amongst government officials, parliamentarians, journalists and non-governmental organizations of some fundamental standards which should be part of any police training and police practice.
It is hoped that police authorities will be able to use these 10 basic standards as a starting point to develop detailed guidance for the training and monitoring of the conduct of police agents. Certainly, it is the duty of all officers to ensure that their colleagues uphold the ethical standards of their profession - the standards outlined here are essential for exercising that responsibility.
Everyone shares responsibility to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in its entirety. Nevertheless the UDHR contains a number of articles which are particularly relevant for law enforcement work:
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person (Article 3, UDHR)
Other documents directly relevant to policing work are the following United Nations law enforcement, criminal justice and human rights instruments:
UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials
The UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, the UN Standard Minimum Rules and the UN Body of Principles set out several important principles and prerequisites for the humane performance of law enforcement functions, including that:
Every law enforcement agency should be representative of, and responsive and accountable to, the community as a whole
The effective maintenance of ethical standards among law enforcement officials depends on the existence of a well-conceived, popularly accepted and humane system of laws
Every law enforcement official is a part of the criminal justice system, the aim of which is to prevent and control crime, and the conduct of every official has an impact on the entire system
Every law enforcement agency should discipline itself to uphold international human rights standards and the actions of law enforcement officials should be open to public scrutiny
Standards for humane conduct of law enforcement officials lack practical value unless their content and meaning become part of the creed of every law enforcement official, through education and training and through monitoring.
The term "law enforcement officials" includes all officers of the law, whether appointed or elected, who exercise police powers, especially the powers of arrest and detention. This should be given the widest possible interpretation, and includes military and other security personnel as well as immigration officials where they exercise such powers.
Copies of UN law enforcement, criminal justice and human rights standards can be obtained from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland (http://www.un.org/cgi-bin/treaty 2.pl or E-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Basic Standard 1:
Everyone is entitled to equal protection of the law,
For the implementation of Basic Standard 1 it is of great importance that police officers at all times fulfil the duty imposed on them by law, by serving the community and protecting all persons against illegal acts, consistent with the high degree of responsibility required by their profession. They must promote and protect human dignity and maintain and uphold the human rights of all persons, among which are the following:
Everyone has the right to liberty and security of the person
No law enforcement official may inflict, instigate or tolerate any act of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, nor may they invoke superior orders or exceptional circumstances such as a state of war or threat of war, or political instability or other public emergency as a justification for such acts. Special attention should be given to the protection of human rights of members of potentially vulnerable groups, such as children, the elderly, women, refugees, displaced persons and members of minority groups.
Sources include: UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials (Articles 1,2,5), Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (paragraph 2.2.4)
Basic Standard 2:
Treat all victims of crime with compassion and respect,
Victims are people who have suffered harm, including mental and physical injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights through acts or omissions that are in violation of criminal law.
For the implementation of Basic Standard 2, police officers must:
Ensure that, if needed, measures are taken to ensure the protection and safety
of victims from intimidation and retaliation
Sources include: UN Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power (Principles 4, 14, 15, 16 and 17), CEDAW - General Recommendation No 19 (11th Session, 1992)
Basic Standard 3:
Do not use force except when strictly necessary
The implementation of Basic Standard 3 involves, among other things, that Police officers, in carrying out their duty, should apply non-violent means as far as possible before resorting to the use of force. They may use force only if other means remain ineffective or without any promise of achieving the necessary result. Basic Standard 3 must be implemented in accordance with Basic Standard 4 and 5.
Whenever the lawful use of force is unavoidable, police officers must:
Exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the
offence and the legitimate objective to be achieved
Sources include: UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials (Article 3), UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (Principles 4, 5, 6 and 9)
Basic Standard 4:
Avoid using force when policing unlawful but
Everyone is allowed to participate in peaceful assemblies, whether political or non-political, subject only to very limited restrictions imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society to protect such interests as public order and public health. The police must not interfere with lawful and peaceful assemblies, otherwise than for the protection of persons participating in such an assembly or others.
The implementation of Basic Standard 4 involves, among other things:
In the policing of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, police officers
must avoid the use of force. If force is indispensable, for example to secure the safety
of others, they must restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary and in compliance
with the other provisions in Basic Standard 3
Sources include: UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (Principles 9, 12, 13, and 14)
Basic Standard 5:
Lethal force should not be used except when strictly unavoidable
The use of firearms is an extreme measure which must be strictly regulated, because
of the risk of death or serious injury involved. The implementation of Basic Standard 5
requires, among other things, that police officers must not use firearms except for the
following objectives and only when less extreme means are insufficient to achieve these
In self-defence or in defence of others against the imminent threat of death
or serious injury
In any event, intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.
