With the “Report of the Secretary General on United Nations policing” to the United Nations Security Council as of 10 November 2016 (S2016/952), the United Nations adopted, for the first time ever, a common understanding of the function of policing, and how it must be carried out by police and law enforcement officials. This understanding can be found in https://police.un.org/en/policy-united-nations-police-peacekeeping-operations-and-special-political-missions-2014, Sections 14 to 19.
Policing refers to a function of governance responsible for the prevention, detection and investigation of crime; protection of persons and property; and the maintenance of public order and safety. Police and law enforcement officials have the obligation to respect and protect human rights, including the right to life, liberty and security of the person, as guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reaffirmed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other relevant instruments.
Pursuant to the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, police and other law enforcement officials are required, at all times, to fulfil the duty imposed upon them by law, by serving the community and by protecting all persons against illegal acts consistent with the high degree of responsibility required by their profession.
For the United Nations, the function of domestic policing must be entrusted to civil servants who are members of police or other law enforcement agencies of a national, regional or local government, within a legal framework that is based on the rule of law.
In accordance with United Nations standards, every police or other law enforcement agency should be representative of and responsive and accountable to the community it serves.
Representative policing aims to ensure that the human rights of all people, without distinction of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, are protected, promoted and respected and that police personnel sufficiently reflect the community they serve. Fair and non-discriminatory recruitment and retention policies are expected to encourage, among other goals, an adequate participation of women and minority groups.
Responsive policing ensures that police respond to existing and emerging public needs and expectations, especially in preventing and detecting crime and maintaining public order and safety. Policing objectives are informed by the public safety concerns of the communities they serve and are attained lawfully, efficiently and effectively and in accordance with international norms and standards in crime prevention, criminal justice and human rights law.
Accountable policing means that police are accountable to the law, as are all individuals and institutions in States; that police are answerable to the public through the democratic and political institutions of the state, as well as through civilian democratic oversight bodies and mechanisms to improve community-police relations; that police are accountable for the way they use the resources allocated to them and that effective mechanisms are established for accountability over police conduct, including any allegations or established human rights violations committed by the police.
For the United Nations, the rule of law refers to a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards. It requires, as well, measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency.
As one of the chief architects of this United Nations policy, I stand in solidarity with the countless citizens, in the United States of America and all over the World, who exercise their right to demonstrate peacefully. I join them in expressing utter outrage in the face of widespread racism, white supremacy, and a systemic and horrifying abuse of power including most serious and heinous crimes by police officials against communities and individuals of color, and minorities.
I call on my fellow police colleagues to stand in humility and in support of the communities they serve, to walk with them, and to protect them. The streets belong to citizens peacefully exercising their rights and enjoying their freedom. They are neither a battle-ground to be dominated, nor a place for curfews preventing peaceful citizens to exercise their most basic human and citizen’s rights, including the freedom of opinion and speech. Curfews can only be possible under most serious and temporary circumstances.
No public official shall use his or her power for violently pushing peaceful citizens aside.
I call on my fellow police leaders to exercise a strict no-tolerance-policy towards acts of violence and the systemic disrespect of police officials towards the communities they are obliged to serve. No zero-tolerance-policy against violence and criminal conduct is legitimate in a democratic society if those who are mandated to serve and to protect peaceful citizens show no respect to the law, to the values underpinning the laws, and to fellow citizens, themselves.
I commend those police officers who apologize to victims of police violence and abuse of power, but I also say: You must work long and hard to earn back the respect of those citizens who have lost faith in you. You are meant to protect, rather than to be an instrument of “law & order”.
My heart goes with all victims of police abuse of power and horrible crimes including murder, conducted by individual police officers, supported by a cruel and self-serving, selfish and dividing attitude by those who believe they can exercise unrestrained power, rather than fulfilling an obligation to serve all citizens who have democratically elected them.
I am saddened, ashamed, and deeply sorry. I hope we can all breathe together.
Stefan Feller, Former United Nations Police Adviser and Director of the Police Division (2013 – 2017).
Berlin and Belgrade, June 06, 2020