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Police and Human Rights program


Policing is at the heart of a broad spectrum of human rights discourses. This has been apparent for many of those working on civil and political rights who have generally targeted police as human rights violators. However, policing also has a direct relevance to economic, social and cultural rights. Police can and should play an important role in ensuring a safe environment in which individuals can seek to realise their full range of rights – be they social and economic or civil and political.

The main objective of the Police and Human Rights Program is to enhance the understanding of policing within the AI movement and wider human rights community in order to improve the effectiveness of interventions on police compliance with human rights principles.


The Police and Human Rights Program (PHRP) was established by AI Netherlands in 2000. The aim of the program (known as ‘police outreach work’ at the time) was to strengthen the campaigning and membership capacity of the movement. As such it supported the work of a number of AI membership sections and structures and provided advice to some AI staff of the International Secretariat. A special effort was made to support the development of AI policy on police engagement. Policing expertise has been provided to AI via the Program by external experts including (former) police officers. Additionally the program prepared two evaluative documents:

  • ‘Compilation of six experiences’ (2001)
  • ‘Lessons Learnt: Police and Human Rights Project April 2000 – March 2003’

At the end of 2003 PHRP commissioned a study to review recommendations on policing made by AI and other organizations to date, with the aim of supporting the ongoing work of AI on policing and identifying gaps in AI’s policies and expertise. In 2004 the PHRP was established in its current form.

Objectives of the PHRP

  • Providing input to AI staff and members and other human rights activists on content by issuing materials on key elements that ensure fair and effective policing and developing and offering training programs on policing and human rights.
  • Providing expertise based support AI staff on specific policing issues as well as on the development of strategies for addressing police reform.
  • Providing advice to AI’s membership sections and structures.
  • Maintaining and enlarging AI’s network of policing experts, including police officers, to provide expert advice on research missions, during training programs and in order to enhance the effectiveness of our campaigns.

The PHRP has worked with AIs research teams on countries from all world regions. Additionally PHRP staff conducted training programs in Russia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Indonesia and Nigeria; participated in research missions in Brazil and Moldova; and conducted strategy workshops for AI Slovenia and in Russia and Malaysia.

The PHRP published a resource book for human rights activists explaining general police issues 2006 (see below). Additionally the program did a study on ‘international police assistance’ (in 2005), organized a conference on ‘engaging with the police’ (in 2006) and worked on a project on ‘policing violent crime in socially excluded communities’ (2008-2009). Currently the PHRP is exploring how the program can support AIs worldwide Demand Dignity Campaign, with a special focus on ‘Policing slums’ (work title).

Understanding Policing: A resource for human rights activists

Cover Understanding PolicingThis comprehensive Resource Book has first been published by AI Netherlands in 2006 as part of their Police and Human Rights Program. A slightly updated version has been released in 2007.

Understanding policing starts from the assumption that police are crucial to the maintenance of order and the creation of an environment in which people can feel safe and secure. It argues that civil society can play an important role in enhancing police respect for human rights, but that in order to do so they need a thorough understanding of police realities and complexities.

Understanding policing covers the following chapters:

Part I: Introduction
Chapter 1 Human rights and the police
Part II: Achieving the objectives of law and order
Chapter 2 State responsibility for law and order
Chapter 3 Police functions
Chapter 4 Operational independence
Part III: Police powers
Chapter 5 Police use of force
Chapter 6 Arrest and detention
Chapter 7 Criminal investigation
Part IV: Enhancing police professionalism
Chapter 8 Police accountability
Chapter 9 Recruitment, selection and training
Chapter 10 Engagement with policing

In the appendix a tool is included for making a contextual analysis; an analysis believed to be essential for developing an effective strategy targeting the right actors. The tool can be downloaded separately.

Understanding policing contains several checklists and charts for assessing aspects of policing. For example a list is included with critical success factors for community policing. Moreover, it contains an overview of various policing philosophies in use, either by choice or by default, such as community policing, authoritarian policing, intelligence led policing, problem oriented policing etc.

The book pays considerable attention to the issue of police operational independence and its inherent requirement of accountability. A chart is presented for assessing accountability mechanisms used in the target country.

