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

Second reading draft General Comment | HR Committee | Oct. 2017

A print screen of the submission of Amnesty International on the first draft of the GC36

During its 121st session, the Human Rights Committee commenced its second reading of the draft General Comment on article 6 of the Covenant. It received more than 170 commentaries from several stakeholders (see here) about the draft.

The webcast is available here: part 1, part 2, part 3


"Abortion should never be criminalised. "

- Ms. Cleveland, member of the Human Rights Committee

General remarks

The Committee first addressed some of the more general remarks. Some States found for instance that the Committee was going beyond its mandate, interpreting more than just article 6, but also international humanitarian law. The Committee responded to this by saying that the right to life is interrelated with many other rights.

Other States noted that the Committee should not use ‘must’ and ‘should’ because the general comment is not legally binding. The Committee agrees that the document is not binding as such, but their interpretation of the Covenant is binding upon the States that ratified the ICCPR.

Nature of State's obligations

Then the Committee analyzed comments to specific paragraphs. The Committee clarified the nature of State’s obligations : the right to life entails both the duty of the State to respect, and the duty to ensure the protection of life. It extends to all reasonable and foreseeable threats, even if there was no actual arbitrary deprivation of life.


The Committee spent considerable time on the paragraph addressing abortion and was not able to finish the second reading of this paragraph during this session. The Committee will continue discussing this paragraph at its next session in March 2018.

One of the main discussions regarding the right to life in relation to abortion was the kind of obligations State have in this regard. The Rapporteur clarified that States have the duty to provide safe abortions, and the duty to ensure that women or girls do not undertake unsafe abortions.

There were two elements that were repeated several times during the discussion : the adjective ‘non-viable’ instead of ‘fatal impairment’, and the decriminalisation of abortion.

Regarding the first element, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities submitted a comment regarding ‘fatal impairment’. This language perpetuates the stereotype that the life of a person with a disability is less valuable. Moreover, it is not always easy to determine that an impairment is fatal. The Rapporteur proposed to change the language to non-viable.

Concerning the second element, according to several Committee members decriminalisation of abortion is at the core of the right to life. There is a clear link between the criminalisation of abortion, the number of unsafe abortions and the rate of maternal mortality : the more restrictions on abortion, the more unsafe abortions take place, which has as a result a higher rate of maternal mortality. This link between abortion and the right to life of women and girls is the reason why some members asked for an explicit statement in the General Comment to decriminalise the voluntary termination of pregnancy. Moreover, CEDAW and CRC both have taken the clear position that abortion must be decriminalised in all circumstances.

Coherence between Concluding Observations and Views

Several Committee members stressed the need to be consistent with the recent Concluding Observations and Views, adopted by the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. The Committee should bear in mind the need to ensure coherence between the several human rights mechanisms.

The second reading will be continued in the Committee’s 122nd session in March 2018.

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