Institute for International and
Comparative Law in Africa (ICLA)

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Thematic Reports

The centrepiece of the work of the special procedure mandates are the regular thematic reports made to the Human Rights Council and to the General Assembly, on subjects the mandate-holder believes to be germane to the international community’s consideration of his or her area of focus. During his tenure in the mandate, Prof. Heyns used thematic reports to begin conversations around a wide array of different topics, as detailed below.

2016 – General Assembly (October)

An overview of six years in the mandate on summary executions, including recent developments

As outgoing Special Rapporteur, Prof. Heyns dedicated this final report to providing an overview of his activities as mandate holder and offered a review of some of the subjects considered over the six years of his mandate. This included revisiting landmark interventions regarding the progressive abolition of the death penalty, the use of force in law enforcement, the threats (and opportunities) posed by new technologies, the use of statistics, the emphasis on the importance of accountability, and especially investigations, and the role that can and should be played by regional systems.

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2016 – Human Rights Council (June)

The use of force by private security providers

Having previously considered the international standards and national concerns with respect to the use of force by law enforcement officials, in this report the Special Rapporteur explored the implications of the privatization of security provision for the observance of those standards, and makes recommendations aimed at ensuring that standards protecting the right to life are not diminished through privatization.

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2016 – Human Rights Council (March)

The proper management of assemblies [A separately mandated joint report with the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association]

A report submitted to the Council pursuant to its resolution 25/38, in which the Special Rapporteurs presented a compilation of practical recommendations for the proper management of assemblies. Each section of the compilation provided a summary of applicable international legal standards, followed by practical recommendations on how those principles might be implemented, with the aim of ensuring better protection of the various rights of those engaged in assemblies.

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2015 – General Assembly (October)

The impact on foreign nationals of the death penalty and the role of investigations in the protection of the right to life

As part of the preparation for the revision of the Minnesota Protocol the Special Rapporteur dedicated part of this report to underlining the important function of forensic investigations in protecting the right to life. He also presented an analysis of the responsibilities of States with respect to the impact of the death penalty on foreign nationals, including the responsibilities of abolitionist and de facto abolitionist States.

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2015 – Human Rights Council (June)

The use of information communication technologies to protect the right to life

The Special Rapporteur surveyed existing applications of new information communication technologies (ICTs) for promoting, protecting and monitoring human rights. He highlighted the potentially transformative role of “civilian witnesses” in documenting human rights violations, but also the challenges of using the evidence generated and transmitted by those witnesses. He discussed how various international human rights mechanisms currently benefit from such material, and made several recommendations, including that OHCHR appoint a specialist in digital evidence to assist it in making the best use of ICTs.

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2014 – General Assembly (October)

The role of regional systems, resumptions of the death penalty, less-lethal weapons and the use of statistical indicators

The Special Rapporteur used a single report to address four separate issues: firstly, arising from his commitment to the role of regional human rights systems within the global protection of human rights he highlighted the extent to which regional mechanisms safeguard the right to life; secondly he looked at technological innovations around the use of force in law enforcement, specifically so-called “less-lethal weapons” and also the potential risks posed by unmanned systems; thirdly he highlighted the particular challenge of resumptions of the death penalty (where a State starts executing after a moratorium); finally he introduced the potential role of statistical measurement of loss of life and threats to the right to life.

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2014 – Human Rights Council (June)

Protection of the right to life during law enforcement

The Special Rapporteur discussed again the international standards concerning the use of force in law enforcement and highlighted the need for a concerted effort to bring domestic laws on the use of (especially lethal) force by the police into line with these standards. This report drew upon an extensive survey of national legislation concerning the use of force (a predecessor of research at the Institute over the coming years [LINK]). The Special Rapporteur also rehearsed the legal framework he had articulated the previous year to the General Assembly, and encouraged the Human Rights Council to remain vigilant about the risks of autonomous weapons systems.

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2013 – General Assembly (October)

The use of armed drones under international law

The Special Rapporteur focused in this report on the use of lethal force through armed drones. Although not illegal weapons, drones can make it easier for States to deploy targeted force on the territories of other States. As such, they risk undermining the protection of life in the immediate and longer terms. The Special Rapporteur examined the ways in which the constitutive regimes of international law, including international human rights law, international humanitarian law and the law on the inter-State use of force, regulate their use. He reiterated that those legal regimes constitute an interconnected and holistic system and emphasizes the distinctive role of each in protecting the right to life. He emphasised that drones should follow the law; not the other way around.

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2013 – Human Rights Council (June)

The use of “Lethal Autonomous Robotics”

Autonomous weapon systems, those that, once activated, can select and engage targets without further human intervention, raise far-reaching concerns about the protection of life both during war and peace. This includes the question of the extent to which they can be programmed to comply with the requirements of international humanitarian law and the standards protecting life under international human rights law. The Special Rapporteur highlighted that their deployment may be unacceptable because no adequate system of legal accountability can be devised, or because robots should not have the power of life and death over human beings. He recommended that States establish national moratoria on the development of such weapons, and called for the establishment of a high-level panel to articulate a policy for the international community on the issue.

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2012 – General Assembly (October)

The use of the death penalty under international law

In States in which the death penalty continues to be used, international law imposes stringent requirements that must be met in order for it not to be regarded as an arbitrary deprivation of life. In a report presented alongside another written by the Special Rapporteur on torture and cruel inhuman and degrading treatment, the Special Rapporteur highlighted the problem of error and the use of military tribunals in the context of fair trial requirements. He also underlined the constraint that the death penalty may be imposed only for the most serious crimes: those involving intentional killing. He also considered issues of collaboration and complicity, in addition to transparency in respect of the death penalty.

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2012 – Human Rights Council (June)

The safety of journalists

Journalists play a crucial role in ensuring a society that takes informed decisions, however they are killed at an alarming rate by both State and non-State actors. Others are intimidated into self-censorship. In a report presented alongside one by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, the Special Rapporteur investigated the mechanisms that are in place to provide greater protection to the right to life of journalists. He contended that the most immediate problem does not lie with gaps in the international legal framework, but the fact that the framework is not fully used, and that its norms are not reflected in domestic laws and practices. The approach should be to elevate the killing of journalists from the local level to the national and international levels. The Special Rapporteur proposed measures aimed at ensuring greater accountability and identifies underutilized entry points at all levels that can be used by journalists at risk.

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2011 – General Assembly (October)

International legal standard regarding the use of lethal force during arrest

The Special Rapporteur set out international standards relevant to the use of lethal force during arrest, identifying and discussing different models of how countries deal with the issue. A brief case study dealt with the legal framework applicable to targeted killing, where arrest could reasonably have been an option. The Special Rapporteur pointed out that the frameworks established by international law provide sufficient room to deal with serious as well as less serious security threats.

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2011 – Human Rights Council (June)

The legal norms applicable to the use of lethal force during demonstrations

Based on a study covering a sample of 76 countries, the Special Rapporteur concluded that many domestic legal systems do not adhere to international standards in respect of the right to freedom of assembly, and the use of force during demonstrations. The Special Rapporteur proposed some entry points and strategies to ensure greater compliance with international standards

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