Using videotaped prosecution of police officers for human rights violations as an educational tool

The Turkish Police Academy uses videotaped prosecution of policemen for human rights violations to teach police academy candidates about the consequences of violating human rights. This tactic was used as part of a larger strategy in police academy human rights education for police candidates to incorporate the understanding, value and use of investigation and interrogation procedures that do not violate the human rights of the accused and prevent abuse of power. Turkey is working to eradicate the practice of police in higher authority misusing their positions and actually being promoted to higher rank for doing so. This has pointed to the need for a judiciary that pursues both the criminal and human rights violators.

Viewing a video of an actual trial of a policeman accused of human rights violations provides a powerful example to the police academy candidates that undermines the assumptions they have carried regarding human rights as well as helps to change misunderstandings or misperceptions regarding human rights. Initially, candidates believe that: respect for human rights harms the combat capacity of the security forces—in order to catch criminals they can and must use any method available; human rights is a barrier—security forces are fighting crime and all methods are valid when fighting a war; criminals are not normal people—use of violence or pressure on the accused is considered standard operating procedure; and human rights don’t pertain to themselves—candidates have not perceived that human rights encompass the protection for their own rights.

Dr. Vahit Bıçak developed the tactic by collecting videotaped footage of prosecutions of police officers who had violated human rights. He then compiled a 90-minute video from these prosecution tapes showing policemen who have been brought in front of a judge for violation of human rights. His tactic was met with initial resistance when the original ten cassettes covering the whole trial disappeared as well as the 90-minute cassette. Dr. Bıçak was prepared and had a spare copy from which new copies were produced.

In addition to using the video tape, Dr. Bıçak developed a ten question questionnaire to elicit the opinions and values of police academy candidates related to human rights. This questionnaire is given to candidates prior to and after receiving a twelve-month human rights education course. The candidates respond to these questions anonymously so they can write their true thoughts. Results collected from the survey done at the end of term clearly show the tactic has had a positive effect on the police candidates to develop empathy for suspects. In addition, discussions with candidates after watching the film have also clearly shown the positive effect of the tactic.

For example, the questionnaire asks the candidates if any of the following situations would constitute an obstacle to an investigation of a crime and why:

  • The right of the accused to remain silent
  • Informing the suspect about the reason why he has been detained
  • Telling the family of the accused his location
  • Providing the accused with a medical exam (to verify ill-treatment or torture)
  • Reminding the accused of the right to counsel
  • Legal counsel is present and provides advice during the taking of the accused testimony.

Academy candidates are shown the 90-minute video with the purpose of creating awareness that police can be charged and prosecuted for human rights violations and to build empathy among candidates that all accused should be afforded human rights protections.

Post graduation inquiries reveal that a continuing obstacle remains the police already in the field. They make it difficult for the Academy graduates to implement the values and human rights training they have acquired. It goes against the standard operating procedures they encounter when they get to the field to work. As more candidates are trained in human rights, they are informed of human rights, the consequences for violating these laws and can reinforce this knowledge among themselves as colleagues.


New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.

What we can learn from this tactic: 
This tactic emphasizes the importance of education as a preventive measure. By showing new police candidates what they would face if they committed human rights abuses, the police academy was able to use education as a way to deter future human right violations. Education is an important tactic for breaking down misconceptions and previously held beliefs.
This tactic also highlights the importance of evaluating a tactic to determine its success. By issuing an anonymous questionnaire at the end of the training course, the police academy was able to gauge the success of the video in its ability to change the beliefs of the candidates. Evaluation is a necessary component of any tactic. It is essential to know what aspects of the tactic were fruitful, what needed improvement, and what didn’t work. This is how you are able to adjust strategy to be more effective in future tactics. 
The tactic would be more effective if it was used in conjunction with more long-term tactics, such as implementing a retraining program for police officers who started before the creation of this program. The actions and misconceptions of the older police officers have the power to undermine this training program once the candidates are in the field. Systems are unlikely to change without the consent or approval of the supervisors.