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Internal governance and control

Last edited: December 29, 2011

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  • Robust internal governance and control mechanisms within security institutions are central to the overall effectiveness of sector oversight and critical for ending abuses by soldiers and police officers – for example through sexual harassment and assault, complicity in forced sex work and human trafficking, and discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual orientation. Internal oversight can reduce the perpetration of violence by individual police, military officers or groups of uniformed personnel, and address the discriminatory institutional norms that perpetuate these practices. This can also address the culture of impunity which often results in widespread distrust of the police and other security actors, and makes women and other community members reluctant to report abuses against them.

  • Internal oversight should work in tandem with external mechanisms (e.g. parliamentary oversight; civil society oversight), and be supported by political will, human and financial resources to address the issue comprehensively.

  • Mechanisms to improve internal accountability of security personnel can be advanced through external advocacy, and should include several components.

    • Supervision and proactive monitoring. Senior staff and/or dedicated gender units/staff can be tasked with the responsibility to proactively monitor individual personnel and institutional actions to prevent and respond to cases of violence. These coordinators or focal points should also have a clear mandate and link to higher oversight bodies to facilitate reporting of perpetration of violence by security personnel, which may be supported by:

      • Setting up systems to monitor case management and examine whether implementation of protocols and procedures (e.g. investigation protocols, codes of conduct, interviewing procedures, data management) has been followed.

      • Conducting periodic inspections of police stations or specialist women’s police units to assess the facility, supplies and quality of service provided.

      • Conducting regular performance reviews of personnel to assess their actions and achievements over the previous period and adjusting their future responsibilities and assignments accordingly.

      • Implementing background checks on potential or new recruits to ensure there is no history of violence against women or abuse of their rights.

      • Putting in place domestic violence or sexual violence coordinators either at the national (e.g. United Kingdom) or local police division level (e.g. Canada, Norway, United States, Georgia) who are tasked to coordinate and monitor police response. 

Promising Practice: Domestic Violence Coordinators in Canada’s police services

In Canada, policing standards state that every police service shall recruit supervisors to monitor, and ensure compliance with the police domestic violence procedures. They stipulate that every service should designate a domestic violence coordinator who will be responsible for:

  • Monitoring the response to, and investigation of domestic violence incidents, including compliance with police procedures by supervisors, officers and other staff;

  • Monitoring and evaluating follow-up to domestic violence cases;

  • Liaising with the Crown, Probation and Parole Services, the Victim/Witness Assistance Service, Victim Crisis and Referral Service, the local Children’s Aid Society, and other local services and community representatives responsible for responding to issues related to domestic violence occurrences;

  • Informing the public and media about the police service’s domestic violence occurrences procedures;

  • Ensuring that statistical data are kept on incidents of domestic violence and provided to the Ministry in the format specified by the Ministry.

Source: Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General (2000), Policing Standards Manual - Domestic Violence Occurrences

  • Information management system for violence against women: The availability of accurate and up-to-date data on the incidence of violence against women as well as the numbers of cases reported, investigated and prosecuted is critical to monitoring the sector’s response as well as the effectiveness of prevention efforts. In many contexts, national and local police forces may lack the human and technical resources necessary to collect and analyze data, which reinforces the importance of system-wide measures for standardizing case documentation alongside greater coordination and multisectoral cooperation.

  • Internal complaints mechanisms: There need to be clear, confidential and responsive mechanisms through which security personnel can raise complaints or concerns against their superiors, juniors or peers with respect to alleged cases of misconduct, abuse or poor performance –in relation to another officer, suspects, witnesses or victims of crime. For example, many police and army units have specialist internal affairs department to file complaints and which conduct internal investigations into misconduct; others have established internal grievance or complaints procedures.

Example: Philippines National Police - Internal Grievance Procedures

The law which created the Philippines National Police also established an internal grievance mechanism through which Police members can lodge complaints and grievances against their colleagues or superiors. Ad hoc Grievance Committees (composed or a chairperson and two other officers) can be constituted at all levels of command within the police organization to address specific complaints. The Police Internal Affairs Service, the Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management, and the Directorate for Personnel and Records Management are tasked to monitor all complaints filed before the Committees. However, there is no public information on the extent to which individuals have raised performance complaints against fellow officers related to preventing violence against women or abuses against women and girls by officers.

Sources: Philippines National Police Commission; Philippines National Police.


  • External complaints mechanisms: In addition to complaints filed by security personnel, there should be a mechanism to handle complaints from the public with respect to the performance and behaviour of personnel on the issue and for reporting cases of abuse. Dedicated mechanisms for gender-based violence complaints are preferable to integrating the issue into wider public complaints mechanisms, since specific interventions and protocols for reporting sexual exploitation and abuse may be required given the sensitivity and potential risks to survivors reporting inaction or abuse by police. For example, the Ottawa Sexual Assault Protocol in Canada stipulates the procedures to be followed by city police in handling sexual assault cases and in cases of misconduct by police officers, refers complainants to the Ottawa Police Professional Standard Branch. See also the independent oversight section, which covers public complaints commissions.

