Source: Amnesty International

The discussion of “use of force” almost always begs the following questions:

  • Was it legal?
  • Was it necessary?
  • Was it proportional?
  • Who is accountable?

Rightly so, as these are the four principles which govern international human rights in the use of force and firearms. The continuous contention of observance of human rights when confronted with criminals will not be discussed now, but to whom much power is given, i.e. law enforcement officials, excessive, abusive and unlawful treatment of citizens cannot be tolerated. Thus, the importance of crafting legal and operational frameworks that can guide the stressful split second decisions regarding the right to life, that law enforcement officials will face daily.

Amnesty International, in August 2015, published Use of Force: Guidelines For Implementation Of The UN Basic Principles On The Use of Force And Firearms By Law Enforcement Officials, and subsequently released a short version in August 2016. The latter will be used as the reference of this discussion, by highlighting useful points to be considered, in the general context of use of force and the four human rights principles.

Legality (legal basis) pg. 13

  • Was the reason for the use of force covered under domestic legislation?
  • Was the use of force serving a legitimate objective?
  • Was the force used for a lawful law enforcement purpose?
  • Was the use of force carried out because of any discriminatory bias?

Necessity pg. 14

  • Is force necessary at all?
  • Is it possible to achieve the legitimate objective without resorting to force?
  • How much force is needed to achieve the objective?
  • Can a minimum level of force be used that can still be considered effective?
  • Did the use of force stop once the objective had been achieved or is no longer achievable?

Proportionality pg. 15

  • Does the harm inflicted outweigh the benefit of the use of force?
  • Does the benefit of the use of force outweigh the harm to be caused by its use?
  • Will the legitimate objective be achieved?
  • Was the risk to life for the purpose of saving/protecting another life?
  • Was the amount of force used justifiable?

Accountability pg.17

  • Will the law enforcement official be held accountable for his/her actions and omissions?
  • Will the superiors who give orders be held accountable?
  • Will the person(s) who is responsible for the planning and preparation of law enforcement operations be held accountable?
  • Will law enforcement officials be held accountable for the fulfilment of their duties and their compliance with the legal and operational framework?
  • Are appropriate policies and procedures in place in relation to the use of force and firearms?
  • Are policies, procedures, training and equipment undergoing continuous review to prevent repetition of mistakes or other undesirable results?
  • Are law enforcement officials given adequate and effective training, to include training in human rights issues?
  • Is there a system for checks and balances (oversight) for the evaluation of law enforcement action with regard to compliance with the law to assist with enabling corrective measures?

INDECOM is currently in the drafting stages of a similar use of force model policy framework, specifically for the Caribbean context. This is the culmination of three-days of discussions at the Caribbean Use of Force in Law Enforcement Conference held May 31-June 2, 2017. The UNODC/OHCHR Resource book on the use of force and firearms in law enforcement was used in combination with Amnesty International’s guidelines, during the conference.

English, French and Spanish versions of the Amnesty International Use of Focre Guidelines are available here.


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