About the 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. 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 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 or (b) where they have not done everything within their power to prevent or respond to killings carried out by others.
The 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, almost all Governments cooperate with the Special Rapporteur and the UN’s new Human Rights Council requires them to do so. In practice, the level of cooperation varies significantly. One of the keys to strengthening cooperation and accountability is the availability of reliable information and its use by all those concerned. This website is designed to make more accessible and more convenient all of the relevant information about the issues taken up by the Rapporteur and the analyses that he and his predecessors have adopted on specific issues.
Philip Alston has served as Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions since he was appointed on 13 July 2004. His predecessors as Special Rapporteur are Asma Jahangir (1998-2004), Bacre Waly Ndiaye (1992-1998), and S. Amos Wako (1982-1992).
About the Mandate
The terms of reference of this mandate are not best understood through efforts to define individually the terms “extrajudicial”, “summary” or “arbitrary”, or to seek to categorize any given incident accordingly. These terms had important roles to play in the historical evolution of the mandate but today they tell us relatively little about the real nature of the issues. The broad coverage of the mandate as it now exists reflects the very real needs perceived over time by the Commission to be able to respond to a range of contexts in which killings have taken place in circumstances which contravene international law and which the Commission has determined require a response. Thus, the most productive focus is on the mandate itself, as it has evolved over the years through the various resolutions of the General Assembly and the Commission.
On the basis of the agreed legal framework of the mandate, as reflected in the relevant resolutions of the Commission on Human Rights and the General Assembly, the Special Rapporteur’s terms of reference include the following:
In addition to, and in conformity with, the relevant resolutions of the Commission 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:
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.