The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions

+ About the position of UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions

The United Nations created the position of Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions in 1982. It was the second of what were to become known as the 'thematic' mandates established by the UN Commission on Human Rights (replaced by the Human Rights Council in March 2006) . Disappearances were addressed first, and torture was third. These were subsequently followed by a long list of other mandates dealing with different themes.

The job of the UN Special Rapporteur is to respond to cases of extrajudicial killings around the world by holding Governments to account both: (a) where they or their agents are responsible for killings; or (b) where they have not adequately prevented or responded to killings carried out by others.

The UN Special Rapporteur carries out this mandate through correspondence and fact-finding visits. These serve to clarify past violations, alert Governments to their legal obligations, and provide guidance on the measures required to prevent future violations.

In principle, all Governments should cooperate with the UN Special Rapporteur and the UN’s Human Rights Council requires them to do so. In practice, the level of cooperation varies significantly.

Philip Alston has served as Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions since he was appointed on 13 July 2004. His predecessors as UN Special Rapporteur are Asma Jahangir (1998-2004), Bacre Waly Ndiaye (1992-1998), and S. Amos Wako (1982-1992).

+ About the Mandate

Under the resolutions of the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly, the Special Rapporteur’s mandate includes the following:

  1. To examine situations of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and to submit findings, together with conclusions and recommendations, to the Commission;
  2. To respond effectively to information, including situations when an extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution is imminent or seriously threatened, or has occurred;
  3. To engage in a constructive dialogue with Governments, and to follow up on recommendations made after country visits;
  4. To pay special attention to extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions of women and to ensure that a gender perspective is reflected in the work under the mandate;
  5. To pay special attention to extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions of children, and of persons belonging to minorities;
  6. To pay special attention to extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions where the victims are individuals carrying out peaceful activities in defence of human rights, including those participating in demonstrations and other peaceful public manifestations;
  7. To monitor the implementation of international standards, including safeguards and restrictions, relating to the imposition of capital punishment, bearing in mind the comments made by the Human Rights Committee in its interpretation of article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the Second Optional Protocol thereto.

In addition to, and in conformity with, the resolutions of the Council and of the General Assembly, the work of the Special Rapporteur reflects the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (especially articles 6, 14 and 15), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (especially article 37), as well as other treaties, resolutions, conventions and declarations adopted by United Nations bodies relating to violations of the right to life.

The legal framework includes principles and guidelines specified in:

  1. The Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions;
  2. The Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials;
  3. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court;
  4. The Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power.

The Special Rapporteur’s principal methods of work are: (i) sending “urgent appeals” requesting action by Governments in response to emergency cases; (ii) responding to individual complaints by communicating the details to Governments, with a summary of the facts and a request for clarification (methods (i) and (ii) are pursued only where sufficient information is available and has been provided by a well-known or credible source); (iii) issuing press statements where appropriate to the circumstances; (iv) undertaking country visits designed to ascertain the facts on a first-hand basis, to situate issues within a broader perspective, and to work in a spirit of cooperation with Governments; and (v) undertaking general promotional activities to advance the objectives identified by the Commission on Human Rights and the General Assembly.

+ About Philip Alston

Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions

Philip Alston is John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law and co-Chair of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law. He was appointed UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions in July 2004. In 2005 he was elected to chair the annual meeting of the UN’s Human Rights Special Procedures and was subsequently appointed as the first Chair of the Coordination Committee established to promote the work of the various Special Procedures reporting to the UN Human Rights Council. He was a member of the Group of Experts on Darfur appointed in 2007 by the UN Human Rights Council and has been Special Adviser to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Millennium Development Goals since 2002. He chaired the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights for eight years until 1998, and at the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights he was elected to chair the first meeting of the Presidents and Chairs of all of the international human rights courts and committees (including the European and American Human Rights Courts and the African Commission). He was UNICEF's legal adviser throughout the period of the drafting of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and directed a major project funded by the European Commission, which produced a Human Rights Agenda for the European Union for the Year 2000 and provoked a series of major reforms in EU policy.

The Project on Extrajudicial Executions

+ About the Project

The Project on Extrajudicial Executions was established to provide rigorous analysis of international law and policies protecting the right to life, and to support the work of the UN Special Rapporteur in carrying out his mandate.

The Project is directed by Sarah Knuckey.

+ About the Project Staff

  • Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions

    frontend_philipalston.jpg Philip Alston is John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law and co-Chair of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law. He was appointed UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions in July 2004. In 2005 he was elected to chair the annual meeting of the UN’s Human Rights Special Procedures and was subsequently appointed as the first Chair of the Coordination Committee established to promote the work of the various Special Procedures reporting to the UN Human Rights Council. He was a member of the Group of Experts on Darfur appointed in 2007 by the UN Human Rights Council and has been Special Adviser to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Millennium Development Goals since 2002. He chaired the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights for eight years until 1998, and at the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights he was elected to chair the first meeting of the Presidents and Chairs of all of the international human rights courts and committees (including the European and American Human Rights Courts and the African Commission). He was UNICEF's legal adviser throughout the period of the drafting of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and directed a major project funded by the European Commission, which produced a Human Rights Agenda for the European Union for the Year 2000 and provoked a series of major reforms in EU policy.

