• Sheet of paper Report

Use of Force – Guidelines for Implementation of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by law enforcement officials


From the streets of Ferguson, Missouri to the favelas of Brazil, the police use of force and firearms makes global headlines when it turns fatal.

In countless other cases, including in response to demonstrations, police are too quick to use force instead of seeking peaceful conflict resolution. In many countries police deploy tear gas, rubber bullets and other weapons in arbitrary, abusive or excessive use of force, causing serious casualties, including killing and maiming people, often with little or no accountability.

Amnesty International is responding to this serious deficiency in law enforcement by publishing comprehensive new Guidelines for authorities to ensure that police give utmost priority to the respect and protection of life and physical integrity.

“All too often, in many countries around the world, people are killed or seriously injured when police use force in violation of international standards or existing national laws,” said the report’s author, Dr. Anja Bienert of Amnesty International Netherlands’ Police and Human Rights Program.

“Nobody is disputing that police have a challenging, and often even dangerous, duty to perform. But governments and law enforcement authorities frequently fail to create a framework to ensure that police only use force lawfully, in compliance with human rights and as a last resort.

“These new Guidelines aim to close that gap and provide legal and practical measures which states can and must take to ensure police use of force is not excessive, abusive, arbitrary or otherwise unlawful. For this to happen, full accountability must be ensured for any use of force by police.”

Amnesty International is launching Use of Force – Guidelines for Implementation of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by law enforcement officials to mark the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Basic Principles in September 1990. The Basic Principles are regarded as the key instrument for states to ensure compliance with their obligations to uphold the right to life and physical integrity.

The Guidelines draw on examples of national laws, internal regulations and training documents from 58 countries in all regions of the world. Their detailed conclusions and recommendations are meant to support government authorities to implement the UN Basic Principles and ensure good, effective, human rights-compliant policing.

The power to use force and firearms is indispensable for police to carry out their duties, but that does not mean it is an inevitable part of the job – in fact, the underlying principle of the international standards for police is not to use force unless it is really necessary. In many countries, police currently fall short of this mark, and often resort to the use of force and firearms in an arbitrary, excessive or otherwise unlawful manner.

In all regions of the world there are examples where deaths and serious injuries have resulted from police use of force and firearms. In recent years these include:

  • killings by police in Brazil which impact disproportionately on young black men;
  • numerous police shootings in the USA resulting in the death of unarmed people, likewise with a disproportionate impact on African American men;
  • in Bangladesh, special police forces carrying out heavy-handed police operations with lethal force, resulting in the death of many people;
  • use of tear gas, rubber bullets and other means of force, sometimes even firearms, during public assemblies, resulting in serious casualties, including in Burundi , Cambodia, Greece, Spain, Turkey, Venezuela and Ukraine.

This is due to a variety of reasons, including domestic laws that contradict international human rights obligations, deficient internal regulations, inadequate training and equipment, lack of command control and the absence of accountability for police who act outside the law.

Amnesty International is calling on governments to use its new Guidelines to help to address these deficiencies and to bring national law and implementation in line with the UN Basic Principles.

“The UN Basic Principles are an acknowledgement that, in certain limited circumstances, police can and will need to use force to maintain law and order. But this must be done in compliance with international human rights law and it certainly must never be seen as a licence to kill nor as granting immunity to police officials: nobody is above the law, especially those who have a duty to uphold the law,” said Dr. Anja Bienert.