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Extrajudicial killings: another task for International Justice

The right to life is the most sacred guarantee for all human beings. It has been recognized in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 1 of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and Article 4 of the American Convention on Human Rights. Their protection cannot be suspended in any case or circumstance.

However, this inalienable right can be violated in various ways. One of them corresponds to extrajudicial execution, broadly defined as the killing of a person who has been kidnapped, threatened or sentenced extrajudicially.In other words, outside the law without respecting the procedures or the competent judicial action for the case. It also occurs when there is an illegitimate deprivation of liberty that culminates in murder or when the guarantees of defense that correspond to the person are disrespected.

Despite being a situation that directly violates this fundamental right, extrajudicial execution is not specifically defined or regulated under any international treaty or convention.. This offense is referenced in regulations such as ".The principles relating to the effective prevention and investigation of extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions"The Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions; or the considerations set forth in the Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions.

On the concept of extrajudicial executions

Since none of the international instruments available to date specifically conceptualizes extrajudicial execution, its definition has been created through references or studies carried out through the regulations that mention it.

Humberto Henderson in the publication "Extrajudicial execution or homicide in Latin American legislations" (see PDF here), considers that the extrajudicial execution occurs when the arbitrary deprivation of life by agents of the State is consummated.or with their complicity, tolerance or acquiescence, without a judicial or legal process to that effect.

In addition, it is a violation that can be carried out in the exercise of power.The crime is defined as an isolated act, whether or not it is politically motivated. Different degrees of intentionality are accepted when those responsible for the act are members of the State security forces. This caveat also makes it possible to determine whether it is a case of extrajudicial execution or not, according to Henderson. Nevertheless, all cases, even when there is no evident intention to cause death, are considered by international law as extrajudicial executions when agents of state security forces are involved.

Among these considerations are cases of torture or ill-treatment during detention or imprisonment resulting in death.The use of excessive force by agents at the time of arrests or during public demonstrations, deaths under unclear circumstances when the victim is under the responsibility of the State.

The debate on extrajudicial executions at the UN

This type of execution has been the subject of debate at the United Nations.because it violates the most fundamental right to be protected. The Commission on Human Rights, in its resolution of March 11, 1982, requested the Economic and Social Council to appoint a Special Rapporteur to submit to the Commission a comprehensive report on the existence and extent of practices of summary or arbitrary extrajudicial executions.

Subsequently, this independent figure was renewed and its functions on executions were expanded to include all violations of the right to life worldwide. The Special Rapporteur not only acts in cases of violations of extrajudicial executions, but also takes preventive action and makes recommendations on the basis of information he requests from non-governmental organizations, governments, individuals and intergovernmental organizations.

In order to fully comply with prevention, the Rapporteur makes urgent appeals to the government where the possibility of such executions is latent. Similarly, it visits countries according to the seriousness of the complaints received and from there collects the necessary information to prepare reports to the Human Rights Council that invite periodic evaluation of the issue.

These are the situations that alert the Rapporteur to action:

  • Death penalty.
  • Death threats.
  • La Muerte during police custody.
  • Death due to excessive use of force by security agents.
  • Death as a result of attacks by State security forces.
  • Violations of the right to life during armed conflicts involving paramilitary groups or private forces.
  • Genocide.
  • Imminent expulsion of persons to a country where their lives are in danger.
  • Cases of impunity.

Once the Special Rapporteur finds sufficient evidence of the occurrence of extrajudicial executions, urges the national authorities to take action in the case in order to prosecute and determine responsibilities.

When the State does not commit itself to the execution of justice, the case will fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. Likewise, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court includes in its jurisdiction extrajudicial summary or arbitrary executions, when they constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity, in order to achieve access to justice when it has not been achieved through other means.

Sources consulted