Custody refers to any place where individuals are being held by law enforcement officers or people acting with the agreement of law enforcement officers. These places of detention, restriction, or imprisonment by the state may include: prisons, police stations, etc.
In many situations, death in custody may constitute a political killing, for instance, when the victim died as a result of a summary execution or of human rights violation where torture, medical neglect and bad prison condition are prevalent
It is common for the authorities to deny any involvement in the cause of the prisoner’s death. Forensic evidence and the testimony of witnesses can be used to counter such claims. Similarly, claims of an accident might be made after a prisoner dies from injuries which a post-mortem investigation may shows are consistent with torture.
1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 3
“everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of persons”
1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Art. 6 (1)
“no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his/her life”. Art.4 states that no derogation from art.6 is possible even in an emergency.
1978 UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, art. 3:
• Force should be used only when strictly necessary. The official Commentary included in the Code says that the use of force should be exceptional, that force should be used only as is reasonably necessary under the circumstances and that it should be used for only two purposes: The prevention of crime and effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders.
• The force used should be proportional to the objectives (it should be used only to the extent required for the
performance of law enforcement officials’ duty.) The Commentary acknowledges the principle of proportionality laid down in national laws and says that the Code should not be taken to authorise the use of force which is disproportionate to the legitimate objective to be achieved.
1955 UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, art. 31:
Corporal punishment, punishment by placing in a dark cell, and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments shall be completely prohibited as punishments for disciplinary offences.
UN Body of principles for the protection of all persons under any form of detention or imprisonment. Adopted by General Assembly resolution 43/173 of 9 December 1988
All persons under any form of detention or imprisonment shall be treated in a humane manner and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.
Arrest, detention or imprisonment shall only be carried out strictly in accordance with the provisions of the law and by competent officials or persons authorised for that purpose.
There shall be no restriction upon or derogation from any of the human rights of persons under any form of detention or imprisonment recognised or existing in any State pursuant to law, conventions, regulations or custom on the pretext that this Body of Principles does not recognise such rights or that it recognises them to a lesser extent.
Any form of detention or imprisonment and all measures affecting the human rights of a person under any form of detention or imprisonment shall be ordered by, or be subject to the effective control of, a judicial or other authority.
1. These principles shall be applied to all persons within the territory of any given State, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion or religious belief, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, birth or other status.
No person under any form of detention or imprisonment shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.2 No circumstance whatever may be invoked as a justification for torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
1. States should prohibit by law any act contrary to the rights and duties contained in these principles, make any such act subject to appropriate sanctions and conduct impartial investigations upon complaints.
2. Officials who have reason to believe that a violation of this Body of Principles has occurred or is about to occur shall report the matter to their superior authorities and, where necessary, to other appropriate authorities or organs vested with reviewing or remedial powers.
Persons in detention shall be subject to treatment appropriate to their unconvicted status. Accordingly, they shall, whenever possible, be kept separate from imprisoned persons.
The authorities which arrest a person, keep him under detention or investigate the case shall exercise only the powers granted to them under the law and the exercise of these powers shall be subject to recourse to a judicial or other authority.
Anyone who is arrested shall be informed at the time of his arrest of the reason for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.
1. A person shall not be kept in detention without being given an effective opportunity to be heard promptly by a judicial or other authority. A detained person shall have the right to defend himself or to be assisted by counsel as prescribed by law.
Any person shall, at the moment of arrest and at the commencement of detention or imprisonment, or promptly thereafter, be provided by the authority responsible for his arrest, detention or imprisonment, respectively with information on and an explanation of his rights and how to avail himself of such rights.
1. A detained person shall be entitled to have the assistance of a legal counsel. He shall be informed of his right by the competent authority promptly after arrest and shall be provided with reasonable facilities for exercising it.
2. If a detained person does not have a legal counsel of his own choice, he shall be entitled to have a legal counsel assigned to him by a judicial or other authority in all cases where the interests of justice so require and without payment by him if he does not have sufficient means to pay.
1. A detained or imprisoned person shall be entitled to communicate and consult with his legal counsel.
1. It shall be prohibited to take undue advantage of the situation of a detained or imprisoned person for the purpose of compelling him to confess, to incriminate himself otherwise or to testify against any other person.
2. No detained person while being interrogated shall be subject to violence, threats or methods of interrogation which impair his capacity of decision or his judgement.
Non-compliance with these principles in obtaining evidence shall be taken into account in determining the admissibility of such evidence against a detained or imprisoned person.
1. In order to supervise the strict observance of relevant laws and regulations, places of detention shall be visited regularly by qualified and experienced persons appointed by, and responsible to, a competent authority distinct from the authority directly in charge of the administration of the place of detention or imprisonment.
2. A detained or imprisoned person shall have the right to communicate freely and in full confidentiality with the persons who visit the places of detention or imprisonment in accordance with paragraph 1 of the present principle, subject to reasonable conditions to ensure security and good order in such places.
Whenever the death or disappearance of a detained or imprisoned person occurs during his detention or imprisonment, an inquiry into the cause of death or disappearance shall be held by a judicial or other authority,
either on its own motion or at the instance of a member of the family of such a person or any person who has knowledge of the case. When circumstances so warrant, such an inquiry shall be held on the same procedural basis whenever the death or disappearance occurs shortly after the termination of the detention or imprisonment. The findings of such inquiry or a report thereon shall be made available upon request, unless doing so would jeopardise an ongoing criminal investigation.
1. A detained person suspected of or charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent and shall be treated as such until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
2. The arrest or detention of such a person pending investigation and trial shall be carried out only for the purposes of the administration of justice on grounds and under conditions and procedures specified by law. The imposition of restrictions upon such a person which are not strictly required for the purpose of the detention or to prevent hindrance to the process of investigation or the administration of justice, or for the maintenance of security and good order in the place of detention shall be forbidden.
A person detained on a criminal charge shall be brought before a judicial or other authority provided by law promptly after his arrest. Such authority shall decide without delay upon the lawfulness and necessity of detention. No person may be kept under detention pending investigation or trial except upon the written order of such an authority. A detained person shall, when brought before such an authority, have the right to make a statement on the treatment received by him while in custody.