Understanding policing has a separate chapter discussing the dilemmas and possible solutions for NGOs seeking to engage with policing. It also describes (intervention) strategies NGOs may use, both local and international NGOs are discussed, to enhance police compliance with human rights principles.

To order a copy (€ 15) please contact the Police and Human Rights Program. Understanding Policing is also available on CD Rom for € 5,- (incl sending).

Understanding Policing is also available in Russian, Spanish, Indonesian,(Brazilian) Portuguese and Arabic.

Understanding Policing: A Training Manual

(for training human rights activists intending to work on policing issues)

In 2009 staff of the Police and Human Rights Program, in joint cooperation with AI’s International Secretariat, developed a training manual that is to be used together with the resource book Understanding policing.


The training manual consists of 5 interactive modules:

Module 1: General Understanding of Policing (5 hours)
Session 1: Experience with the police
Session 2: Police structure and functions
Session 3: Law and policing
Session 4: Security actors and policing
Module 2: Use of Force (2 hours)
Session 1: Use of force
Session 2: Dealing with crowds
Module 3: Arrest and Detention (3 hours)
Session 1: Arrest
Session 2: Detention
Module 4: Police Accountability (2,5 hours)
Session 1: Operational independence
Session 2: Internal accountability
Session 3: External accountability

Module 5: Engaging the police (1,5 hour)

The manual needs contextualisation to the country where it is being used, suggestions how to do so are provided. Download the training manual.


Three steps when intending to initiate work on policing

Police do not operate in a vacuum. They are bound by legislation and other regulations (including standard operational procedures (SOPs), they work in a complex arena with many different (political, State, community) players serving many different interests, and under different systems of accountability. Additionally, whether police are indeed “representative of and responsive and accountable to the community as a whole” depends on recruitment and selection criteria and the quality of any training.

Any work on policing should always be based on a solid contextual analysis (step 1). In the attachment a tool is presented to help in carrying out a contextual analysis of the police in a particular country. Based on the contextual analysis a strategy can be formulated (step 2) that can subsequently be translated into a project plan (step 3).

Step 1: Analyse the police

  • Carry out contextual analysis:
    • Situational analysis; including country reports by Amnesty International and other NGOs about the current human rights situation
    • Legislation and policies under which police operate (including Police Act, Criminal Code, Criminal Procedures Code and other regulations governing policing)
    • Accountability mechanisms (internal and external)
    • Internal structure of the police
  • Conduct self-analysis
  • Formulate main concerns and specify
  • Evaluate whether more information is needed and specify accordingly

Step 2: Develop a strategy

Step 3: Project planning: define objectives and how to achieve these

Recent projects

International police assistance in post conflict situations’ (2005)
We explored issues involved and formulated recommendations for AI. The final report is an internal document only.

'Engaging with police reform: The role of NGOs and civil society in police reform'
In 2006 we organized a conference focusing on civil society engagement with police as a means of improving police compliance with human rights principles. Engagement by civil society was defined in its widest sense possible, including intervention by non-State and non-police actors, including local and international NGOs, academics, international donors etc. The report of the conference can be downloaded here.

‘Policing violent crime in socially excluded communities’
In 2008 we started a project aiming to enhance our understanding of policing violent crime in socially excluded communities: how can policing be improved in these situations, or more specifically: how can security be provided, while taking practical and operational considerations as well as human rights standards into account, leading to more effective recommendations and campaigns targeting the police and other State representatives. As part of the project we conducted a mission to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, and organized an Expert Meeting on ‘Policing High Crime and Violence Areas: Addressing the human rights dilemmas’, in June, 2009, to discuss the issues that emerged from both literature survey and the mission, and extrapolate the findings to other, similar, situations (ie outside of the favelas in Brazil) and come up with lessons learnt and recommendations. In 2010 we released the final document bringing together the findings and lessons learnt. This document also provides some suggestions for research and campaigning on issues related to ‘Policing Violent Crime in Socially Excluded Communities’, including:

  • Excessive police violence and extreme levels of violent crime may be manifestations of marginalized communities that are excluded and discriminated against. If this is so, then social exclusion and discrimination are at the heart of the problem, and should be addressed as such. The right to non-discrimination is a key human right. Human rights are rights for all, not privileges, and governments should refrain from sending mixed signals.
  • So, differentiate short term and long term responses. For long term responses the issue of social exclusion and the lack of an inclusive public security policy needs to be addressed. However, the issue of security is urgent and violent crime needs to be dealt with on short notice as well.
  • Note that seeking to improve policing and enhance security may require going around the police at first. Advocate for better and more effective State services including, but not limited to, policing.
  • When discussing the effectiveness of security policies and police actions restrict oneself to the clear human rights aspects of these, including:
    > There should be a clear and well-described inclusive public security policy;
    > These policies and policing in general should be responsive and accountable to the communities served;
    > Police should maximally prevent possible wrongdoings;
    > Security data should be gathered to enable security agencies to evaluate the effectiveness of their practices.
  • Include a clear focus on police accountability.
  • Do not ignore the human rights of police officers, especially the rank and file officers.
  • Complement ‘traditional’ case based research with a case- and policy based orientation on positive obligations. Note that this may require a different set of competencies from researchers and campaigners than is available. Research wise, it encompasses research of sociological nature rather than collecting cases and also policy-research into public security policies. Campaign wise, it may be more difficult to get the message across, as it may be perceived as being more abstract. Also it might be more difficult to define and measure concrete results.

The full document can be downloaded here.


Amnesty International materials

The European Code of Police Ethics

  • Recommendation rec(2001)10 and explanatory memorandum. Adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on 19 September 2001. Download.

Relevant UN human rights standards for policing

All of these are available through the website

  • Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms (Basic Principles)
  • Body of principles for the protection of all persons under any form of detention or imprisonment (Body of principles)
  • Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials (UN Code of Conduct)
    • Resolution adopting the code: Resolution 34/169 adopted by the General Assembly, 17 December 1979
    • Guidelines for the Effective Implementation of the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials. Resolution 1989/61 adopted by the Economic and Social Council, 24 May 1989 and endorsed by the General Assembly in its Resolution 44/162 of 16 December 1989.
  • Code of Conduct for Public Officials
    (Resolution A/RES/51/59, accepted by the General Assembly on 12 December, 1996)
  • Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (CAT)
    • Optional Protocol (OPCAT)
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
  • Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
  • Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power
  • Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance
  • Geneva Conventions
    • III Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War;
    • lV Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War
    • Geneva Protocol l Additional to the Geneva Conventions.
  • Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors
  • International Convention on the Elimination of Al Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
  • ‘Milan Plan of Action’ (of the 7th UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders. Adopted by the General Assembly A/RES/40/32, 29 Nov. 1985).
  • Principles on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
  • Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions. Resolution 1989/65 adopted by the Economic and Social Council, 24 May 1989.
  • Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Standard Minimum Rules)
  • Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR)

General Comments
General Comments are authoritative, though non-binding, interpretations of and general recommendations to the standards as set out in the international human rights treaties, including the Human Rights Committee; the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women; the Committee against Torture; and the Committee on the Rights of the Child. The general comments of all human rights treaty bodies are compiled annually in the Compilation of General Comments and general Recommendations Adopted by Human Rights Treaty Bodies (see HRI/GEN/1/Rev.9, 27 May, 2008 for the latest one). Download

NGOs and academic sites
Altus, a coalition of 6 NGOs
Association for the Prevention of Torture
Coalition of International NGOs Against Torture
Committee of the Administration of Justice
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
DCAF: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces
Human Rights Watch
International Council on Human Rights Policy
Open Society Justice Initiative
On police accountability and civilian Africa
Saferworld; On engagement with police and community based policing
Vera Institute of Justice
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)

Council of Europe sites
Council of Europe, homepage
Human rights, Police and Human Rights Program

Professional/government sites
Association of Chief Police Officers (UK)
International Association of Chiefs of Police


Amnesty International – Dutch section
Police and Human Rights Program
PO Box 1968
1000 BZ Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Phone: +31 20 626 44 36
E-mail: phrp [at] amnesty [dot] nl