Important responsibilities for police forces in democratic societies include upholding the rule of law, security and human rights. To accomplish these goals the police are given special powers, such as the powers to investigate criminal offences and maintain public order in society.
Police powers of investigation entail a set of special powers, including surveillance powers, and special responsibilities, including witness protection, victim support and domestic violence prevention.National rules regulating these police powers and responsibilities are found within criminal codes, criminal procedure codes, police laws and special police codes of ethics. Several international legal instruments also regulate police powers of investigation, including the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials of 1979 and the Council of Europe European Code of Police Ethics of 2001.
To maintain public order, the police are given the powers of search, arrest, seizure and the use of force. Rules outlining the exercise of these powers have been set at the international level, including in the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials of 1979, the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials of 1990 and the Council of Europe European Code of Police Ethics of 2001. These international instruments aim to ensure that law enforcement officials respect universal human rights, exercise their powers to use force and arrest as a measure of last resort and do not under any circumstances inflict, instigate or tolerate any act of torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Police ethics and codes of conduct are important for building popular faith in the fairness, effectiveness and independence of the police force. International rules regarding police ethics and police training are found in the Council of Europe European Code of Police Ethics, the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. These instruments outline provisions for police recruitment, training, ethics, misconduct and disciplinary sanctions. On the national level, police ethics are often regulated in codes of ethics. Many of these national regulations on police ethics share in common the principles of constitutionality, legality, responsibility, humanity, professionalism and independence. Moreover, the national codes set moral and ethical standards for the police and are often times integrated into the recruitment, education and training of police officers.
Unfortunately, police officials do commit human rights abuses in countries around the world. Therefore, it is especially important to ensure that the police act on behalf of the people they serve and protect and in accordance with international human rights standards.
Analysis provided by: Maria Bideke, International lawyer and Director of Law Association Justice International
Comments on the Draft Police Act and the Draft Parliamentary Police Oversight Act of the Republic of SerbiaDate : 03 February 2005 English [0.32 MB]