UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials

The UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials is a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly that was adopted on December 17, 1979.  As such, it is not legally binding for member states, but rather a set of guidelines that the General Assembly encourages and recommends that Member States follow or incorporate into their national law.  The Code of Conduct provides a standard for outlining the responsibilities and duties for law enforcement officials within Member States.


Goal: The goal of the Code of Conduct is to fulfill the objective of […] providing the citizenry served by law enforcement officials with the protection of their rights and interests […]


Relevant Clauses [1]


Article 1

Law enforcement officials shall at all times 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. 


c) Service to the community is intended to include particularly the rendition of services of assistance to those members of the community who by reason of personal, economic, social or other emergencies are in need of immediate aid.

d) This provision is intended to cover not only all violent, predatory and harmful acts, but extends to the full range of prohibitions under penal statutes.  It extends to conduct by persons not capable of incurring criminal liability.


Article 2

In the performance of their duty, law enforcement officials shall respect and protect human dignity and maintain and uphold the human rights of all persons.


Article 3

Law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty.


a) This provision emphasizes that the use of force by law enforcement officials should be exceptional; while it implies that law enforcement officials may be authorized to use force as is reasonably necessary under the circumstances for the prevention of crime or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders, no force going beyond that may be used.

b) National law ordinarily restricts the use of force by law enforcement officials in accordance with a principle of proportionality.  It is to be understood that such national principles of proportionality are to be respected in the interpretation of this provision.  In no case should this provision be interpreted to authorize the use of force which is disproportionate to the legitimate objective to be achieved.

c) The use of firearms is considered an extreme measure.  Every effort should be made to exclude the use of firearms, especially against children.  In general, firearms should not be used except when a suspected offender offers armed resistance or otherwise jeopardizes the lives of others and less extreme measures are not sufficient to restrain or apprehend the suspected offender […]


Article 5

No law enforcement official may inflict, instigate or tolerate any act of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, nor may any law enforcement official invoke superior orders or exceptional circumstances such as a state of war or a threat of war, a threat to national security, internal political instability or any other public emergency as a justification of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.


Article 6

Law enforcement officials shall ensure the full protection of the health of persons in their custody and, in particular, shall take immediate action to secure medical attention whenever required.


Article 7

Law enforcement officials shall not commit any act of corruption.  They shall also rigorously oppose and combat all such acts.

[1]United Nations General Assembly (1979). 34/169 Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials. Retrieved October 16, 2013, from United Nations: http://www.un.org/disarmament/convarms/ATTPrepCom/Background%20documents/CodeofConductforlawEnfOfficials-E.pdf