Criminal Justice Handbook Series

2411-8273 (online)
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The Criminal Justice Handbook Series is a series of tools developed by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to support countries in implementing the rule of law and the development of crime prevention and criminal justice reform. It can be used in a variety of contexts, including as part of UNODC technical assistance and capacity-building projects, both as a reference document and as a training tool.
Also available in French, Spanish
Resource Book on the Use of Force and Firearms in Law Enforcement

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17 Jan 2018
9789213630945 (PDF)

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This resource book explores international law sources relevant to the use of force and the general responsibility of law enforcement authorities for the use of force. It discusses a number of instruments of force, including firearms, and the conditions under which these should be used. It further examines the possible use of force in a number of specific policing situations. Finally, it also outlines good practices for accountability in the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials.

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  • Acknowledgements

    The resource book is the result of a joint effort by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), with the financial and substantive support of the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway. The publication benefited from information gathered at an expert meeting held in Vienna in May 2015, as well as through two regional expert meetings organized by the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights and UNODC, respectively in Buenos Aires, from 8 to 9 May 2014 and Tunis, from 26 to 28 January 2015.

  • List of standards cited and acronyms used
  • Introduction and key concepts and actors

    This resource book relates to the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials. Law enforcement officials’ power to use force derives from the duty of the State to maintain public order, to protect persons within its jurisdiction, and ensure human rights and the rule of law. While the use of force may be lawful and necessary in certain cases, it can result in damage to property, injury, loss of life and may interfere with or violate human rights. Law enforcement officials have the authority to use force in situations where it is necessary in order to achieve a legitimate law enforcement objective. Force may, for example, be used to ensure compliance with lawful police instructions, to arrest non-cooperative or dangerous suspects, protect members of the general public or break up a violent crowd. However, such use of force should always respect a State’s obligations under international law, which include conditions imposed by international human rights law, included in treaties or recognized as customary international law. The United Nations standards and norms on crime prevention and criminal justice, developed and adopted through consensus by the governing bodies of UNODC (the Crime Congress, the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, the United Nations Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly) through an intergovernmental process, provide an important benchmark for measuring the functioning of the criminal justice system, including law enforcement agencies.

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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Instruments of force

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    • A “range of means” to allow for a differentiated response

      In situations where it is absolutely necessary to use force, law enforcement officials should use the minimum amount necessary to achieve the law enforcement objective and in a manner that is proportionate to the threat encountered. This requires them to be able to choose between different instruments, including so-called less-lethal instruments.

    • Guidance for the most commonly used instruments of force in law enforcement

      This chapter looks at different instruments of force that are commonly employed around the world, including batons, handcuffs and other restraints, dogs and horses, chemical irritants, water cannons, electroshock weapons, launched kinetic impact projectiles and firearms. It discusses the tactics that should guide their use based on international human rights norms and standards, as well as recognized good practice. This guidance should be included in domestic policy and regulations.

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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Policing situations

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    • Public assemblies and protests
    • Criminal investigation

      Depending on the circumstances, some use of force may be warranted during a criminal investigation, e.g. to protect evidence from destruction or to restrain an individual who opposes a house search. At the same time, force can also be abused during an investigation, for example when questioning a suspect. This chapter examines the use of force during criminal investigation, looking more closely at criminal investigation methods, the suspect interview and measures that can be taken to prevent the abuse of force in such situations.

    • Stop and search, arrest and detention

      This chapter looks more closely at the use of force in the context of arrest and detention, in particular examining what the principles of necessity, proportionality and precaution mean in practice. The chapter also looks at measures that can be taken to avoid the abusive use of force during arrest and detention, as such abuse is unfortunately not uncommon.

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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Accountability for the use of force and firearms in law enforcement

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    • Reporting, monitoring and review

      Part V of the resource book looks at accountability in the use of force and firearms in law enforcement. The key to accountability is transparency: it has to be known when law enforcement officials resorted to the use of force, in which circumstances and why. Chapter 10 examines the procedures developed by law enforcement agencies to report the use of force and firearms, as well as relevant monitoring and reporting mechanisms.

    • Complaints and investigations

      Members of the public should be able to file a complaint against law enforcement officials when they believe the force that was used against them or someone else was unlawful, excessive or arbitrary and/or resulted in torture or other forms of ill-treatment. When there are credible allegations of unwarranted use of force, this should be subject to a prompt, effective, transparent, independent and impartial investigation in order to establish what happened and why.

    • Independent oversight bodies

      This chapter looks into different forms of external oversight. More and more countries have established independent bodies to oversee the performance of law enforcement agencies and investigate complaints against them. In order to be effective and enhance public confidence, such bodies should be fully independent of the institution(s) that they have a mandate to oversee; and have the (investigative) powers and resources to effectively carry out their work, including the power to access necessary people, places and documents, and make public recommendations on their findings.

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