The 47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

21 June - 14 July 2021

 Item 3: Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions

(30 June and 1 July)


By: Karin Heisen and Camille Miguet

Executive Summary

At the 47th regular session of the Human Rights Council, Mr. Morris Tidball-Binz, the new Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, expressed his dedication to combating any arbitrary violation of the right to life. He thanked Agnès Callamard, the outgoing Special Rapporteur, for her contribution to the fight against executions during the past five years through her thematic reports, case studies and country visits. During her visit to Nigeria, she examined unlawful killings by the Nigerian state and non-state actors, as well as actions taken by the state to hold individuals accountable for these crimes. Nigeria harbors a climate of impunity for extrajudicial killings, but the state denies many of the expert’s findings.

The new Special Rapporteur expressed his determination to work in collaboration with all actors of international law and to promote effective implementation of the Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death (2016). During the interactive discussion, participating states reiterated their rejection of the abhorrent practice and addressed a range of thematic issues including rising killings by law enforcement, executions of government critics and lack of access to COVID-19 vaccines essential to ensure the right to life; demographic-specific issues including targeting of women, LGBTQI+ and black individuals; and region-specific issues such as unlawful killings by the Iranian and Syrian regimes, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Ethiopian and Eritrean forces in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Meanwhile, a minority of states rejected any allegations of extrajudicial killings as well as claimed it is their right to impose the death penalty. Non-governmental organizations drew attention to unlawful killings by government authorities and asserted pressure on these states to bring perpetrators to justice.

Arbitrary deprivations to the right to life are unacceptable and the culture of impunity must be brought to an end. Concrete action must be taken in the form of prevention, independent and transparent investigations and prosecution of perpetrators.


Since its creation through resolution 1982/35, the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings is regularly renewed and allows for the examination of all aspects of the unlawful deaths. The UN’s Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Unlawful Death (2016) defines unlawful deaths as “deaths resulting from acts or omissions of the State, its organs or agents, deaths in custody and failure of the State to protect life.”

The Special Rapporteur (SR) points out serious situations relevant to his mandate and that warrant immediate attention or prompt action. He also is tasked with strengthening the dialogue with governments and following up on the recommendations and the application of the international standards in force. The SR can make visits and present annual reports to the Human Rights Council on the worldwide situation of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

Report of the Special Rapporteur 

The report reflects on the activities carried out by the previous Special Rapporteur, Agnès Callamard, and the significant progress made in the fight against extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions during the five years of her mandate (A/HRC/47/33). The mandate addresses a broad range of situations and killings (genocide, violations of the right to life during armed conflict, deaths by State’s security forces, deaths by law enforcement officials, the death penalty, etc.). Ms. Callamard sought to draw out the economic, social and cultural dimensions of unlawful deaths and used case studies to strengthen the monitoring and investigatory component of the mandate. In the conclusion of her report, she reflected on the pronounced deterioration of the right to life during her tenure, culminating in the COVID-19 pandemic which disproportionately affected the most impoverished and had killed more than three million people by the time she wrote the report.

An accompanying report details Ms. Callamard’s visit to Nigeria from August 19th to September 2nd, 2019 (A/HRC/47/33/Add.2). She draws out killings by state actors (Nigerian Security Forces) and non-state actors (Boko Haram, Fulani farmers and herders, gangs known as ‘cults,’ etc.). Femicides, maternal deaths due to the criminalization of abortion, and killings based on sexual orientation are also prevalent. The situation is extremely concerning: for example, alone in Northeast Nigeria, over 10,000 detainees have died in military detention centers since 2011 due to starvation, torture, depriving access to medical resources, etc. The SR found “complete impunity for extrajudicial killings” and “flagrant disregard for the rule of law” in Nigeria, which “has created a climate in which everyone –state and non-state perpetrators alike– know they can get away with murder. Victims know there is little they can do, especially if they are poor.” Ms. Callamard recommended inter alia that Nigeria develop a national action plan and implement the 2013 and 2019 Universal Periodic Review recommendations.

Opening Statements

Special Rapporteur

 Mr. Morris Tidball-Binz expressed his willingness to continue his work in close collaboration with permanent missions, international organizations, academic entities, NGOs and relatives of victims of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. Alone as well as together with other special procedures, he has issued 37 communications to states and non-state actors. The SR is concerned about the stark number of executions brought to his attention on a daily basis from all around the world, serving as a constant reminder of the need for concerted global action to effectively prohibit all arbitrary deprivation of life and every state’s duty to respect, protect and fulfill the right to life. For his forthcoming report to the 76th UN General Assembly session, he will develop guidelines for the documentation and prevention of unlawful killings. In particular, he wishes to focus on the application of the Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death (2016) and on recommendations for its effective implementation. He will also deepen his work on the risks that the death penalty may have on other fundamental rights such as the right not to suffer from torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. Finally, he plans to undertake research on the death row phenomenon and its impact on the family members of the victims.