Police officers must identify themselves as such and give a clear warning of their intent to use firearms, with sufficient time for the warning to be observed, unless to do so would unduly place the officers at risk or would create a risk of death or serious harm to other persons, or would be clearly inappropriate or pointless in the circumstances of the incident.
Rules and regulations on the use of firearms by police officers must include guidelines that:
Specify the circumstances under which police officers are authorized to carry
firearms and prescribe the types of firearms and ammunition permitted
Sources include: UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (Basic Principles 9,10 and 11)
Basic Standard 6:
Arrest no person unless there are legal grounds to do so,
To make sure that an arrest is lawful and not arbitrary, it is important that the reasons for the arrest and the powers and identity of arresting officers are known. Therefore the implementation of Basic Standard 6 involves, among other things:
Arrest or detention shall only be carried out strictly in accordance with the
provisions of the law and by competent officials or persons authorized for that purpose
Sources include: UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment (Principles 2, 8, 10, 11, 12, 20 and 29), UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Rule 55), UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (Article 31), Conclusion 44 of the UNHCR Executive Committee
Basic Standard 7:
Ensure all detainees have access promptly after arrest to their family
Experience worldwide has shown that it is often in the first hours or days of detention that detainees are at greatest risk of being ill-treated, tortured, made to "disappear", or killed. Unconvicted detainees must be presumed innocent and treated as such. The implementation of Basic Standard 7 requires, among other things, that:
Detainees should be promptly told of their rights, including the right to lodge
complaints about their treatment.
Sources include: UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment (Principles 8, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 24, 25 and 29), Conclusion 44 of the UNHCR Executive Committee
Basic Standard 8:
All detainees must be treated humanely.
Detainees are inherently vulnerable because they are under the control of law enforcement officials who therefore have a duty to protect detainees from any violation of their rights by strictly observing procedures designed to respect the inherent dignity of the human person. Accurate record-keeping is an essential element of the proper administration of places of detention. The existence of official records which are open for consultation helps to protect detainees from ill-treatment including torture. The implementation of Basic Standard 8 requires, among other things, that:
No person under any form of detention may be subjected to torture, or to cruel,
inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and law enforcement officers have a right
and a duty to disobey orders to carry out such acts. No law enforcement official may
inflict, instigate or tolerate any act of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading
treatment or punishment, nor may they invoke superior orders or exceptional circumstances
such as a state of war or threat of war, or political instability or other public
emergency as a justification for such acts.
The name and identity of each person detained
Police officers and other competent authorities should allow representatives of the local or national bar and medical associations, as well as local or national members of parliament, appropriate international bodies and officials, to visit any police station and facilities, including detention centres, without restriction for the purpose of inspection.
These bodies and officials must be able to make unannounced visits
These bodies and officials must have access to all parts of each place of detention and all detainees and be able to interview them freely and without witnesses
These bodies and officials must be able to make return visits whenever they wish
These bodies and officials must be able to make recommendations to the authorities concerning the treatment of detainees
The treatment of detainees should conform as a minimum to the standards laid down in the UN Standard Minimum Rules and the Body of Principles.
Sources include: UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials (Article 5); UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment (Principles 1,2,6, 12, 21 and 23); UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Article 2); UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Rules 55, 85, 86, 87, 88, 91, 92 and 93); UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 10); UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 37), Conclusion 44 of the UNHCR Executive Committee
Basic Standard 9:
Do not carry out, order or cover up extrajudicial
No one should be arbitrarily or indiscriminately deprived of life. An extrajudicial execution is an unlawful and deliberate killing carried out by, or on the order of, someone at some level of government, whether national, state or local, or with their acquiescence.
There are several important elements in the concept of an extrajudicial execution:
It is deliberate, not accidental
Its unlawfulness distinguishes an extrajudicial execution from:
A justifiable killing in self-defence
In an armed conflict, even if not an international armed conflict, armed officers and soldiers of the government, as well as combatants of armed political groups, are prohibited from carrying out arbitrary and summary executions. These acts would constitute breaches of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions (which also prohibits mutilation, torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, hostage taking and other gross abuses).