  • Disciplinary system for sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and other forms of violence perpetrated by security personnel: In addition to enforcing a clear code of conduct for uniformed personnel and other sector staff, it is essential to develop and enforce a system to identify and investigate suspected sexual exploitation and abuse cases (among other forms of violence) and implement transparent disciplinary procedures with clear measures of reprimand including criminal proceedings. This disciplinary system should enforce different levels of penalties depending on the extent of violation of laws, policies or codes of conduct. In cases of sexual harassment, exploitation or abuse, it is important that accused officers are processed publicly through the court system to demonstrate that their actions are equally subject to the law, to ensure they receive a fair trial, and if found guilty, are subject to the appropriate sanctions. In cases of sexual violence, perpetrators may be listed on a public registry of sex offenders. Disciplinary systems should also establish provisions for addressing other forms of violence, such as domestic violence, trafficking, etc.


For example, the United Nations has developed a global database, the Misconduct Tracking System as a confidential tracking system for allegations of misconduct by United Nations civilian, military, police and related personnel (e.g. employees of UN contractors), with specific data available on reports of sexual exploitation and abuse, the status of investigations, and follow-up with member states updated on a monthly basis. Fact sheets summarizing disciplinary actions taken annually are also made available to demonstrate the system’s response to misconduct.

See more information on the United Nations Conduct and Disciplinary Unit.


Example: Guidance on criminal investigations against police officers accused of domestic violence

As part of its toolkit on the police response to domestic violence, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (2003) has produced a Model Policy on Domestic Violence by Police Officers which gives the following guidance on criminal investigation procedures when a serving police officer is accused of committing domestic violence:

 “Criminal Investigations and Decisions: The responsibility to complete a criminal investigation of an incident of police officer domestic violence shall rest with the domestic violence unit of the department, or in the event that no such unit exists, the criminal investigations unit or detective division. The chief may ask an outside law enforcement agency to conduct the criminal investigation.

  1. The investigating official shall conduct criminal investigations as would be the case for any other criminal violation.

  2. In accordance with the officer's and victim's privacy rights, the investigating official or agency shall conduct sufficient interviews (taped) of family members, friends, neighbours, colleagues, and others who may have information regarding criminal charges.

  3. Even though an initial report may already exist concerning a police officer, reports of any subsequent or additional criminal or non-criminal incidents, which may include fellow officers engaging in surveillance or intimidation of the victim, shall be documented in separate incident reports, assigned a case number, cross-referenced with the original case number and investigated thoroughly.

  4. The department shall completely investigate the charges and where warranted seek prosecution even in cases where the victim recants.

  5. The department shall establish a liaison to work with the prosecuting attorney for each case. This officer shall present all the information to the prosecuting attorney for action and ask that decisions about the adjudication of the case be made in a timely manner.

  6. As with any other case for criminal prosecution, the investigating officer shall request filing of court papers/complaints.

  7. Any officer convicted through criminal proceedings of a domestic violence crime shall be terminated from the department.”

The policy also sets out comprehensive procedures for the prevention of and response to domestic violence perpetrated by police officers in the following areas:

A) Prevention and Training

B) Early Warning and Intervention

C) Incident Response Protocols

D) Victim Safety and Protection

E) Post-Incident Administrative and Criminal Decisions.

Excerpt: International Association of Chiefs of Police, (2003), ‘Domestic Violence by Police Officers Model Policy’, Virginia: International Association of Chiefs of Police.

  • Ensuring Freedom of information: Information about institutional actions taken to address violence against women should be publically accessible, including matters related to violence committed by security personnel. Freedom of information can demonstrate that there is both internal accountability (e.g. disciplinary procedures) and external oversight (e.g. judicial checks on the way that the sector responds to allegations of violence committed by its own personnel). For example, if figures and details on the levels of sexual harassment perpetrated by police officers (both within and outside their work) and how the police responded to these allegations are publicly available, external organizations can monitor practices and advocate for reforms as needed. The knowledge that such information will be made public can also encourage police units to improve their responses and deter individual personnel from perpetrating abuse.

Example: Monitoring of Police Complaints Authorities in India
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative has used India’s Right to Information Act to monitor the work of the state and district levels Police Complaints Authorities, which were established in 2006 by the Supreme Court to address the ongoing problem of police accountability. The Police Complaints Authorities are independent of the police; have their own powers of investigation; can deal exclusively with complaints of serious misconduct and neglect of duty by the police; and can make binding recommendations for action. In collaboration with the Authorities, the Commonwealth Initiative has been able to access all complaints received and orders passed by the Authority in order to review the functionality of the Authorities and interview complainants to assess their satisfaction with the Authority’s response to their complaint, the fairness of the proceedings and their satisfaction with the orders passed. Read more about the Police Complaints Authorities.  

Srinivas, S. and Siddiqui, A., (2009), ‘Your Guide to Using Police Complaints Authorities’, CHRI Better Policing Series, New Delhi: CHRI; Kotwal, N. and Srinivas, S. (2010) ‘Uttarakhand State Police Complaints Authority: Analysing  Accountability in Action’, CHRI Better Policing Series, New Delhi: CHRI; Kotwal, N. and Prasad, D. (2010) ‘Complaints Authorities: Police Accountability in Action’ CHRI Better Policing Series, New Delhi: CHRI.