Right to life Human Rights


Right to life Human Rights

The Right to life is a phrase that describes the belief that a human being has an essential right to life particularly that a human being has the right not to be killed by another human being. 

The concept of a right to life is central to debates on the issues of capital punishment, euthanasia, self-defense and war.

In 1776, the United States Declaration of Independence declared that “life” is one of the inalienable rights, implying that all persons have the right to live and/or exist and a government has the obligation to secure the inalienable rights of its people.

In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the

United Nations General Assembly declared in article three: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”.

In 1950, the European Convention on Human Rights was adopted by the Council of Europe, declaring a protected human right to life in Article 2. There are exceptions such as Lawful executions and self-defense, arresting a fleeing suspect and suppressing riots and insurrections.

In this article, you should be able to define and explain the term Right to Life, identify the various Laws both International and Domestic Laws that govern Right to Life and distinguish between.


Definition of Right to Life

The right to life asserts the sanctity of human life. The African charter on Human and Peoples Right puts it thus: “Human beings are inviolable. Every human being shall be entitled to respect for his life and integrity of his person. No one may be arbitrarily deprived of this right.

Section 33(1) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states that:

“Everyone has a right to life and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, sake in the execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.

Section 33(2) a person shall not be regarded as having been deprived of his life in contravention of this section, if he dies as a result of the use, to such extent and in such circumstances as are permitted by law of such force as is reasonably necessary:

(a) For the defense of any person from unlawful violence or for the defense of property.

(b) In order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person Lawfully Detained.

(c) For the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny.

It must be stated that the rights enumerated in chapter V of the 1999 Constitution are not absolute. Derogation from them is permissible under the Constitution. The rationale for the principle of derogation is founded on the basis that freedom is in itself limitless.

With regards to right to life, the 1999 Constitution accept that life is sacrosanct; it is the basis of human existence and the right to it can only be derogated from in respect of death resulting from acts of wars. Not only that the 1979, 1989 and 1999 constitutions go on to protect this right by prohibiting the use of retroactive legislation to impose a penalty heavier than that existing at the time a crime for which the penalty is prescribed, was committed.

It is on account of the sacredness accorded to this right that caused the Supreme Court to condemn in a most caustic language the action of the Oyo State Governor in the premature execution of a convict whose appeal was pending before the court of appeal.

In the case of, Aliu Bello and 13ors V Attorney-General Oyo State (1986) 5 NWLR 828; the accused had been convicted of armed robbery and had been sentenced to death by the Oyo State High Court under the Robbery and Firearms Law of the State.

The convicts appeal was pending before the court of appeal when the Governor ordered his execution. The deceased dependant brought an action claiming damages for the illegal killing of their bread- winner.

The Appeal was heard by the Supreme Court embank. The Court castigated the Government of Oyo State in the case, the first of its kind in which the government “Hastly and illegally snuffed life of an Appellant whose appeal had vested and was in being considered”.

Thus in effect, the courts have stood stoutly in defense of the citizen’s right to life.

The right to life guaranteed by the 1999 constitution has been interpreted in other jurisdiction, particularly by the India supreme court, not only as a right to:

a)     Physical existence,

b)    The use of other limbs or facility through which life is enjoyed.

c)     Live in basic human dignity. Since without basic human dignity, life would not be worth living.

d)    The state duty to reduce infantile Mortality.

The Human Rights committee of the United Nations dealing with Article 6 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the rights to life, has rejected a narrow interpretation of this right. The committee has interpreted the commitment undertaken by this Article to include the duty to take steps to eradicate infantile mortality, the elimination of malnutrition to prevent epidemic and to banish weapons of destruction.


Also read: Human Rights as a Universal Concern

 Enforcement Procedure

The 1999 Constitution confers a special jurisdiction on the High Court for the purpose of enforcement of the fundamental Rights provisions. It provides that “Any person who alleges that any of the provision of chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution has been, is being or likely to be contravened in any state in relation to him, may apply to a High Court in that state for redress.

The Constitution empowers the Chief Justice of Nigeria to make rules with respect to the practice and procedure of a High Court for the purpose of fundamental human right enforcement.

The High Court has the power, in its original jurisdiction, to make an appropriate order or use any of the prerogative writs of habeas corpus, mandamus, certiorari, and prohibition and its power of contempt to ensure compliance. The courts may also resort to injunctions and declaratory judgments.


Also read: What are the 10 Fundamental Rights?

Conclusion on Right to life Human Rights

The right to life is a constitutional concept which no other law can invalidate. This article has highlighted the normal line and the procedural framework for the protection of the rights to life in Nigeria.

The Nigeria courts have been more courageous in interpreting constitutionally and international guaranteed rights.

In this article, you have learnt about the:

• Right to life

• International Covenants and Conventions on Right to life.

• Domestic Laws on Right to life

• The 1999 Constitutional provision on Right to life.

• The framework for enforcement of right to life, as a Fundamental

Human Right.

Also read: Historical Antecedents of Human Rights in Nigeria

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