Reporting Killings as Human Rights Violations Handbook

Reporting Killings as Human Rights Violations Handbook

How to document and respond to potential violations of the right to life within the international system for the protection of human rights

By Kate Thompson and Camille Giffard

Handbook links: website home page
Table of Contents - Search - Part I: Essential Reading - Part II: Identifying a Potential Violation - Part III: How to Document Allegations of Unlawful Killings - Part IV: Responding to the Information Collected - Part V: Where can you Seek Further Help? - Appendices
I. Essential Reading: section links...
1. Introduction - 2. Using This Handbook - 3. What You Can Achieve By Taking Action - Summary of Part I

PART I - ESSENTIAL READING

1. INTRODUCTION

This handbook aims to assist NGOs and human rights activists with the effective reporting of unlawful killings within the international system for the protection of human rights. It follows a similar format to the Torture Reporting Handbook by Camille Giffard (see Appendix II) and has the same goal.

Despite the universal acceptance that arbitrary deprivations of life constitute serious human rights violations, the actual number and seriousness of cases is not reflected at the international level. This has occurred for a wide variety of reasons, but can be explained partly by the fact that the law regulating the right to life, and the use of force by the state and state agencies, is extremely complex. Also, as the use of force by governments and their representatives can be lawful, many cases may turn on disputes of fact. NGOs can then be inhibited by the state's power to deny or hamper access to crucial information, as well as by lack of resources and expertise which would enable them to gather the evidence to support their case. The international system for the protection of human rights can also seem impenetrable, particularly for those without access to a functioning communications infrastructure. It was felt, therefore, that there was a need for a handbook of a practical nature, aimed at NGOs all over the world, to fulfil the following aims:

This handbook focuses on how to report cases where the state is responsible for unlawful killings, or potential violations of the right to life, within the international system for the protection of human rights. This includes circumstances where the state is responsible for death in the context of law enforcement and military activity, and extends to death in custody and institutionalised "care". The handbook also addresses some less obvious aspects of the right to life and points out how to use international human rights mechanisms in cases where the state and its representatives may have been responsible for the death, in ways other than as the immediate perpetrator of the killing. In particular, it deals with the failure of the state to adequately regulate the use of lethal force in society and to respond appropriately to death threats and suspicious deaths, both of which can constitute violations of international human rights law. The types of human rights violations covered by the handbook include:

Although we have chosen the term "unlawful killings", killings in the above categories are sometimes referred to as arbitrary killings or arbitrary deprivations of life. The United Nations refers to them as "extra-judicial (or extra-legal), summary or arbitrary executions".

There are two areas which you may have expected the book to deal with which are in fact excluded from its primary scope. These are, firstly, deaths resulting from the imposition of the death penalty and secondly, cases of enforced disappearances of persons (or disappearances). As international law permits capital punishment in very limited circumstances, any analysis of killings which result from the imposition of the death penalty involves an analysis of rights (such as the right to fair trial) which are so extensive that they would require a handbook to themselves. Such analysis has been carried out elsewhere and it is not a task which can be attempted here. Disappearances may involve violations of the right to life but are a separate form of human rights violation, as they constitute a unique constellation of deprivations of rights including, the rights to liberty and security of person, to humane treatment, as well as the right to life. Because of the uniqueness and specificity of disappearances they are mentioned but not focused upon in this handbook.

The contexts in which unlawful killings occur differ enormously and the variations of facts in individual cases of killings is infinite. This handbook is intended to be of universal application, but you must be prepared to adapt the advice and guidance in it to your country situation. The handbook does not attempt to provide technical medical or legal instruction, but focuses rather on the process of reporting itself. In this way, it seeks to enable NGOs to produce high-quality information on both individual incidents and patterns of killings, with a view to maximising the utility of the information to the international bodies, as well as assisting those NGOs to select the most appropriate procedure or procedures to which to address the information in light of their own desired result. It should be borne in mind, however, that following the guidelines set out in this handbook is not a guarantee of obtaining a particular result from a particular international body, and it may seem as if little has been achieved in a particular case. This handbook reflects the law as at May 2002.

Feedback about the contents of this work is appreciated, so please feel free to contact us with comments and contributions about the Handbook - Human Rights Centre, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester CO4 3SQ, U.K. + 44 1206 872558. Email: hrc@essex.ac.uk.

We sincerely hope that you will find this handbook useful and inspiring in your work.

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Handbook links: website home page
Table of Contents - Search - Part I: Essential Reading - Part II: Identifying a Potential Violation - Part III: How to Document Allegations of Unlawful Killings - Part IV: Responding to the Information Collected - Part V: Where can you Seek Further Help? - Appendices
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