  • Sarah Knuckey, Director of the Project on Extrajudicial Executions

    Sarah Knuckey has carried out human rights fact-finding missions or worked with non-governmental and international organisations in Australia, Afghanistan, Brazil, the Central African Republic, Cambodia, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, the UK and the USA. Her work has addressed a range of humanitarian and human rights concerns, including indigenous rights, counter-terrorism, torture, rape, the right to life, and the liability of transnational corporations and other non-state actors for human rights abuses. Previously, she was a Clerk to the Hon Justice Michael Kirby at the High Court of Australia, Fulbright Postgraduate Scholar, Lionel Murphy Postgraduate Scholar, Harvard Human Rights Program Summer Fellow, and Everett Public Interest Internship recipient (at Human Rights Watch). She has a BA and LLB (Hons) (University of Western Australia), an LLM (Harvard), and is currently a PhD candidate (University of London).

  • Hina Shamsi, Senior Advisor to the Project on Extrajudicial Executions

    Hina Shamsi has engaged in human rights and civil liberties research, litigation and policy advocacy on a variety of issues, including torture, detention, fair trial practices, and the freedoms of speech and association. Her work has included a focus on the intersection of national security and counterterrorism policies and international human rights and humanitarian law, and she has represented both individual and institutional clients in national security cases.

    She is a Lecturer-in-Law on international human rights at Columbia Law School, the author and co-author of publications on torture and extraordinary rendition, and has monitored and reported on the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay. She previously worked as a Staff Attorney in the ACLU’s National Security Project. Before joining the ACLU, she was the Deputy Director and Senior Counsel of Human Rights First’s Law & Security Program. She also worked as a litigator with the law firm of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College and the Northwestern University School of Law.

  • Anna de Courcy Wheeler, Fellow

    Anna de Courcy Wheeler first became interested in human rights while working as a journalist for a Ghanaian newspaper in 2001. She has subsequently interned with the International Bar Association in London, worked with the Humanitarian Law Project at London School of Economics, and served as a researcher for multiple human rights organizations based in both America and the United Kingdom working on discrimination, minority and indigenous rights, and the interaction btween human rights and humanitarian law. In 2007, Anna worked for African Rights in Rwanda, focusing her research efforts on the genocide and its aftermath, with a particular emphasis on the prosecution of sex crimes by the ICTR.

    Anna holds a BA in Modern History from University College London, an MSc in Human Rights from London School of Economics, and an LLM from the London School of Economics in Public International Law.

  • Nishant Kumar, Fellow

    Nishant Kumar received his J.D. from Harvard in 2008 and his B.A. in Philosophy from Yale in 2004. 2008-09 he served as a law clerk to the Honorable David Godbey in the Northern District of Texas. He became interested in human rights through time spent in India and Brazil. During law school, he worked on a project investigating public security and police violence in Sao Paulo.

  • Danielle Moubarak, Fellow

    Danielle Moubarak is a litigation associate at the law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf. She joined the Center in January 2010 to pursue her interest in international human rights.

    While at Dewey & LeBoeuf, Danielle has worked on a wide range of pro bono matters, including cases in the fields of immigration law, as well as the enforcement of children’s educational rights. She was awarded a Safe Haven Award in 2009 by Immigration Equality for her work on securing asylum for a Guinean national who had suffered political discrimination in his home country. At the CHRGJ, she is assisting the project on extra-judicial executions, the project on gender and counter-terrorism, and the racial profiling project.

    Danielle received her B.A. in Political Science from McGill University (2004) and obtained her combined degrees of Civil Law (B.C.L.) and Common Law (LL.B.) at McGill University’s Faculty of Law (2008).

  • Rebecca Pendleton, Intern

    Rebecca Pendleton received her B.A. in English from Stephens College in 2000 and is currently attending CUNY School of Law. Prior to law school Ms. Pendleton worked as a Global Program Associate with International Rights Advocates in Washington, DC and Bogota, Colombia. Ms. Pendleton also served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bolivia and has volunteered with a number of human rights organizations, including Task Force for Central America, Borderlinks, and Amnesty International. She is fluent in Spanish.

  • Katy Gabel, Intern

    Katy Gabel is a J.D. candidate at the State University of New York at Buffalo. She received her B.A. from Smith College. Prior to joining the project, she worked as a journalist with allAfrica.com, covering news stories from Kenya, Liberia, South Africa, and Washington, DC. Ms. Gabel also studied as an exchange student at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, and speaks Kiswahili.

Current Research Assistants
Former Staff & Research Assistants

William Abresch was the Director of the Project from 2005-2008.

Jason Morgan-Foster was formerly a Research Scholar of the Project.

Former research assistants: Aarthi Anand, Mana Barari, Amélie Baudot, Noam Biale, Eimear Farrell, Geoff Fox, Adrian Friedman, Colin Grey, Jordan Kahn, Tessa Khan, Joey H Lee, Sara Memo, Wade McMullen, Shamiso Mbizvo, Catherine Sweetser, Nikos Valance, Yining Wang, and Rupert Watters.