Draft General Comment on the Right to Life

Published on 08 Nov 2016, 08:50 AM

At its 118th session, the Human Rights Committee continued its discussion of the first draft General Comment n°36 on article 6 (right to life) of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights. During its previous session in July 2016, the Committee had examined paragraphs 5, 21, 22, 23, 24 and 25 in a first reading. On its 118th session, the Human Rights Committee further reviewed the paragraphs 26 to 31.

"The article 6 of the ICCPR is a reading of our jurisprudence as it stands today. It Will reach a wider interpretation"

- Committee expert

The Right to Life or the duty to Protection

Paragraph 26 refers to the protection measures in order to protect different groups that the right to life is threatened for reasons such as their origin, profession or status. These individuals should be able to enjoy special protection. Following a debate, it was decided that the Rapporteurs would further work on this paragraph.

The paragraph 27 of the project concerns the state's obligations to protect the lives of prisoners and persons who are in mental health facilities managed by the State, in military camps, refugee camps and displaced, or in orphanages. One expert suggested to add in this paragraph a reference to the protection of street children; but the two co-rapporteurs in charge of the draft considered that a reference to a particular category of people was not appropriate in this paragraph. Some experts asked if it would be necessary to refer to violence between prisoners in this paragraph, the co-rapporteurs indicated no objection to this suggestion.

The duty to protection implies taking long term measures to address threats of life

The main debate between Experts focused on the scope paragraph 29 from draft text “rev.3” which stipulates that “the duty to protect life also imposes on States parties a due diligence obligation to take long-term measures to address the general conditions in society that may eventually give rise to direct threats of life.”  By direct threats of life the article mentions in particular gun violence, life threatening diseases, natural catastrophes, extreme poverty and pollution, among others. The draft paragraph was the subject of a long debate between the members of the Committee, especially for an expert who felt that it should not distinguish between long-term strategies to short-term actions of the States. Another member of the Committee on the contrary, felt that some measures should be planned for the long term to be able to get results. On this paragraph, the main reservations of the experts were about its essence. Several experts considered that this paragraph did not belong in this general observation as it extends too broadly the scope of Article 6.

Some experts expressed the need to link in this paragraph between the right to life and the economic, social and cultural rights, a violation of these rights may lead to a violation of the right to life. The co-rapporteurs said they would reflect further on this paragraph to rethink it. 

They then discussed the paragraph 29 from draft text “rev.2” of the draft stating the duty of protection, of the obligation to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of violence threatening the right to life. So each State has the obligation to fight against impunity.

Was also discussed paragraph 30 specifying the obligations related to investigative duties, such as “independent, impartial, prompt, thorough, effective, credible, and transparent”.

Finally, the Committee examined the paragraph 31 regarding the responsibilities of the state in case of loss of life in detention and cases of firearms use by State officials, outside the context of armed conflict - for example during a demonstration. Experts debated the “presumption” argument, as well as the idea of the “heightened duty to investigate” in cases of use of firearms.

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