United Nations A/hrc/19/68


Unlawful Killing under International Human Rights Law



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Unlawful Killing under International Human Rights Law

  • Arbitrary deprivation of life has many permutations. A state-sponsored deprivation of life will be arbitrary in the legal sense unless it is both necessary and proportionate.178 Therefore, when a state actor employs lethal force it must be in order to protect life (i.e., it must be proportionate) and there must also be no other means available, such as capture or incapacitation, to curtail that threat to life (i.e., it must be necessary). Only under these limited circumstances is the resort to lethal force by the State legal.179 Stated otherwise,

      1. The proportionality requirement limits the permissible level of force based on the threat posed by the suspect to others. The necessity requirement imposes an obligation to minimize the level of force used, regardless of the amount that would be proportionate, through, for example, the use of warnings, restraint and capture.180

  • The noted international human rights law standards differ to a degree from those applicable to fighters/combatants during an armed conflict under international humanitarian law.181 For example, one would not expect soldiers to warn their enemies before an attack. Still, international human rights law obligations remain in effect and operate to limit the circumstances when a state actor – even a soldier during internal armed conflict – can employ lethal force. This is particularly the case where the circumstances on the ground are more akin to policing than combat. For example, in encountering a member of the opposing forces in an area far removed from combat,182 or in situations where that enemy can be arrested easily and without risk to one’s own forces, it may well be that the international humanitarian law regime is not determinative. In such situations, combatants/fighters should ensure their use of lethal force conforms to the parameters of international human rights law.





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