Text of the ECHR: download from here
Full guide of the European Court of Human Rights: Guide on Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights
ARTICLE 2: Right to life
- Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law. No one
shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of
a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which
this penalty is provided by law.
- Deprivation of life shall not be regarded as inflicted in
contravention of this Article when it results from the use of force
which is no more than absolutely necessary:
(a) in defence of any person from unlawful violence;
(b) in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape
of a person lawfully detained;
(c) in action lawfully taken for the purpose of quelling a riot
“Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law.”
State obligations: general obligation of the State to protect by law the right
to life of those under its jurisdiction. And Article 2 of the Convention also contains a procedural obligation to carry out an effective investigation into alleged breaches of its substantive limb.
The positive obligations of the State means that the State has to refrain from the intentional and unlawful taking of life but also has to take appropriate steps to safeguard the lives of those within its jurisdiction.
Article 2 of the Convention may come into play even if a person whose right to life was allegedly breached did not die, depending on considerations such as the degree and type of force used and the nature of the injuries, if by its very nature, puts the applicant’s life at serious risk even though the latter survives
Example of cases when the State has positive obligations:
Protection of persons from lethal use of force by non-State actors
Protection of persons from self-harm
Protection of persons from environmental or industrial disasters
Protection of persons in the context of healthcare
Persons deprived of their liberty and vulnerable persons under the care of the State
Protection of persons in the context of accidents
Limitations of the right to life:
Beginning of life
Unlike Article 4 of the American Convention on Human Rights, which provides that the right to life must be protected “in general, from the moment of conception”, Article 2 of the Convention is silent as to the temporal limitations of the right to life and, in particular, does not define “everyone” (“toute personne”) whose “life” is protected by the Convention.
The Court, having regard to the absence of any European consensus on the scientific and legal definition of the beginning of life, held that the issue of when the right to life begins comes within the margin of appreciation which it generally considers that States should enjoy in this sphere.
End of life
The Court has held that no right to die, whether at the hands of a third person or with the assistance of a public authority, can be derived from Article 2 of the Convention.
Withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment
Example: Lambert and Others v. France, which concerned the decision of the authorities to discontinue nutrition and hydration allowing a patient in state of total dependence to be kept alive artificially, the Court noted that no consensus existed among the Council of Europe member States in favour of permitting the withdrawal of artificial life-sustaining treatment, although the majority of States appear to allow it. In this respect, it noted that while the detailed arrangements governing the withdrawal of treatment vary from one country to another, there was nevertheless a consensus as to the paramount importance of the patient’s wishes in the decisionmaking process, however those wishes are expressed. It therefore considered that in this sphere concerning the end of life, as in that concerning the beginning of life, States must be afforded a margin of appreciation, not just as to whether or not to permit the withdrawal of artificial lifesustaining treatment and the detailed arrangements governing such withdrawal, but also as regards the means of striking a balance between the protection of patients’ right to life and the protection of their right to respect for their private life and their personal autonomy.
“No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which this penalty is provided by law.”
Prohibition of intentional deprivation of life
The death penalty
When the Convention was drafted, the death penalty was not considered to violate international standards. However, there has subsequently been an evolution towards the complete de facto and de jure abolition of the death penalty within the member States of the Council of Europe.
Protocol No. 6 to the Convention, which abolished the death penalty except in respect of “acts committed in time of war or of imminent threat of war”, was opened for signature on 28 April 1983 and came into force on 1 March 1985. All the member States of the Council of Europe have now signed Protocol No. 6 and all, save Russia, have ratified it.
The text is an excerpt of the Guide of the European Court of Human Rights, available from here: Guide on Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights