This module is a resource for lecturers  


Key issues


One pertinent and complex issue that has arisen during processes of securing peace, justice and security is how to fully protect the right to life. Many believe that this right should be at the forefront of governmental aims to prevent conflict and, consequently, death. It has been described as the 'supreme right', since other rights are rendered meaningless without its full and effective guarantee, and derogation from this right is prohibited even in times of public emergency. As a former United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions observed,"the right to life is the most important and basic of human rights. It is the foundation from which all human rights spring. If it is infringed, its effects are irreversible." (Economic and Social Council report E/CN.4/1983/16, para. 22). The duty to protect the right to life of persons within their territory and jurisdiction therefore remains with the State, but must be fulfilled within the confines of the rule of law. This latter point is particularly crucial, given the challenges that States face in implementing effective mechanisms for the purposes of law enforcement, criminal justice or even armed conflict, whilst at the same time, accommodating the need to protect the right to life in forms that may even conflict with counter-terrorism strategies.

It is imperative too that States have robust mechanisms in place to safeguard the right to life. Yet, this Module will also look at the susceptibility of States themselves to infringe the right and the necessity to take strict precaution and comprehensive steps to avoid their own violations through their 'due diligence' responsibility. This Module will consider the relevant right to life issues in the context of peacetime law enforcement, but also when appropriate, the varying law and practice that apply in periods of armed conflict.

Specifically, the Module examines the primary international and regional human rights frameworks and related jurisprudence, as well as international humanitarian law, relevant to the right to life in both peacetime and armed conflict counter-terrorism contexts. It examines a number of topical issues, namely: the arbitrary deprivation of life, including debates relating to gender-sensitive approaches, and killings through the deprivation of socio-economic rights; use of the death penalty as punishment for convicted terrorists; enforced disappearances; the extraterritorial application of the right to life; as well as the deprivation of life in armed conflict situations.

The following section provides a summary of the key international legal instruments that protect the right to life. After discussing the principal general international and regional treaty instruments, consideration is also given to some topic-specific treaties and instruments of counter-terrorism relevance.

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