The 1992 Constitution of Estonia (as amended through 2015) explicitly protects the rights to life and to freedom from inhumane treatment:
Everyone has the right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his or her life.
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel or degrading treatment or punishment.Arts. 16 and 18, 1992 Constitution of Estonia (as amended through 2015).
The Constitution further protects the right of peaceful assembly:
Everyone has the right, without prior permission, to assemble peacefully and to conduct meetings. This right may be restricted in the cases and pursuant to procedure provided by law to ensure national security, public order, morals, traffic safety, and the safety of participants in a meeting, or to prevent the spread of an infectious disease.Art. 47, 1992 Constitution of Estonia (as amended through 2015).
The Constitution does not refer to the police.
|1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||State Party|
|ICCPR Optional Protocol 1||State Party|
|1984 Convention against Torture (CAT)||State Party|
|Competence of CAT Committee to receive individual complaints||No|
|CAT Optional Protocol 1||State Party|
|1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court||State Party|
|1950 European Convention on Human Rights||State Party|
Police Use of Force
The Estonian Police serve as the country's law enforcement agency. It reports to the Ministry of the Interior. The use of force is governed in detail by the 2011 Law Enforcement Act, which entered into force in 2014. Under Section 24(6) of the Act, "Direct coercion may not be applied for the prevention of a threat unless it is necessary for the prevention of a significant or serious threat." Use of force must also be proportionate to the threat.
The use of handcuffs, shackles, and other forms of restraint are regulated by Section 79. Under subsection 1, handcuffs may be used where there is reason to believe that he or she may:
1) attack another person, offer physical resistance to an official of a law enforcement agency or damage a proprietary benefit of great value;
2) escape or he or she may be released unlawfully if he or she has been deprived of liberty pursuant to law; or
3) injure or kill himself or herself.
Under subsection 2, shackles may be used as under subsection 1 on a suspect, accused or convicted offender in relation to:
1) the commission of a violent criminal offence in the first degree;
2) the commission of a criminal offence for which he or she may be sentenced to life imprisonment as a punishment; or
3) the commission of another criminal offence if the use of handcuffs is not sufficient for the achievement of the objective.
Under subsection 3, other means of restraint may be used "if this does not jeopardise the person’s life, and does not cause him or her bodily injury or great physical pain. The use of a binding means, restraint jacket, restraint chair or restraint bed shall not last for more than one hour at a time."
Section 79 bis governs water cannon, which may be used "against a crowd" to counter a serious threat, where necessary and when "every effort is made in order not to jeopardise another significant benefit". It is further specified that: "The procedure for the use of a water cannon shall be established by the minister responsible for the field by a regulation."
Section 80 governs the use of electric shock weapons (e.g. Tasers). The police may use such a weapon to counter a serious threat where any other weapon except for a firearm is not possible, or is not possible in a timely manner, and where "every effort is made in order not to jeopardise another significant benefit". Use is limited to situations where it is necessary to:
1) counter an immediate threat to life or physical inviolability;
2) obstruct the commission of an imminent or ongoing criminal offence in the first degree;
3) detain a person suspected or accused of a criminal offence in the first degree or hinder his or her escape if he or she may be deprived of liberty pursuant to law or if he or she has been deprived of it pursuant to law; or
4) detain a person or hinder his or her escape if he or she may be deprived of liberty on the basis of a court decision or if he or she has been deprived of it on the basis of a court decision.
Section 81 governs police use of firearms. Firearms may be used, where necessary, to:
1) counter an immediate threat to life or physical inviolability;
2) obstruct the commission of an imminent or ongoing violent criminal offence in the first degree or such a criminal offence for which life imprisonment may be sentenced as a punishment;
3) detain a suspect, accused or convicted offender or to hinder his or her escape if he or she may be deprived of liberty pursuant to law or if he or she has been deprived of it pursuant to law in relation to the commission of a violent criminal offence in the first degree or such a criminal offence for which he or she may be sentenced to life imprisonment as a punishment.
This is considerably more permissive than international law allows.
The Chancellor of Justice is competent to deal with complaints against the Estonia Police.
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2013 Concluding Observations on Estonia, the Committee against Torture expressed its concern at "information suggesting that conditions in some prisons and police arrest houses do not meet international standards".
Estonia's 2016 Universal Periodic Review did not address police use of force. In its 2019 Concluding Observations on Estonia, the Human Rights Committee also did not address police use of force.
Julin v. Estonia
This case before the European Court of Human Rights concerned allegations of ill-treatment by prison officers, including placement in a restraint bed and strip-searching "in a humiliating manner and without respect for the applicant's private life". The Court reiterated its acceptance
that the use of force may be necessary on occasion to ensure prison security, and to maintain order or prevent crime in detention facilities. Nevertheless, such force may be used only if indispensible and must not be excessive.... Recourse to physical force which has not been made strictly necessary by the detainee’s own conduct diminishes human dignity and is in principle an infringement of the right set forth in Article 3 of the Convention....
The Court expressed its concern
about the summary nature of the reasons given for the applicant’s placement in the restraint bed, the even more concise remarks on the necessity to continue the use of this measure of restraint entered in the record and, in particular, the length of the period of use of the measure. It also notes that medical checks were only performed at the beginning and at the end of the applicant’s confinement and that there was a period of more than eight hours when he was not seen by medical staff. The Court reiterates that means of restraint should never be used as a means of punishment but rather in order to avoid self-injury or serious danger to other persons or prison security.
The Court held the conditions of restraint were unlawful but rejected the applicant's claim that the strip-searching amounted to inhumane treatment.
In its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017, with respect to Estonia, the United States Department of State noted
reports that police used excessive physical force and verbal abuse during the arrest and questioning of some suspects. The number of cases brought against police officers for excessive use of force declined from previous years. In 2016, authorities filed three cases against police officers for excessive use of force. During the first seven months of the year, there was one court case against a former police officer. A police officer threatened and physically assaulted one young man and used excessive force against another. On June 30, the Parnu County Court found a police officer guilty of using excessive force in 2016, sentencing the officer conditionally to 18 months in prison with two years’ probation and requiring him to complete a social program.