Country Concerned: Nigeria

Mr. Abiodun Richards Adejola

Nigeria, speaking as the country concerned, welcomed the former SR’s visit and took note of her report. However, the representative disagreed with what it alleges are inaccuracies in her findings, which include deadly repression of demonstrations against police violence (EndSars) in October 2020. The delegate stated that the government has addressed security challenges in recent years, including Boko Haram, and has adopted necessary measures to uphold human rights for all citizens. Nigeria strongly condemns all extrajudicial killings and claims it investigates and prosecutes all allegations made, particularly those perpetrated by security forces. In light of the numerous efforts it claims it is making, the representative is disappointed that the report fails to mention those positive inroads.

Participating Countries’ Statements

The majority of countries affirmed their stance that arbitrary, summary or extrajudicial executions are abhorrent human rights violations that cannot be allowed and that perpetrators must be brought to justice.

European Union

Ms. Marleen Steenbrugghe

The EU representative thanked the SR and expressed her particular concern by the continued targeting of refugees and migrants, human rights defenders, women and girls, journalists and media workers, LGBTI persons and persons belonging to ethnic or religious minorities. These individuals are often deprived of their right to life simply for using their freedom of expression or being who they are.

Mr. François Gave

Several European states aligned themselves with the EU’s statement, including Belgium. France stated that the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi and the attempted poisoning of Alexei Navalny highlight the need to increase efforts to prevent extrajudicial executions and, when these crimes are committed, to combat impunity for perpetrators.


Mr. Jiang Yingfeng

The representative accused the former SR of going beyond her mandate and politicizing her work. He stated that Chinese laws strictly prohibit arbitrary executions and clearly provide for judicial trial procedures, thorough recusal, no additional sentence on appeal, supervision of trial and other institutional guarantees, judicial rights of defendants and fair trial. China expressed its concern about serious war crimes committed by American, British and Australian troops in their overseas military operations, who China alleges are guilty of executing civilians and often still remain at large.


The Moroccan delegation drew attention to the plight of Moroccan Sahrawis held against their will in the camps of Tindouf by the Polisario militia with the support of the Algerian military regime. He is gravely concerned by executions perpetrated against them, including in April 2020 when the Algerian army opened fire on a group of civilians in Tindouf while they were trying to move between two camps. Three people were injured and six others arrested. He added that these facts are corroborated by relevant mechanisms of the OHCHR as well as media, NGOs and local human rights associations. The representative asked the SR to investigate the situation and requested that the Algerian authorities open legal inquiries.

Great Britain and Northern Island

The UK expressed its readiness to work in cooperation with other states to end unlawful executions and to promote awareness of this issue that has a profound impact on families of victims and their communities.


USA focused on arbitrary executions by state actors, specifically the Syrian Assad regime; the Iranian regime including those of Navid Afgarey and journalist Ruhollah Zam; and Ethiopian, Eritrean, Tigrayan and Amhara region defense forces. All armed groups must immediately end these practices and all governments must conduct transparent investigations and ensure that law enforcement actions are consistent with human rights obligations.


The representative urged the new SR to follow up on communications issued by the preceding mandate holder, particularly on the issue of Armenian soldiers killed by Azerbaijan forces as well as ill treatment of detained Armenian combatants and civilians in October 2020. Investigations must be carried out, particularly into videos showing the summary execution of two Armenian fighters by Azeri soldiers.


The delegation of Afghanistan stated that the Taliban, antithetical to their obligations and commitments under the peace process, have increased the level of violence against the civilian population. Since the start of the withdrawal of international forces, targeted killings against civilians, particularly against religious minorities, women and girls, have risen sharply. Peace and stability are crucial for the realization of human rights values and Afghanistan asks the international community for further support in achieving a durable peace in the country.

Other Delegations

Several delegations, including Sierra Leone, Indonesia, Namibia and Burkina Faso, noted the link between the low rates of COVID-19 vaccinations worldwide and their potential impact on the right to life. According to these countries, the right to life continues to be undermined by political and economic impediments to the access to medicines, vaccines and diagnostics, especially since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Namibia also maintains that the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines should be equitable. Burkina Faso and Tunisia stated that every well-off state should ensure that all other states have access to vaccines against the virus and that universal access is a precondition to rebuild stronger, inclusive societies. Cuba went even further, stating that it had opted for technological sovereignty and developed its own vaccine and will apply the principle of sharing instead of monopolizing.

Numerous countries such as Fiji, Switzerland, Sweden and Chile welcomed the prevention-based and victim-oriented approach of the SR. Prevention, investigation as well as victim identification procedures are a key part of the access to justice for the victims and their families. These delegations also expressed their support for the SR’s intention to progressively abolish the death penalty worldwide and reaffirmed the importance of monitoring the application of capital punishment. Some states have committed to abolishing it in the coming years. Sierra Leone has submitted a bill to their parliament to abolish the death penalty, which has been maintained despite a moratorium on executions since 1998. The imposition of this sentence should be suspended as it is incompatible with the protection of fundamental rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

However, some states still do not seem inclined to prohibit the use of the death penalty. In particular, Libya stressed that each country has an exclusive right to impose the death penalty according to its own constitutional system. Egypt reaffirmed that international humanitarian law does not oblige states to stop the use of the death penalty and that there is no international consensus on this matter. Saudi Arabia rejected all allegations about non-respect of measures related to the right to life, claiming it has the most severe sanctions for any attack on this right and that its laws and regulations do not contradict the international human rights system.