The "disappeared" are people who have been taken into custody by agents of the state, yet whose whereabouts and fate are concealed. It is a grave violation of human rights to carry out disappearances.
No order or instruction of any public authority, civilian, military or other, may be invoked to justify an extrajudicial execution or a "disappearance". Any person receiving such an order or instruction has a duty to disobey it.
All police officers and all other law enforcement personnel should be aware of their right and duty to disobey orders the implementation of which might result in serious human rights violations. Since those violations are unlawful, police officers and others must not participate in them. The need to disobey an unlawful order should be seen as a duty, taking precedence over the normal duty to obey orders. The duty to disobey an unlawful order entails the right to disobey it.
The right and duty to disobey an order to participate in "disappearances" and extrajudicial killings are incorporated in the UN Declaration on Disappearances (Article 6) and in the UN Principles on Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions (Principle 3). The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials protect the right to disobey by stating that no criminal or disciplinary sanction should be imposed on law enforcement officials who, in compliance with these Basic Principles and the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, refuse to carry out an order to use force and firearms or who report such use by other officials.
To implement Basic Standard 9, it is important that the use of force and firearms by the police strictly complies with all the provisions in Basic Standard 3, Basic Standard 4 and Basic Standard 5.
Sources include: UN Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions (Principle 1 and 3); Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions; UN Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances (Preamble and Article 6)
Basic Standard 10:
Report all breaches of these Basic Standards to your senior officer
All violations of human rights by the police or other law enforcement personnel, including any breaches of these Basic Standards, should be investigated fully, promptly and independently, for instance by the office of the public prosecutor. The main objective of these investigations is to establish the facts and to bring to justice those responsible:
Has a violation of human rights or a breach of principles or of national law
been perpetrated? If so, by whom?
Sources include: UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials (Preamble and Articles 1, 2, 8); UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (Preamble)
Amnesty International is a worldwide voluntary activist movement working towards the observance of all human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international standards.
Amnesty International promotes respect for human rights, which it considers interdependent and indivisible, through campaigning and public awareness activities, as well as through human rights education and pushing for ratification and implementation of human rights treaties.
Amnesty International takes action against some of the gravest violations by governments of people's civil and political rights. The focus of its campaigning against human rights violations is to:
free all prisoners of conscience. These are people detained for their
political, religious or other conscientiously held beliefs or because of their ethnic
origin, sex, colour, language, national or social origin, economic status, birth or other
status - who have not used or advocated violence;
Amnesty International also calls on armed political groups to respect human rights and to halt abuses such as the detention of prisoners of conscience, hostage-taking, torture and deliberate and arbitrary killings.
Amnesty International is independent of any government, political persuasion or religious creed. It does not support or oppose any government or political system, nor does it support or oppose the views of the victims whose rights it seeks to protect. It is concerned solely with the impartial protection of human rights.
Amnesty International has formal relations with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC); the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); the Council of Europe; the Organization of American States; the Organization of African Unity; and the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
If you require more information about Amnesty Internationals work or want to receive more copies of this document you can contact the Campaigning Program, 1 Easton Street, London WC1X 8DJ http://www.amnesty.org
10 Basic Human Rights Standards
1. Everyone is entitled to equal protection of the law, without discrimination on any grounds, and especially against violence or threat. Be especially vigilant to protect potentially vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly, women, refugees, displaced persons and members of minority groups.
2. Treat all victims of crime with compassion and respect, and in particular protect their safety and privacy.
3. Do not use force except when strictly necessary and to the minimum extent required under the circumstances.
4. Avoid using force when policing unlawful but non-violent assemblies. When dispersing violent assemblies, use force only to the minimum extent necessary.
5. Lethal force should not be used except when strictly unavoidable in order to protect your life or the lives of others.
6. Arrest no person unless there are legal grounds to do so, and the arrest is carried out in accordance with lawful arrest procedures.
7. Ensure all detainees have access promptly after arrest to their family and legal representative and to any necessary medical assistance.
8. All detainees must be treated humanely. Do not inflict, instigate or tolerate any act of torture or ill-treatment, in any circumstances, and refuse to obey any order to do so.
9. Do not carry out, order or cover up extrajudicial executions or "disappearances", and refuse to obey any order to do so.
10. Report all breaches of these Basic Standards to your senior officer and to the office of the public prosecutor. Do everything within your power to ensure steps are taken to investigate these breaches.
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