The European human rights system and the right to life seen through suicide prevention in places of detention: between risk management and punishment

Sonja Snacken, Gaëtan Cliquennois, Dirk van Zyl Smit

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

This paper analyses the shortcomings of European suicide prevention policy in places of detention (prisons, police stations, psychiatric hospitals, immigration detention centre), a topic that has been neglected in the European legal literature. Four interrelated characteristics of the suicide prevention policies developed by the ECtHR are responsible for the failures of these policies. First, the risk-based approach applied by the Court relies on individual risk calculations by national detention authorities to the detriment of environmental factors and a holistic approach. Second, there is an unacknowledged tension in the jurisprudence of the ECtHR between the right to life of detainees and the right to life of potential victims of terrorism and other serious crimes. Third, the jurisprudence of the Court on state liability, with its individual risk-based approach, has been translated into highly restrictive death avoidance national practices, which infringe human dignity and reinforce detainees’ willingness to commit suicide. Finally, even if the right to life can be translated into external oversight of places of detention, it does not effectively limit the inherent punitiveness of suicide prevention policies adopted by the Court under the aegis of Article 2 ECHR.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberngab023
JournalHuman Rights Law Review
Volume22
Issue number1
Early online date11 Sep 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2022

Keywords

  • Human Rights
  • Prisons
  • Suicide prevention

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