Some delegations such as Indonesia, Armenia, Libya and Burkina Faso supported the proposal of Ms. Callamard on the need to change the title of the mandate to “Special Rapporteur on arbitrary deprivation of life” to align it with Article 6 of the ICCPR.

Special Rapporteur’s Response and Concluding Remarks

After having listened carefully to the oral statements of the delegations that expressed their viewpoints, Mr. Morris Tidball-Binz thanked them for their welcoming words for his start as the new mandate holder.

With regards to the intervention of the Representative of Nigeria, he appreciated the comments and assurances on Nigeria’s commitment to ensure accountability for extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. Mr. Tidball-Binz committed to working with a wide range of civil society actors, including the African Society of Forensic Medicine, to help train and advise Nigerian forensic professionals on the implementation of the Minnesota Protocol.

On the issue of migration, Mr. Tidball-Binz keenly supported the initiative to set up a permanent international multi-stakeholder mechanism for governments that would facilitate the coordination of the search, identification and location of missing migrants and refugees. His predecessor supported this mechanism in her report. Existing initiatives, such as the Swiss-Norwegian-Argentinian alliance supporting the ICRC’s Central Tracing Agency, Interpol’s international platform for DNA tracing for missing migrants and refugees and the International Commission on Missing Persons’ program on migrants, must be coordinated with each other, stand in accordance with the framework of international human rights and humanitarian law and from the mandate’s perspective, ensure a full investigation of each unlawful death so that truth, justice and reparations are guaranteed.

Regarding the recommendation to change the title of the mandate to “Special Rapporteur on arbitrary deprivation of life” or alternatively, “on unlawful killings and unlawful deaths” or “on the right to life,” Mr. Tidball-Binz welcomed the interventions and considered that this could strengthen the work of the mandate. A decision on this matter could be taken in 2023 when the mandate is renewed.

On the issue of the death penalty, Mr. Tidball-Binz reaffirmed his firm stance that capital punishment must be progressively abolished. Regarding accountability, any failure to conduct a proper investigation is in itself a violation of the right to life and states should implement the guidelines of the Minnesota Protocol.

Concerning the response of the mandate to the ongoing pandemic, Mr. Tidball-Binz stated that the mandate is currently contributing to a framework of future responses to pandemics, built on lessons learned from Ebola and COVID-19.

NGO Statements

One non-governmental organization (NGO) pointed out that in the three years since the SR’s visit to Nigeria, the rate of killings and kidnappings have not decreased: Boko Haram, ISWAP and Fulani militants have killed around 2,200 individuals in 2021 thus far. The Nigerian government silences those who protest against the terrorism, including human rights defender Mubarak Bala who remains imprisoned despite a federal court decision ordering his immediate release.

NGOs drew the Council’s attention to unlawful killings committed by government officials in a range of countries. In Colombia, law enforcement as well as armed civilians possibly acting with the acquiescence of the state continue using lethal force against social protestors. Under the new president, Philippine authorities have killed between 8,000 to 30,000 alleged drug offenders during police raids, in addition to perceived opponents of the government. In Brazil, authorities continue to kill black people, particularly women living in impoverished favelas, such as Kathlen Romeu and her unborn child shot to death in a police raid. Libyan authorities killed journalist Anton Hammerl ten years ago and to this day, his killing has not been adequately investigated by Libya, his states of nationality South Africa and Austria nor his state of residency the UK, one NGO voiced.

Another NGO was pleased that the former SR emphasized that the death penalty constitutes cruel and degrading treatment under Art. 7 of the ICCPR.

GICJ Position

The Geneva International Centre for Justice condemns in the strongest terms all extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary deprivation of life. There is no region in the world where people are not unlawfully killed. Therefore, we condemn those countries denying any allegations or refusing to investigate extrajudicial executions when evidence proves otherwise, as well as those states who insist it is their right to impose the death penalty when it is a clear violation of the right to life and to live free from cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment protected inter alia by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ICCPR. We call on the remaining 54 countries to abolish the death penalty, especially China, Iran, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, who execute at the highest rates.

The horrific issue of extrajudicial executions must be addressed through a concerted effort by governments, civil society and families of victims, as recommended by the Special Rapporteur. We reiterate Mr. Tidball-Binz’s call for states to take steps to properly implement the Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death.

GICJ remains committed to put an end to impunity for reported situations of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary deprivation of life and to fully support the new Special Rapporteur in all his future actions to investigate promptly, effectively and transparently all allegations relevant to his mandate and bring the perpetrators of these violations to justice.

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