First reading of the draft General Comment on the right to life

On 26th, 28th and 30th of October 2015, the Human Rights Committee held a public discussion on the first draft of General Comment 36 on article 6 of the International Covenant of the Civil and Political Rights (right to life). The draft was prepared by two members of the Committee: Nigel Rodley and Yuval Shany.

The Committee highlighted that the three main areas where the right to life should be strengthen are the death penalty, women's rights (abortion) and the right to life in the context of armed conflict.

At the end of the session, paragraphs 1, 2, 3, 3 bis {new paragraph} and 4 were adopted. During the discussion of these first five paragraphs, special attention was given to three specific issues (all included in the third paragraph), namely the relevance of the notion of "dignified existence", the reference to the notion of "terrorism" and the identification of "victims" of violations of the right to life.

The first paragraph states that this General Comment replaces earlier general comments 6 (right to life - 1982) and 14 (nuclear weapon and right to life - 1984). Some Committee experts questioned the use of the term "replace"; whether these two previous general comments can be considered as "acquis" and whether this wording would mean that all other items are subsumed into this draft or they are complementary.

Meanwhile some other experts stressed that it was not desirable to change the wording, since general comments 34 and 35 used the exact same phrase. Rapporteurs followed this advice and suggested the adoption of the text without modification. This issue may however be discussed further during the second reading.

The third paragraph referred to the notion of "dignified existence". Some members highlighted that this term may go beyond the scope of article 6 of the Covenant and is more related to economic, social and cultural rights.

On the contrary, other Committee members supported the inclusion of this concept, which is not necessarily referring to economic aspects. A third group said that this notion is acceptable but too broad. In the end, Committee members agreed to say "to enjoy life with dignity" instead of "dignified existence".

The last sentence of the same paragraph refers to "terrorist crimes" as "serious crimes". Many members of the Committee suggested the deletion of the reference to terrorist acts, as it is not necessary to be so specific. They added that if this reference is retained in the draft, it would be necessary to add a reference to other examples of international serious crimes.

However, some experts wanted to keep this reference because several States had reintroduced the death penalty for terrorist crimes. In the end, Committee members agreed to say "most serious crimes" and took away the reference to "terrorism".

During the discussion, rapporteurs proposed adding a paragraph 3 bis, based on article 6, paragraph 1, of the Covenant, which is the foundational paragraph of the right to life.

Committee members expressed concerns about the last part of this new paragraph, which reads "to provide effective remedies and reparation to victims whose right to life have been violated". Questions were raised as to whether the victims are only the individuals whose right to life have been violated or also their relatives. The Committee members opted for the wording "reparation to all victims of the violation of the right to life" as this can also include relatives.

Watch the videos here: Video 1 Video 2 Video 3

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