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Prevention and Investigation of unlawful killings

While the Special Rapporteur is an international mechanism, his research on this issue underlined the importance of processes taking place at the national level: the right to life cannot be effectively protected if accountability can only be pursued through international avenues. The international human rights project relies heavily upon actions taken at the level of individual states both to prevent arbitrary killings, and to investigate those which occur.

The importance of these steps to prevent and to investigate, was recognised by the international community as long ago as the 1980s, with the adoption of two important instruments, the UN Principles on the Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions and an accompanying Manual on the same subject, which later became known as the Minnesota Protocol.

From 2014-2016 CGHR participated in a large international collaboration, led by Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns, to update the Minnesota Protocol, culminating in what is now the Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Deaths (2016). This document now represents the UN's most focussed set of Standards and guidelines relating to investigations.

Meanwhile, at the national level, CGHR Research Associate Thomas Erobert has been part of a small international team of researcher conducting an analysis of the effectiveness of national commissions of inquiry as investigative mechanisms in Africa. This will ultimately be turned into a book, but for now some initial conclusions have been presented in a Policy Brief.

Moving forward, as part of a broader research project aimed at violence reduction, and specifically the reduction of the incidence of unlawful killings, attention will be focused on questions of how standards elaborated by international documents such as the Minnesota Protocol can best be implemented at the national level—for example by police oversight bodies or NHRIs—and how they can be used as reference points by regional human rights actors, such as the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Meanwhile, research under this theme will also attempt to investigate how international soft-law instruments can inform efforts at the national level to prevent unlawful killings from occurring in the first place. This will involve, for example, looking at how the training and equipping of police officers impacts their use of force.


Find our more about our past project related to The Right to Life:

ICTs and the Right to Life

This 2014/15 project brought together CGHR's work on the right to life and on new information communication technologies. Dr Ella McPherson, a CGHR Research Associate, led a study into the implications of ICTs for Professor Heyns' mandate, ahead of a report to the Human Rights Council. 

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Unlawful Killings in Africa

This ambitious project, investigating the extent of killing across Africa that fall within the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, reported in June 2014. Dr Thomas Probert, a CGHR Research Associate, worked closely with Prof. Heyns at the University of Pretoria, and also with a research team in Cambridge. 

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The Safety of Journalists

In 2011-12, this collaboration took the form of a student group researching the Right to Life of Journalists. The group produced a "Research Pack" which was presented to a Meeting of Experts convened in Cambridge by Prof. Heyns. This research, and the meeting, greatly informed the Special Rapporteur's thematic report to the Human Rights Council.

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Dr Thomas Probert, CGHR Research Associate

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