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ACCESSIBILITY AT UNOG A A A A The United Nations in the Heart of Europe


30 October 2015

The Human Rights Committee this afternoon continued its discussion on the draft General Comment on Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the right to life.  After the first reading, the Committee adopted paragraph 2 as orally revised, paragraph 3 as proposed, paragraph 3bis as orally revised, and paragraph 4 as proposed. 

Article 6 states that every human being has the inherent right to life.  This right shall be protected by law.  No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.  In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, the sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law in force at the time of the commission of the crime.  This penalty can only be carried out pursuant to a final judgement rendered by a competent court.

The adopted paragraph 2 as orally revised reads that Article 6 recognizes and protects the right to life of all human beings.  It is the supreme right from which no derogation is permitted even in situations of armed conflict and other public emergencies.  The right to life has crucial importance both for individuals and for society as a whole. 

The adopted paragraph 3 stipulates that the right to life is a right which should not be interpreted narrowly.  It concerns the entitlement of individuals to be free from acts and omissions intended or expected to cause their unnatural or premature death, as well as to enjoy a life with dignity. 

The adopted paragraph 3bis as orally revised says that paragraph 1 of Article 6 of the Covenant provides that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life and that the right shall be protected by law.  It lays the foundation for the obligation of States parties to respect and ensure the right to life, to give effect to it through legislative and other measures, and to provide effective remedies and reparation to all victims of violations of the right to life.    

The adopted paragraph 4 reads that paragraphs 2,4,5 and 6 of Article 6 of the Covenant set out specific safeguards for ensuring that in countries which have not yet abolished the death penalty, it shall be applied only in the most exceptional cases [for the most serious crimes] and under the strictest limits.  The prohibition on arbitrary deprivation of life contained in Article 6, paragraph 1 further limits the ability of States parties to apply the death penalty. 

It was suggested that “war” be replaced with “armed conflict” in paragraph 2.  An Expert highlighted the importance of recognizing the two-fold relationship between rights: the right to life and the enjoyment of other rights.  The co-rapporteurs accepted the proposals made by Experts. 

Regarding paragraph 3, some Experts proposed that “reasonably foreseeable” replace “intended or expected,” and to speak of the protection of human rights rather than entitlements to human rights.  Other Experts did not agree with those proposals, in particular with speaking about the protection of human rights because it sounded paternalistic.  There was also a proposal to erase “suspected” because it could suggest that the death penalty could be applied to persons suspected of the most serious crimes. 

Co-rapporteurs explained that a State’s obligations in providing guarantees for a life in dignity were listed in detail in paragraph 28.  They warned against the inclusion of technical legal language in the introductory paragraphs in order not to create issues of accessibility for the general public.

As for paragraph 3bis, several Experts noted that the obligation of States to protect human rights should be stressed more, in addition to their obligation to respect and ensure the right to life.  However, there was no agreement on that point.  Experts debated the reference to victims and some proposed that “all victims” could be used.     
Regarding paragraph 4, Experts could not agree whether to keep the reference to the “most serious crimes,” but decided to keep it in the proposed text.  Some Experts suggested that “countries” be replaced with “State parties.”  However, the co-rapporteurs noted that there should be no departure from the text of the Covenant in which “countries” was used. 

The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 10 a.m. on Monday, 2 November, when it will hear progress reports from the Special Rapporteur on follow-up to concluding observations and the Special Rapporteur on follow-up to views.

For use of the information media; not an official record