Understanding Human Rights In Policing: An Online Course For Human Rights Activists and Practitioner

Have you ever wondered about the critical role of police during protests? Are you curious about the rules governing the use of force and firearms by police officials? Interested in understanding under what circumstances police may carry out an arrest? Would you like to understand the impact of racial and other forms of discrimination on policing?  

We are thrilled to announce that from 8 May, you can enrol in a course on the Amnesty Human Rights Academy that addresses exactly these topics: Police and Human Rights.  

From the killing of George Floyd in the United States, the extrajudicial executions of Afro-Brazilians living in Brazil’s favelas, to the repression of protesters in Hong Kong and the unlawful use of force during protests in Thailand, Peru and worldwide, you will look at real-life examples of policing and human rights.

Police Have a Duty to Respect and Protect Human Rights 

Around the world, the misuse of police powers often leads to devastating outcomes. Particularly in the context of protests, there are almost daily reports of restrictions imposed on demonstrations, unlawful use of force, the misuse of less lethal weapons, excessive surveillance, and arbitrary arrests and detention by the police. Police have powers, but they also have the duty to respect and protect human rights. There are strict rules to determine how much force can be used and when.  

All too often, police officials who kill or injure people after using force unlawfully are not brought to justice.  That’s why it’s so important to know what the police are and are not allowed to do. The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (BPUFF) is the key international legal instrument that deals with the police’s use of force. According to these principles, police officers may only use lethal force as a last resort when such means are strictly necessary to protect themselves or others from the imminent threat of death or serious injury, and only when other options for de-escalation are insufficient. 

This course will allow you to learn about the international and regional frameworks that should govern police actions. It will provide you with knowledge and understanding to advocate for your rights and challenge policies and practices that do not comply with human rights. 

2E96X3F Krakow, Poland. 10th Nov, 2020. A police officer speaking through a megaphone during the demonstration.Dissatisfied people came to the Krakow curia protesting in front of Cardinal Dziwisz’s apartment on Kanonicza Street, after the broadcast of the film on TVN about hiding pedophilia by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz under the title Don Stanislao. Credit: Alex Bona/SOPA Images/ZUMA Wire/Alamy Live News

Policing is Often Impacted by Discrimination 

People from racialised communities or marginalised groups often face disproportionate identity checks, searches, and unlawful arrests by the police. Discriminated against groups are often overpoliced, with the police excessively enforcing vaguely worded provisions related to the disturbance of public order or deliberately targeting these groups for alleged drug offences and petty crimes.  

To demonstrate how deeply ingrained discrimination is in law enforcement and justice systems around the world we have integrated discrimination across the course by including a lesson specifically on discrimination in each module The final module looks at racism and other forms of discrimination in more detail, highlighting how systemic factors contribute to discriminatory practices within policing. Using an intersectional lens, you will get a basic understanding of different forms of discrimination in policing such as disproportionate arrests, torture, unlawful use of force during protests and at the border, racial profiling, and the discriminatory use of new technologies.   

 The Importance of Accountability 

No one is above the law –including those charged with upholding it. International human rights law requires all governments to ensure an effective and impartial investigation of all complaints against police officials, and to impose disciplinary or criminal sanctions where appropriate. 

But Amnesty has documented in many countries how police officers who unlawfully kill or injure people frequently get away with it. In some cases, police and security forces threaten the judiciary, witnesses or survivors, pressuring them to drop charges. In other cases, laws are passed to give police immunity or otherwise obstruct justice, even when they act against the law. Sometimes a country’s president or head of the police actually orders police forces to kill anyone they believe to be a criminal suspect. When people in positions of power sanction murder and promise immunity, accountability of the police is fundamentally undermined. 

In this course you will learn how crucial accountability of the police is to prevent human rights violations. If police officers commit crimes without punishment or consequences, they are more likely to break the law, rules and regulations again, contributing to a climate of impunity. Effective accountability is essential to ensure lawful and human rights-compliant policing. 

What Else You Need to Know About Amnesty’s Police and Human Rights Course

You can learn more about Amnesty’s new free course on Police and Human Rights, developed by experts in the field at Amnesty International and accessibly designed for anyone who is interested in police and human rights issues. 

There are nine self-learning modules, which you can follow at your own pace. Each will take approximately an hour to complete. You can take a single module or complete the entire course based on your interests. Through quizzes, Amnesty’s research, videos, and self-directed learning materials, you will learn about a wide range of topics related to human rights-compliant policing. Each module offers additional materials for those interested in deeper learning.  

Using Amnesty’s research, you will study critical issues like the policing of protests, arrest and detention, and the obligation to facilitate protests. You will learn about the various lethal and less lethal weapons and the rules around the lawful use of these weapons and how to hold police accountable for human rights violations.  

Whether you’re a human rights activist, researcher, academic, work in the judiciary sector or are simply curious about these critical topics, these modules will equip you with essential knowledge and insights. Upon completion of the whole course, participants are granted a certificate. 

The course is now available for free in English on Amnesty’s Human Rights Academy.