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call for input | Special Procedures

Call for input: The protection of dead persons and their human remains, including of victims of potentially unlawful killings.

Issued by

Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

Last updated

19 February 2024

Closed

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Purpose: To collect information on policies and legal, administrative, institutional and/or other provisions and measures, including good practices, governing the protection of dead persons and their human remains, including of victims of potentially unlawful killings.
Summary

Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions are a violation of the right to life, to which the bodies of the victims are testament. As such, the international community has a responsibility to protect and safeguard dead persons. The protection of the bodies of victims of unlawful killings is important in establishing accountability and in allowing their families and societies to heal. Safeguarding bodies of the deceased and their human remains is also important in preventing the phenomenon of missing persons and in combating enforced and involuntary disappearances.

Building on the work of his predecessors, including the 2020 thematic report on the protection of mass graves (A/75/384), the Special Rapporteur will examine the question of the protection of the dead from a human rights perspective, with a view to informing a set of practical guidelines to promote the respect, protection and preservation of the remains of those unlawfully killed. This includes their dignified management, proper final disposal and memorialization and respect for the rights of the families and their communities. Recommendations will also be formulated about the role of international cooperation in assisting in the proper and dignified management of the bodies.

It is the hope of the Special Rapporteur that such recommendations will support efforts everywhere to ensure the proper and dignified recovery of the bodies and remains of victims of unlawful deaths, their identification and the determination of the cause, manner and time of their deaths, and contribute to the determination of justice and reparations for families.

Background

The notion that the bodies of the dead and their human remains deserve respect and a dignified treatment is common to and deeply embedded within different societal, religious, and cultural traditions. Legal protections governing the treatment of dead bodies have long been established within international humanitarian law, international criminal law, human rights law, and domestic laws. The Four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their first two Additional Protocols contain detailed provisions on the duties to search, recover, document, including identification, and to protect the dead in armed conflict. The treatment of dead bodies is also of concern to international criminal law, which prohibits the mutilation of the dead. Violation of the bodies of the dead is increasingly recognized as an element of crime, as an attack on personal dignity.

Provisions on the treatment of dead persons have also progressively emerged in regional and international human rights instruments and jurisprudence. For example, the United Nations Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary or Summary Executions require that bodies of deceased person be preserved and protected for an investigation. The United Nations Revised Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary or Summary Executions (Minnesota Protocol) requires special attention and care in the recovery and handling of human remains, including respect for the dignity of the deceased and compliance with forensic best practices. The Human Rights Committee has indicated that the disrespectful treatment of human remains may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of the family of the deceased. The protection of the right to life, the rights of family members of the deceased and the treatment of the dead are therefore closely intertwined.

In practice, questions of respectful and dignified treatment and protection of the dead have recently come to the fore – including for example, during the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as in the contexts of other emergencies and large-scale fatalities.

Key questions

The Special Rapporteur would be particularly interested in receiving information on:

  • Policies: Existing policies governing the protection of dead persons and their human remains (e.g. ashes), including of victims of potentially unlawful killings. This includes the final disposition of dead persons and their human remains and the ways in which the rights and interests of families and their communities are respected including their religious and cultural sensibilities.
  • Laws/regulations: Existing legal and/or administrative regulations and provisions, requiring the protection of dead persons and their human remains, including of victims of potentially unlawful killings.
  • Practice: Institutional practices and procedures, including standards, national or international protocols and guidelines currently in use for ensuring the respectful treatment and protection of dead persons, and their human remains, including of victims of potentially unlawful killings.

The Special Rapporteur is also interested in receiving information about special policies, regulations and practices or measures put in place during situations of emergencies, including the Covid-19 pandemic, disasters, armed conflict and other situations of violence, for the protection of dead persons and their human remains (e.g. ashes), including of victims of potentially unlawful killings resulting from such emergencies.

Use of inputs and confidentiality

The inputs received will be considered and used for the elaboration of the Special Rapporteur’s next thematic report.

The identity of sources submitting contributions is considered strictly confidential, unless consent to public disclosure is expressly indicated in the contribution. Public contributions will feature in the Special Rapporteur´s webpage after the deadline.

Inputs Received

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