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Key issues


Key Terms

'Accountability' refers to the obligation of duty bearers "to take responsibility for their actions, to answer for them by explaining and justifying them to those affected, and to be subject to some form of enforceable sanction if their conduct or explanation for it is found wanting" (OHCHR, 2013, p. ix). In the context of policing, accountability "involves a system of internal control and external oversight mechanisms aimed at ensuring that the police perform their expected functions to a high standard, and that they are held responsible if they fail to do so" (UNODC, 2011, p. 9).

'Oversight' is a comprehensive term that refers to several processes including: ex-ante scrutiny, ongoing monitoring, and ex-post review, as well as evaluation and investigation. Oversight of the police services is undertaken by a range of external actors, including the judiciary, parliament, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI), ombudsman institutions, National Preventive Mechanisms (NPM), anti-corruption commissions, specialized police complaint bodies, media and NGOs. Oversight is different from control in the sense that the latter implies the power to direct policies and activities and thus is typically associated with the management of police services and the executive branch of government (Born and Mesevage, 2012, p. 6).

'Police integrity' entails that "police work is steered by a core set of clearly defined ethical values such as impartiality, fairness, equality, justice, honesty and respect for human rights. Integrity should be promoted by the police organization through all its levels. At the individual level, police officers uphold the principle of integrity when they align their behaviour with the ethical values set by their organization" (Costa and Thorens, 2015, p. 47).

'Human rights-based approach to policing (HRBA)' is defined as "a comprehensive, systematic and institutional approach to law enforcement that is consistent with international human rights standards and practices"; and one which "promotes actions through the tripartite obligations to respect, protect and fulfill human rights" (UNODC and OHCHR, 2017, p. 24)


The Module is structured into three sub-topics:

Next: Topic one - Policing in democracies and the need for accountability, integrity, oversight
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