Right to Life

 Lithuania abandoned the practice of capital punishment by 1996 and officially abolished it in December 1998, after the Constitutional Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional.[1] At that time, the Constitutional Court noted that the right to life is the most important innate human right. According to Article 19 of the Constitution, a person's right to life is protected by law, and therefore no legislation should permit depriving a human being of his right to life. 

Lithuania also finds itself under international obligations to abolish the death penalty: in 1999, Lithuania ratified Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms concerning the abolition of the death penalty,[2] and in 2013 – Protocol No. 13 of the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms concerning the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances.[3] Abolition of the death penalty was also one of the pre-conditions for Lithuania joining in the European Union. 

The Constitutional Court noted that the right to life is the most important innate human right. According to Article 19 of the Constitution, a person's right to life is protected by law, and therefore no legislation should permit depriving a human being of his right to life.

Despite the existence of these national and international commitments, in September 2013, a member of the Parliament proposed an amendment to the Criminal Code,[4] which would have reinstated capital punishment in Lithuania. This initiative was triggered by the allegedly uncontrollable criminal situation in Lithuania, terrible events and crumbling security in the country, which would be restored by the reinstatement of the death penalty.[5] The submission of this proposal also deftly played on the public unease following the brutal murder of a 17-year old girl.[6] 

After negative conclusions by the Legal Department,[7] the Committee on Legal Affairs,[8] and the European Law Department,[9] the proposed amendments to the Criminal Code were abandoned – the draft was found to be incompatible with the Constitution, the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Protocols No. 6 and No. 13 to the aforementioned Convention, the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights, the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the resolutions of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, along with other international documents. 

In addition to national legislative initiatives that were incompatible with the right to life, Lithuania actually managed to violate the provision pertaining to the right to life, i.e. Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, in the 2013-2014 period. In 2013, the European Court of Human Rights found against Lithuania in the case of Banel v Lithuania. The applicant's son died after being crushed by a collapsing balcony in an abandoned building; the mother claimed that the Vilnius City Municipality had failed to supervise the building properly, leading to her son's death.  

The European Court of Human Rights noted that the Convention enjoins States to not only refrain from intentional and unlawful takings of life, but to also take appropriate steps to safeguard the lives of those within their jurisdiction.[10] In other words, the state's obligation to guarantee the right to life also includes a duty to take the necessary steps to protect the safety of people in public as well as a duty to guarantee the availability of effective, independent legal processes that are able to determine the factual circumstances of an incident, prosecute the guilty party and provide compensation to the victims for the loss incurred.[11] 

After examining the circumstances of the case, the Court focused on the shortcomings of the pre-trial investigation, namely, that the investigating officers acted without due diligence and ignored possibilities of identifying those accountable, including bringing charges against the management of the Vilnius municipality.[12] The Court found a violation of the positive obligation to safeguard the applicant's 13-year old son's right to life, and also ruled that the state failed to investigate this incident properly and on time.[13] 

Findings and Recommendations 

  • Even though the legislative initiative to reinstate the death penalty that was incompatible with human rights was abandoned in the Parliament, the case illustrates a prevalent practice among Lithuanian legislators – to ignore fundamental human rights and propose draft legislation that is clearly incompatible with them if it serves populist ends.
  • The position of the institutions that gave their opinions on the draft law and blocked any further consideration of the matter should be commended – the parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs, the Law Department and the European Law Department gave reasoned arguments as to why the draft should be dropped, showing that the aforementioned initiative was incompatible with both the Constitution of Lithuania and the country's international human rights commitments.

[1] 9 December 1998 decision of the Constitutional Court "On the Constitutionality of the Death Penalty Prescribed by Article 105 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Lithuania", http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter2/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=68774&p_query=&p_tr2=

[2] Law "On the Ratification of Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms concerning the abolition of the death penalty", 22 June 1999, No. VIII-1250, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=83128

[3] Law "On the Ratification of Protocol No. 13 to the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms concerning the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances", 16 October 2003, No. IX-1782, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=220298

[4] Draft Law Amending and Supplementing Article 129 of the Criminal Code, 23 September 2013, No. XIIP-1021, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=456343&p_query=mirties%20bausme&p_tr2=1 

[5] Explanatory Memorandum to the draft Law Amending and Supplementing Article 129 of the Criminal Code, 23 September 2013, No.XIIP-1021, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=456345

[6] "Young Woman Burned Alive in the Trunk of a Car in Panėvėžys County: a Chronology", published in 15min.lt on 21 September 2013, http://www.15min.lt/naujiena/aktualu/nusikaltimaiirnelaimes/automobilio-bagazineje-panevezio-rajone-gyva-sudeginta-mergina-ivykiu-chronologija-59-371024

[7] Opinion of the Legal Department on the draft Law Amending and Supplementing Article 129 of the Criminal Code, 30 September 2013, No. XIIP-1021, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=456835

[8] Opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs on the draft Law Amending and Supplementing Article 129 of the Criminal Code, 9 October 2013, No. XIIP-1021, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=457390

[9] Opinion of the European Law Department on the draft Law Amending and Supplementing Article 129 of the Criminal Code, 11 October 2013, No. XIIP-1021, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=457509

[10] 18 September 2013 ECtHR judgment in the case of Banel v Lithuania, application No. 14326/11, para. 63, http://goo.gl/0jw0Qf

[11] 18 September 2013 ECtHR judgment in the case of Banel v Lithuania, application No. 14326/11, para. 66, http://goo.gl/0jw0Qf

[12] 18 September 2013 ECtHR judgment in the case of Banel v Lithuania, application No. 14326/11, para. 71, http://goo.gl/0jw0Qf

[13] 18 September 2013 ECtHR judgment in the case of Banel v Lithuania, application No. 14326/11, para. 72, http://goo.gl/0jw0Qf