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Amnesty International Campaign Manual


Military and Law Enforcement Officers

Military, security and police (MSP) personnel are often those most directly responsible for committing human rights violations. Getting them to listen to and take note of AI's concerns is a challenge which requires an understanding of the structures and the culture in which they operate. This section looks at:

N    Developing an outreach strategy / 202

N    Outreach structures / 202

N    Outreach in practice /203

        Letter-writing / 204

N    Human rights training / 205

N    Outreach work in a target country / 206

UN civilian police in Mozambique receive AI's cards listing 10 basic rules for safeguarding human rights during a course organized by the UN Centre for Human Rights

© Cees de Rover Developing an outreach strategy

There are a number of ways in which serving and retired military, security and police personnel can assist AI's campaigning work. The main purpose of AI's outreach to such personnel is to promote awareness and observance of international human rights standards among military and police forces (see Chapter 2). Usually this outreach work does not involve asking military and police officers to directly campaign against specific military, security or police (MSP) transfers from their own countries.

Each AI action request (Urgent Actions, major country andtheme campaigns, Action Files and other requests) is based upon AI's mandate, an assessment of the needs of the victims and potential victims, who the perpetrators are or might be, an analysis of the most immediately relevant political, legal and other factors governing the situation and how AI might best campaign to assist those victims or potential victims.

The following questions may be useful to pose in order to decide which AI action requests may be most important at any particular time and most relevant to your outreach work with military, police and other law enforcement personnel.


g    Who is responsible for the majority of human rights violations?

g    Who within that country is in a position to influence those responsible?

g    What is the avowed self-perception of the army, security or police command?

g    What kind of economic activity is the military or law enforcement agency involved in?

g    What types of MSP relations exist between your country and those in which the violations are committed?

Outreach structures

AI Sections in countries where police, other law enforcers and military officers are not systematically or persistently involved in human rights violations may set up AI groups made up of members of the military, police or other law enforcement agencies. The relevant AI guidelines stipulate that Section boards should decide whether it is feasible to do this.

In order to function effectively, such groups usually require some administrative, educational and other support from the Section's secretariat.

A "group in formation" is usually built around a coordinator and a core of reliable and energetic volunteers. Professional demands may mean that such volunteers are retired professionals who have time to offer AI and who may have good contacts in the profession.

Devoting adequate time to developing a common understanding of AI among the core members of the group is essential. Internal human rights education can be facilitated by preparing key topics for discussion at each meeting and gradually finding consensus on the group's terms of reference and its main tasks. If other members of the same profession join a network of supporters of the group, it may become a co-group sending out regular information, new actions and feedback.

Outreach in practice

You may find the following tips useful when planning an AI action involving police or other law enforcement or military officers:


c    Consult your relevant Section body/coordinator.

c    Read the basic international human rights standards most directly relevant to such professions, and also the relevant humanitarian law (note and respect the role of the International Committee of the Red Cross).

c    Choose the most relevant AI action request.

c    Seek advice from sympathetic or retired officers in the same profession. Some may have already joined AI as ordinary members. Check your membership records!

c    Define who exactly to approach: are they in a relevant government ministry, are they commanding officers in the establishment, officials of a professional or veterans' association, tutors or heads of training institutes, military or prison doctors, military or lawyers with good connections, journalists or religious representatives specializing in work with military, police or prison personnel?

c    Prepare the first approach very carefully to avoid misunderstandings, and include basic information on AI's role and structure, AI's independence and impartiality, AI's position on the use of violence, and case material on police/law enforcers/military as victims of human rights violations _ not just as perpetrators of such violations.

c    Do not be over-ambitious. Concentrate at first on establishing a dialogue to promote basic human rights awareness, and be prepared to listen to the views and understand the experiences of your contacts. Once you have reached some common understanding and agreement on basic principles, you may be ready to propose a letter-writing action in support of cases where military, police or other law enforcers in the same profession are victims. Always draw attention to international human rights standards and relevant humanitarian law.


