While life is the most basic of rights, many individuals are robbed of this through the unjust practice of extrajudicial killing, which is the deliberate killing of persons without a fair and unbiased trial by jury. This practice is not a new phenomenon, as these types of killings date far back into history in the form of assassination and even genocide.
What’s even more troublesome is that these acts of violence are often ordered by State agents and are perpetuated by armed opposition groups. According to the Human Rights Watch, as many as 22,983 people have been extrajudicially killed since 2016 in the Philippines alone.
Similar tragedies can be seen in other developing countries such as Afghanistan and Iran. Yet, it is hard to gauge the exact number of deaths since many governments refuse to release accurate statistics, according to Amnesty International.
Extrajudicial killings can take on a variety of forms, oftentimes appearing legal when it is, in reality, the exact opposite. Under the guise of upholding public safety (the drug war in the Philippines) and anti-crime policies (the execution of Osama bin Laden), these killings become justified in the eyes of the government. This makes it harder to bring officials, police, or other government-controlled forces to justice.
Additionally, many of the groups who carry out the orders of these corrupt government officials remain unidentified. This lack of transparency makes it difficult to find solid evidence supporting the fact that these killings had even occurred.
According to TRIAL International, the victims of these killings are often targeted; dissidents, journalists, LGBTQ persons, reformers, and people who practice a different faith than the majority are just a few types of people silenced unlawfully. Many are kidnapped or taken into custody before their murder, and some are even killed in their homes or at peaceful protests.
Victims of enforced disappearances vanish, never to be seen again, which gives officials the power to extrajudicially kill in obscurity. In order to bring justice to these victim’s families, urgent action needs to be taken. But the question remains: how?
The United Nations has made some efforts to alleviate this pressing issue.
The fact that “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security” is protected by a handful of international treaties, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the Geneva Conventions (1949), according to the United Nations Charter. In 1980, the Sixth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders condemned the execution of political opponents by armed groups and governmental agencies, solidifying the U.N.’s intolerant stance towards unlawful killings.
That same year, the General Assembly adopted Resolution 35/172 which, especially in Articles 6,14, and 15, covered the fundamental right to life and safeguards ensuring fair and unbiased judicial decisions. However, the most crucial developmental step taken by the U.N. was the appointment of an independent individual to serve as the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions.
This individual reports these worldwide grievances to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly, and must also monitor the implementation of international regulations relating to capital punishment, according to the OCHR’s Fact Sheet number 11.
NGOs have also played a critical role in combating the issue. In 2016, over 300 NGOs sent an open letter to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime aimed at asking them to stop extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, according to IDPC. The United Nations is now actively investigating the case.
Help from individual NGOs has also helped make a difference. An example would be TRIAL International, which works to provide legal assistance and to litigate cases on a wide spectrum of topics, such as genocide, torture, and war crimes, as seen stated on their website.
Yet despite the involvement of the UN, extrajudicial killings will not dissipate in the foreseeable future unless each country’s government changes its legislation and agrees to adhere to strict policies. Without these amendments, the future for those living in these countries will continue to be overshadowed by the possibility of an unjust death.