Human Rights v. Extradition: The Soering Case

The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is widely regarded as the most dynamic and effective of the various international human rights instruments. Its impact on the judiciary of the twenty-three Western European Member States, as well as its pace-setting role for other international mechanisms for the protection of human rights, has recently been confirmed by the unanimous judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in Soering v. United Kingdom. In its judgment delivered on July 7, 1989, the Court held that the United Kingdom would act in violation of article 3 of the Convention if it extradited the applicant to the United States, since he would there be faced with the possibility of being sentenced to death and experiencing the “death row phenomenon.” Article 3 prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The Soering judgment and the preceding report of the European Commission of Human Rights indicate, however, that other substantive and procedural guarantees in the European Convention may, under certain conditions, present obstacles to extradition.