States have duty to probe all suspicious deaths: UN expert

OHCHR

Every person’s universal and absolute right not to be arbitrarily deprived of life requires that all potentially unlawful deaths be investigated, a UN human rights expert told the General Assembly today, saying that any failure to carry out a proper investigation was itself a violation of the right to life.

“Effective investigations, as required under international law, shed light on facts and stem impunity for perpetrators,” said Morris Tidball-Binz, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

“They are also a cornerstone for the prevention of arbitrary killings, by providing essential evidence-based information required for addressing and resolving the root causes of any arbitrary deprivation of the right to life.

“Therefore, States have an obligation to ensure that any suspicious death is investigated according to the highest forensic standards.”

The expert recalled that the 2016 Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death is today’s golden standard for investigation of all cases of suspicious deaths, stressing the importance of the role of medico-legal and death-investigation systems worldwide in preventing and resolving cases of unlawful killings.

Tidball-Binz, who took up his duties last April, outlined his priorities, including a focus on femicide; deaths in custody; lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and the protection of the right to life in the context of disaster management and response. “Effective death investigation systems are key in all these areas of work,” he said.

“In cases of femicide, for instance, the gendered nature of the crime and its particular manifestations are frequently overlooked, resulting in its erroneous classification as an ordinary homicide and a failure to prevent recurrence.

“Likewise, most deaths in custody are preventable. However, they are seldomly investigated properly and in many countries are not investigated at all, which helps perpetuate this tragedy. Similarly, the failure to adopt adequate disaster prevention, mitigation and response measures leads in many contexts to the unnecessary loss of human life, which can and should be prevented.”

The expert said he intends to address the issue of the dignified management of the dead with a view to informing a set of practical guidelines to promote the respect, protection and preservation of the human remains of those unlawfully killed, to facilitate their identification and achieving justice and reparation for the families.

During his tenure the expert will continue to monitor the implementation of all standards relating to capital punishment, which is often imposed in blatant violation of international law, including the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

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