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
II. Identifying a Potential Violation: section links...
1. Introduction - 2. Legal Context - 3. The Right to Life - 4. Patterns of Violation - 5. Is There a Violation? - Summary of Part II

PART II - IDENTIFYING A POTENTIAL VIOLATION

SUMMARY
PART II - IDENTIFYING A POTENTIAL VIOLATION

1. RIGHT TO LIFE: BASIC RULE

The arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life is prohibited.

This may be analysed in terms of four distinct forms of violation:

  • Prohibition of arbitrary killing
  • Obligation to protect the right to life
  • Obligation to conduct an effective investigation
  • Obligation to provide an effective remedy

A violation of the right to life may be alleged where it is possible to establish the responsibility of the state for a breach of one of these obligations, to demonstrate a causal link between the state and the circumstances surrounding a death or deaths.

2. PROHIBITION OF ARBITRARY KILLING

Not all killings by state officials are unlawful. There are three permitted exceptions to the prohibition of killing by state officials:

  • Certain killings viewed as necessary measures of law enforcement
  • Certain killings committed in the context of an armed conflict
  • The death penalty, provided it complies with certain safeguards (not considered in this handbook)

In order to establish a violation of the prohibition of arbitrary killing it must be shown that 1) a state official was directly responsible for the death and 2) it did not fall within one of the lawful exceptions.

Exceptions:

  • Necessary measures of law enforcement -

Force may be used only for a legitimate purpose, i.e. in the performance of law enforcement duties, in particular the prevention of crime or the carrying out of a lawful arrest. Firearms may be used only in exceptional circumstances involving a serious threat to life.

The force used must be strictly necessary under the circumstances. In the case of firearms, it must be strictly unavoidable for the protection of life. The amount of force used must be proportionate to the objective pursued and the seriousness of the offence involved.

  • Certain killings committed in armed conflict -

Only persons taking an active part in the fighting can be deliberately targeted. Intentional attacks on persons NOT taking an active part in the fighting are unlawful. Care must also be taken when directing an attack against a legitimate target not to cause excessive incidental deaths of such persons. See Section 3.1.3.2. for more detailed rules. Separate sets of rules apply according to the nature of the armed conflict, whether it is international or non-international.

3. OBLIGATION TO PROTECT THE RIGHT TO LIFE

The state has a general obligation to create an environment in which the right to life is protected, both from abuses by public officials and from killings by private persons. In order to minimise the risk of abuse of the right to life by public officials, the state should:

  • Develop a regulatory framework on the use of force (circumstances and manner in which it may be used)
  • Ensure the proper selection and training of personnel
  • Provide personnel with appropriate equipment for dealing with a range of situations
  • Develop internal and external systems of effective monitoring and enforcement

The state should also ensure that killings by all persons are prohibited in domestic law and subject to effective and appropriate sanction.

4. OBLIGATION TO CONDUCT AN EFFECTIVE INVESTIGATION

Where a reliable report of unnatural death is received, the state has a duty to carry out an effective investigation, i.e. one that is thorough, prompt and impartial.

5. OBLIGATION TO PROVIDE AN EFFECTIVE DOMESTIC REMEDY

Where a violation of the right to life has occurred, the state has a duty to provide an effective, accessible and enforceable remedy, including the provision of fair and adequate compensation to the victim's family.

 

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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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