Continuation of the second reading of draft General Comment no. 36 on the Right to Life

Second reading draft General Comment | HR Committee | April 2018

During the 122nd session, the Committee discussed paragraphs 9 to14 of the draft General Comment on article 6 of the Covenant

Paragraph 9 concerns barriers to legal and safe abortion, access to information on sexual and reproductive health and prenatal and post-abortion health care. The content of paragraph 10 is about the euthanasia and suicide, where the members of the Committee agreed to be prudent in the wording of the text in order to avoid misunderstandings with the States. Furthermore, the Committee addressed paragraph 11, which refers to the private individuals and entities entitled to use force with potentially lethal consequences. Also, the Committee discussed paragraph 12 concerning the adoption of new weapons and its impact on the right to life. The second session ended with the discussion on weapons of mass destruction, on paragraph 13 and with paragraph 14, about the less lethal weapons and the precautions that should be taken by the States on this regard.

Voluntary termination of pregnancy

The discussion on paragraph 9 was about State parties' obligations to remove existing barriers that deny effective access by women and girls to safe and legal abortion and to avoid introducing new ones. Also, the Committee agreed that States should ensure access for women, men, girls and boys to quality and evidence-based information and education about sexual and reproductive health, as well as a wide range of affordable contraceptive methods. Finally, the Committee discussed the States parties' obligation to ensure the availability of, and effective access to quality prenatal and post-abortion health care for women and girls in all circumstances on a confidential basis.

Euthanasia and suicide

The members of the Committee agreed that States have the duty to prevent suicide, however, the concern of the members was centered in the wording of paragraph 10 and whether or not States had the obligation to assist the suicide in case that the person inform his/her consent. Thus, the principles of ´´human dignity´´ and ´´autonomy´´ were brought to the discussion and it was argued that the wording could not impose an obligation on the States on accepting and assisting suicide, whereas for those States who do accept euthanasia, i.e. Switzerland and Netherlands, had to provide medical assistance to the individual.

Private individuals or entities entitled to use of force with potentially lethal consequences

The Committee highlighted under this paragraph that private individuals and entities entitled to use force with potentially lethal consequences, had to comply with the right to life under article 6 of the Covenant and had to take into consideration the Montreux Document about the participation of private military and security companies operating in armed conflict zones.

The members also raised the issue of the private actors entitled to use force in order to include the assurance of effective control by the government and adequate training and the access to an effective remedy in case of human rights violations. Also, the discussion included the obligation of the State to exclude from the private security entities persons who have been involved in human rights violations.

Autonomous weapons

The Committee was cautious on how to address the issue of the robotic weapons or "fully autonomous weapons". They decided to use the wording "autonomous weapons" because it represents a broader concept. The debate was centered on the prohibition of development and use of new weapons, however, it was mentioned that such a prohibition could not be imposed on States because they would not agree on disengaging with their self defense mechanisms, taking into account that the international legal framework allows the States to improve it.

Even though the members did not agree on the prohibition of autonomous weapons, the wording of the draft was modified in order to establish that it could affect the right to life and should not be used "unless and until" a specific legal framework regulates its use in conformity with the right to life.

Weapons of mass destruction

The members agreed on paragraph 13 and highlighted the obligation of States to refrain from developing, producing, testing and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction and to take all necessary measures under international law to achieve that result. An important point raised by the members, was the importance to affirm beyond doubts that the weapons of mass destruction are indiscriminate and naturally cause destruction to human life. This paragraph was approved with a debate on the semantic applied to the possibility of the weapon of mass destruction to destroy life, but all the members agreed that by its nature, these weapons have the capacity to terminate with life.

Less lethal weapons

On paragraph 14, the Committee highlighted the importance of the gradual use of force by law enforcement officials, including militaries when assigned to those functions. Also, the Committee members emphasized the importance of monitoring the impact of less lethal weapons on the right to life by testing the weapons, such as rubber and foam bullets, before being deployed for enforcement purposes. The Committee also mentioned the importance of the use of these weapons exclusively by trained officials, in compliance with relevant international treaties and manuals related to the use of force. Finally, the members included in the draft the obligation of the parties of the Covenant not to resort to less lethal weapons in routine situations of crowd control and demonstrations, based on the principles of proportionality and necessity. This paragraph is still pending for approval of the last sentence, which will be discussed during the next session.

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