UN independent expert on extrajudicial killings urges action on reported incidents

28 March 2007 – A United Nations independent human rights expert on extrajudicial killings today called for action in response to reported incidents in the United States, Iran, the Russian Federation, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Indonesia.

“In recent years the United States has consistently argued that the UN Human Rights Council, and all other international human rights accountability mechanisms, have no legitimate role to play when individuals are intentionally killed, so long as it is claimed that the actions were part of the ‘war on terror,’” said Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

“While this argument is convenient because it enables the US to effectively exempt itself from scrutiny, if accepted it would constitute a huge step backwards in the struggle to promote human rights.”

In a separate statement, he urged Iran to stop executing juvenile offenders, calling the practice “unacceptable.”

“It is time for Iran to demonstrate that its commitment to international law involves concrete action, not just empty words,” said Mr. Alston, calling on the country’s Government to “immediately commute all death sentences imposed for crimes individuals committed before the age of 18.”

In a statement directed at the Russian Federation, he called for an end to extrajudicial killings of journalists. “Murders are always tragic, but when journalists are being murdered to cover up human rights abuses, the stakes for the society are even higher than usual,” he said.

“The Government of Russia must bring to an end what appears to be a consistent pattern of failing to prosecute those responsible for these murders and of failing to take the measures required to prevent furthers assassinations of journalists.”

Egypt must instruct its police to stop using firearms to disperse crowds, he said in another statement. “Even if a country makes some demonstrations illegal, and even if the demonstrators ignore the law, that does not mean that the police are allowed to shoot at the demonstrators.”

In a report including several allegations he has received regarding Egypt, Mr. Alston expressed his appreciation for the detailed responses that the Government had made to his requests for further information regarding these incidents, but noted that his dialogue with the Government had revealed serious legal misunderstandings that required immediate reforms.

Bangladesh must stop the Rapid Action Battalion and other elite security forces “from using murder as a policing technique,” said the expert in a separate statement.

His report covers a series of allegations he has received regarding Bangladesh, “none of which were effectively addressed by the Government.”

He also called on Nigeria to “make good on its commitment to end extrajudicial executions by the police” but added in a separate statement that “unfortunately, it seems like business as usual with the Nigerian police continuing to get away with murder.”

In a letter to Nigeria Mr. Alston called for the Government “to underscore the fact that the imposition of the death penalty for offences such as sodomy is unconstitutional.” But his report indicated that the Government ignored his letter.

Indonesia should investigate all those implicated by the report into the murder of Munir Said Thalib, a leading human rights activist, said the expert said in another statement.

In a letter earlier this year, the Government responded to Mr. Alston’s inquiries in a manner that he characterized as “cooperative but incomplete.”

Also today, the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council heard reports from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders.

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