Across every region of the world, states are daily alleged to have committed or to have failed to prevent unlawful killings. From police shootings of members of ethnic minorities, to the use of lethal force against protestors during peacetime, to indiscriminate air strikes and targeted attacks on civilians during armed conflict, one of the most pressing concerns is ensuring that an effective investigation of the killing is conducted. Without an investigation, accountability is typically impossible, and families and communities must endure the pain of loss without knowing the truth, much less seeing justice. Investigations are an essential component of the right to life and are necessary to prevent future violations.
International treaties protect the universally binding right to life and permit killing only in narrow, strictly defined circumstances. When a life has been lost and it is uncertain whether this occurred in accordance with the law, the death must be investigated. But treaties do not set out the specific standards or processes for proper investigations of alleged violations. Instead, agreed international legal standards have developed over time. States, international human rights bodies, and practitioners have relied on supplemental international instruments to set out the agreed substantive and procedural legal elements of the right to life and to advance the best investigation practice.
Criminal Law | Criminal Procedure | International Law | Law
Christof Heyns, Stuart Casey-Maslen, Toby Fisher, Sarah Knuckey, Thomas Probert & Morris Tidball-Binz,
Investigating Potentially Unlawful Death under International Law: The 2016 Minnesota Protocol,
Available at: https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/faculty_scholarship/4194