Writing to the highest levels of the military, police and prisons is one of the most commonly used AI campaigning techniques. If an AI Section is establishing professional groups composed of military and law enforcement personnel, attention will need to be given to the respective letter-writing roles of the professional group and other AI members for each AI action request (UAs, major country and theme campaigns, Action Files and other actions).

Letter-writing by AI members in the military or police can increase AI's credibility, and build the legitimacy of human rights activism. It is likely that members or former members of the security forces in your country will be more familiar with the "culture" to be found within other security forces and law enforcement agencies.

Military or police figures may know best how to make an appeal that will be listened to and taken note of. Appeals to non-military and non-police government ministers and officials from senior military and law enforcement personnel may also be taken more seriously if such appeals include arguments backed up by professional expertise.

Writing to lower levels of the military or police can fulfil a number of functions . Many violations occur at the mid-command level, which is normally missed by writing only to those in the highest authority and with formal authority. Letters to middle ranks or operational commanders can illustrate that their actions are being monitored, and may therefore act as some deterrent to committing or allowing human rights violations.

In other cases, letters may reach members of the armed forces who are genuinely concerned but have not known what to do. Letters may provide a tool they can use, or a moral incentive to take some action to prevent human rights violations by others.

Human rights training We must always point out that the training of military and law enforcement personnel is the responsibility of the governmental authorities, and that human rights training cannot be meaningful or effective without the establishment of proper systems of accountability.

Where there is a serious pattern of human rights violations and abuses with impunity (see below), such training may first require a program of legal reform in accordance with international standards, as well as the disbandment of certain types of security force units which are significantly responsible for committing violations. Otherwise human rights training will, at best, be a drop in the ocean and, at worst, a public relations stunt to redeem irresponsible authorities.

Where conditions are favourable, AI Sections which have human rights training expertise relevant to military or particular law enforcement agencies could take steps to act as a catalyst to promote such training.

This may be done by:

N    Encouraging and supporting other reputable and independent agencies which have recognized expertise to assist with such training; one vital role of such an agency would be to provide independent monitoring and evaluation of the training.

N    Forwarding relevant training and educational materials to military, police and prison training establishments; providing critical comments on curricula.

N    Providing expert speakers to give presentations and answer questions on the work of AI and human rights promotion and protection. Such speakers must command authority and respect.

N    Providing expert trainers to sit in on training courses to make constructive comments for improvement and to try to ensure openness, particularly concerning questions about the daily practices of officers. Such comments could be made about:

    M    the best selection and mix of trainees (e.g. whole units, training trainers);

    M    the sensitivity of teaching methods (e.g. religious or language issues);

    M    the usefulness of human rights materials (e.g. copies of main human rights texts, audiovisuals);

    M    the practical relevance of the exercises on particular topics (e.g. role-play by police on crowd control or interrogation); and

    M    the effectiveness of follow-up (e.g. support for trainers, reunions of trainees, newsletters, evaluation reports).

Outreach work in a

target country

If you are in a country where police, other law enforcers and military officers are systematically or persistently involved in human rights violations, any approach by AI to such personnel requires extra care. Careful steps need to be taken to phold the independence and

impartiality of AI. An approach should always begin in writing and seek an official commitment to human rights in writing before any discussions, meetings or telephone calls take place.

Testing the sincerity of any declared commitment is not easy, but you may try by asking officials if they will agree that their government should:

    M    vigorously investigate, prosecute and bring to justice those responsible for violations and abuses of human rights;

    M    make it part of the training of the armed forces and law enforcement agencies that anyone ordered to commit such acts has a duty to refuse;     M    work towards the establishment of impartial and independent bodies that oversee the protection of human rights and do not impede the free functioning of domestic and international human rights organizations.


Beware of possible dangers and pitfalls.

The potential role of military, police and other law enforcement personnel in violating human rights, especially in countries with serious human rights problems, means that AI must be careful when working with such personnel to guard its independence and impartiality, and the clarity of its concerns. Sections should consult the IS before making such approaches.

Riot police prepare to shoot into a crowd during a demonstration in Norrebro, Denmark, in May 1993.


