14 March 2016
The Human Rights Committee this morning discussed the draft General Comment on Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on the right to life. During the previous session, draft paragraphs 1-5 had been adopted. The focus of today’s session was on three of the remaining paragraphs of the draft General Comment.
During the debate on draft paragraph 6 on the deprivation of life, some Experts called for balance between the deprivation of life and situations that placed life in danger, other Experts suggested that arbitrary deprivation of life was the most central aspect of article 6. Several Experts suggested that a list be provided of those situations, while others warned that that could lead to cases, such as work place accident-related deaths, which could create situations that the Committee could not resolve. Experts pointed out that negative and positive obligations of the State parties had to be outlined. There were many situations where, for example, a State failed to take steps to curb pollution, which then affected people’s health. Questions were raised on whether such situations would cover famine, diseases, and many other situations that deprived the enjoyment of the right to life. The attempt to delimit those rights would be tricky. Other Experts were of the opinion that the draft paragraph went beyond the scope of Article 6, and into the direction of existence in the social security sense. An Expert suggested putting the concepts of “foreseeable” and “preventable” in two separate sentences in order to differentiate between the two issues.
In the discussion on draft paragraph 7 on enforced disappearances, Experts wanted to know why the word “disappearances” had been used three times without the term “enforced.” Some Experts stated that the imposition on loved ones to produce a death certificate meant that the death of the enforced person was probable, which was not necessarily always the case. On the other hand, without a death certificate, which was sometimes required to be provided by the family, the family endured suffering, including difficulties related to child care and managing of assets. Experts then agreed that there was a need to clarify a “death certificate” versus a “presumption of death certificate.” Several Experts were of the opinion that enforced disappearance should be related to the “threat” to the right to life, and not the right to life, as it was not known whether the individual would be killed or not. Some Experts said that the concept of “intended” had to be corrected and elements had to be added, such as establishing the fate of the disappeared, providing reparations to the victim, and bringing perpetrators to justice. Experts discussed the concept of “intentionality”, which, according to some Experts, was not of a concern in human rights, as violations of human rights were established regardless of whether there was an intention or not.
During the debate on draft paragraph 8 on the right to life and abortion, differences appeared on whether article 6 protected the right to life in the form of a foetus. One Expert noted that article 6, paragraph 5 of the Covenant was not there to protect the life of the mother, but that of the unborn child. Another Expert reminded that the Convention on the Rights of the Child included the right to life of a child, including before birth. Therefore, some Experts proposed the deletion of the first two sentences of the draft and advocated redrafting of the entire paragraph in order to refocus it on the right to life rather than to the limits on the protection of the right to life. Other Experts suggested that the Committee, through its jurisprudence, had exclusively addressed the right to life of the woman and not of the foetus, having in mind that the denial of the right to legal abortion was one of the major causes of maternal deaths. Thus, the reason that draft paragraph 8 focused on limitations by States was because those limitations put the lives of women at risk. They stressed that the Committee was concerned with the Convention on Civil and Political Rights, rather than the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Others believed that paragraph 8 did not have place in the introduction of the General Comment.
The Committee Rapporteurs thanked all Experts for their comments and expressed hope that they would receive specific drafting formulations in order to be able to channel the views of the Committee in the text. They took seriously the proposals to relocate the text of the draft paragraphs.
The Human Rights Committee will next meet in public today at 3 p.m. to discuss the sixth periodic report of New Zealand (CCPR/C/NZL/6).
For use of the information media; not an official record