Murder – intentional homicide – is a human rights violation. ... It is one of the worst human rights violations, and a component of or companion to all the worst violations (genocide, apartheid, torture). Okay, I’ve made that assertion. After this talk, go out and google “murder — human — rights — violation.” You’ll find a bunch of entries about execution and the death penalty. You’ll find a good many articles on murder by government agents, or “sanctioned murder.” You’ll find very little about murder committed by non-state actors. You’ll even find an odd “Answers.com” entry that asks “Is murder a human rights violation?”
What? Why did someone feel the need to ask that? After all, Article 3 of the foundational document of modern human rights, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, says “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.” The International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights requires, in Article 6, “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law.” The United States has ratified the Covenant and is bound by it. How absolutely insulting it must feel to survivors of murder victims and to prosecutors to be bombarded by anti-death penalty human rights rhetoric, while nothing is said about the human rights violation that set them on the course of being victims or the advocate for victims in the first place. Why isn’t that acknowledged?
This passage from Walter's talk brings to mind a piece that Renny Cushing and I (Susannah Sheffer) wrote for Peacework magazine a few years ago, titled "Human Rights and Victim Justice." Here's an excerpt:
In more recent times, however, it has sometimes seemed as though the victims' rights movement and the human rights -- or death penalty abolition -- movements are speaking different languages. Historically, the victims' movement has asserted that every human life has value and that the taking of any one life by murder represents a theft whose impact will be felt forever. Victims' rights are, therefore, a way of trying to counterbalance that original violation with a reassertion of human dignity. Historically, the death penalty abolition movement has recognized that every human life has value and that the taking of any one life by the state replicates the very violation it is supposedly designed to redress. These are in fact both human rights claims, yet abolitionists and victims' rights advocates often fail to recognize these commonalities or to internalize each other's perspectives.
For MVFHR, both the death penalty and individual murder are violations of fundamental human rights. We believe that those who are outraged when the state kills should be equally outraged when an individual kills, and should therefore make a real effort to understand the effects of murder and to consider and incorporate the victim's perspective into their work. We believe that those who are outraged by an individual murder should likewise be outraged when the state takes another human life, and should therefore make a real effort to understand and consider the effects of a state system of execution.
Justice for victims -- whose human rights have been so completely violated -- does not come from violating the human rights of others. Justice, instead, must come in another way, and that way must include a recognition of the worth and dignity of all and a willingness to work toward a world that upholds, rather than denies, the value of human life.