Withdrawal of US training manuals

In 1996 AI helped publicize the revelation that over a period of three decades Spanish-language US army manuals used to train military officers at the School of the Americas contained instructions recommending the use of bribery, blackmail, threats, extortion and torture. The manuals were eventually recalled and retracted, but many had been distributed in Latin America and may still be in circulation.


In order to clarify your work on MSP relations, refer to Chapter 2.

People from the same sector will commonly have an understanding of the "culture", which gives them an insight into how best to make an appeal that will be listened to.

1. Respect them

2. Treat those in your power humanely

3. Vengeance and taking of hostages are prohibited.

4. Respect their property; do not damage it or steal it.

These pictures are taken from a booklet produced by the ICRC. It is distributed among UN peace-keeping personnel, and attempts to establish basic behavioural principles for troops dealing with civilians.


AI does not organize or become intimately involved in the organization of human rights training of military and law enforcement personnel. If a government could claim that AI has approved their human rights training, they might feel less accountable for ensuring that their forces are prevented from committing human rights violations.

The professional group of police in AI Netherlands

From modest beginnings, the professional group of police in AI Netherlands had grown to about 120 police officers by 1990. Any policeman or policewoman could join. Representatives of the Dutch Police Union, the General Christian Police and the Association of Higher Police Officials were closely involved in supporting the development of the group. The Circle of Chief Commissioners of the municipal police as well as the Inspector General of the State Police were also enthuiastic supporters. Members of the police group regularly write and send telegrams to the authorities and to police colleagues in other countries raising AI's concerns and drawing attention to international human rights standards relating to police conduct. They also work on behalf of police colleagues who are themselves victims of human rights abuses. Each letter is signed by the police officer, giving his rank, and is written in their private capacity. The group regularly publishes articles in police magazines on human rights abuses and policing, and also assists with lessons in police educational institutes in the Netherlands.

“...my impressions from having conducted seminars and workshops on human rights for police in many states in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Central America and Asia [is that] most national training programs do not address human rights as a separate and significant topic, and that the international dimension of human rights protection is not covered to any great extent. Furthermore, there is fairly widespread resistance to the notion of human rights amongst the police and that many police officials feel that they are entitled to violate, or are justified in violating, human rights in the course of their duties.”

Ralph Crawshaw, former Chief Superintendent, Essex Police Constabulary in the UK, now a consultant to the UN, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the International Committee of the Red Cross in law enforcement and human rights.


Treat military, police or other law enforcement sectors as separate entities.

Each profession has its own role, rules, institutions and traditions.

Police and human rights education in Brazil

In December 1988, the Rio Grande do Sol state legislature enacted a law to include human rights in the training of civil and military police. This iniative happened after members of AI Brazil developed a project to convince members of parliament that such a step was necessary to stem the widespread abuses by police in Brazil. AI Brazil members then began to work with other NGOs to try to encourage the authorities to implement the law. After six years, about half the civil police had received some form of human rights education and there was a visible drop in abuses compared with the 1980s. Civil police worked with AI Brazil members on documents, amateur videos and photographic exhibitions on human rights. Unfortunately, it was more difficult to reach the military police. Nevertheless, the new law was copied in the state of Bahia, and working parties were set up in São Paolo and other areas of Brazil to revise police training. AI subsequently addressed a conference of all senior police officers at the federal level.

In 1996 the Brazil country coordinator of the Canadian Section, together with six individuals and three local groups, set up a support project to help this effort. They arranged finance, accommodation and briefings with the Edmonton Police Service in Canada and for a Brazilian police chief of the state of Sergipe to attend police training courses in Canada on subjects such as interrogation techniques, community patrols and dealing with difficult people. They also organized a workshop with Edmonton police on international human rights standards, including those concerning the rights of the child and to torture. The Brazilian police chief worked to develop human rights training on his return home.

The Spanish Interior Ministry holds a conference on the training of police officers as the basis for the protection of human rights, 1984.

f AI does not take part in the drafting of human rights training programs for MSP personnel from countries where human rights within AI's mandate are systematically and persistently violated. This does not prevent AI from helping to clarify that international human rights instruments should routinely be part of the training of all MSP personnel.

Amnesty International Campaign Manual