Commissions of Inquiry into Armed Conflict, Breaches of the Laws of War, and Human Rights Abuses: Process, Standards, and Lessons Learned

Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law, Annual 2011 | Go to article overview

Commissions of Inquiry into Armed Conflict, Breaches of the Laws of War, and Human Rights Abuses: Process, Standards, and Lessons Learned


This panel was convened at 11:15 a.m., Thursday, March 24, by its moderator, Philip Alston of New York University School of Law, who introduced the panelists: Agnieszka Jachec Neale of the University of Essex; and Heidi Tagliavini of the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

INTRODUCTION: COMMISSIONS OF INQUIRY AS HUMAN RIGHTS FACT-FINDING TOOLS

By Philip Alston

Unfortunately, Luc Cote, who was going to provide an overview of the topic, is unable to be with us today. In his absence, I will take it upon myself to undertake that task.

While commissions of inquiry are established for a great many purposes and in response to a wide range of human rights violations, I will focus on unlawful killings, referred to by lawyers as extrajudicial executions, in order to illustrate the problems associated with such commissions and the challenges that must be confronted if they are to be rendered more effective in the future.

The duty arising under international human rights law to respect and protect life imposes an obligation upon governments to hold an independent inquiry into deaths where an extrajudicial execution may have taken place. While an independent police investigation will often suffice for this purpose, the creation of an official commission of inquiry with a human rights mandate is a time-honored and off-repeated response, especially to incidents involving multiple killings or a high-profile killing. These commissions vary greatly as to the terminology used, and their composition, terms of reference, timeframes, and powers. While such inquiries are by definition established at the initiative of the government authorities, they are most often a result of concerted demands by civil society and sometimes also by the international community. Indeed it is now almost standard practice for a commission to be demanded in the aftermath of major incidents in which the authorities who would normally be relied upon to investigate and prosecute are feared to be reluctant or unlikely to do so adequately.

In historical terms, the technique of creating inquiries can be traced back to nineteenth-century England, and a great many examples can be cited of their usage outside the United Kingdom in the early part of the twentieth century, including in colonial and immediately post-colonial contexts. More recently, the number and range of inquiries undertaken around the world has been expanded significantly through the establishment of many internationally mandated inquiries, whether called for by the United Nations Security Council or the United Nations Human Rights Council, or initiated under her own authority by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

There is no shortage of international standards designed to ensure that national-level inquiries are effective. They have been adopted by United Nations bodies, spelled out in the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, and distilled into principles by Amnesty International. In brief, the challenge is to ensure that a commission is independent, impartial, and competent. Its mandate should empower it to obtain necessary information, but it should not suggest a predetermined outcome. Commission members must have the requisite expertise and competence to investigate the matter effectively and to be independent from suspected perpetrators and from institutions with an interest in the outcome of the inquiry. Commissions should be provided transparent funding and sufficient resources to carry out their mandate. Effective protection from intimidation and violence needs to be provided to witnesses and commission members. When it establishes the commission, the government should undertake to give due consideration to the commission's recommendations; when the report is completed, the government should reply publicly to the commission's report or indicate what it intends to do in response to the report. The commission's report should be made public in full and disseminated widely. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Commissions of Inquiry into Armed Conflict, Breaches of the Laws of War, and Human Rights Abuses: Process, Standards, and Lessons Learned
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.