Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is a crucial provision that safeguards the right to life. It is one of the fundamental principles enshrined in the ECHR and serves as a cornerstone for the protection of human rights throughout Europe.
Article 2 – Right to Life
General right to life: Article 2(1) of the ECHR states that everyone's right to life shall be protected by law. This means that every person within the jurisdiction of a state party to the ECHR has the inherent and inviolable right to life.
Prohibition of unlawful killing: Article 2(1) not only recognises the right to life but also prohibits the intentional taking of a person's life by the state or by any individual. This prohibition includes acts such as murder, execution without due process, and other unlawful killings.
Positive obligation: Article 2 imposes a positive obligation on state parties to take appropriate measures to protect the lives of individuals within their jurisdiction. This means that states must not only refrain from directly taking life but also take proactive steps to prevent, investigate, and punish acts that threaten a person's right to life.
Exceptions: While Article 2 establishes a strong presumption in favour of the right to life, it acknowledges that there may be situations where the use of force by state agents can be justified. Article 2(2) allows for the use of force when it is absolutely necessary and in defence of any person from unlawful violence. This principle is often associated with the concept of lawful self-defence.
Death penalty: Article 2(1) also imposes restrictions on the use of the death penalty. While it does not categorically prohibit the death penalty, it requires that it be imposed in accordance with the law and only for the most serious crimes. Additionally, Protocol No. 13 to the ECHR, which came into force in 2003, prohibits the death penalty in all circumstances.
Effective investigation: Article 2(2) of the ECHR places an obligation on state parties to ensure that any death occurring within their jurisdiction is subject to an effective investigation. This is to determine the cause of death, whether it resulted from an unlawful act, and whether state authorities played any role in the death.
Right to life of all persons: Article 2 applies to all individuals within the jurisdiction of a state party, regardless of their nationality, citizenship, or legal status. It protects the right to life of everyone, including prisoners, migrants, and vulnerable individuals.
Derogation: Under certain exceptional circumstances, such as during times of armed conflict, states may temporarily derogate from some of their obligations under the ECHR, including Article 2. However, any such derogation must be strictly necessary and proportionate to the situation.
In summary, Article 2 of the ECHR is a fundamental provision that enshrines the right to life and imposes both negative and positive obligations on state parties to protect and respect this right. It is a central element in the protection of human rights within the Council of Europe's member states.