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Human Rights Committee continues to discuss Draft General Comment on the Right to Life

Human Rights Committee 

12 July 2016

The Human Rights Committee continued this morning its discussion on the draft General Comment to Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on the right to life.  It adopted, in the first reading, paragraphs 14 to 22, out of the total of 67, and began discussing the third part of the text, which deals with the obligation to protect life.

Paragraph 14 is dedicated to the development, acquisition or adoption of new weapons and new methods of warfare, in which regard consideration always had to be given to their impact on the right to life.  Paragraph 15 refers to the use of the threat of use of weapons of mass destruction, notably nuclear weapons.  States parties needed to take all necessary measures against proliferation, including that of non-state actors.  They also needed to abstain from nuclear weapons production and engage, in good faith, on negotiations aiming at their elimination.  This paragraph also deals with the necessity for the security forces of States to use the least deadly means.

Paragraph 16 notes that the right to life is not absolute.  It mentions the case of legitimate defence, as well as the application of the death penalty in those countries which had not yet abolished it nor notified the Second Optional Protocol.  In paragraph 17, the Committee notes that taking of a life, without judicial proceedings, should, in general, be considered to be of arbitrary nature. The paragraph mentions an example of a death penalty pronounced at the end of a process conducted in a violation of the legislation. Paragraph 18 reads that deprivation of life could be authorized by domestic law and, nonetheless, be arbitrary, as the term “arbitrary” should not be confused with the term “contrary to law”.

In paragraph 19, the Committee stressed the importance of equipping police forces with effective non-lethal means for riot control.  States parties are expected to take all necessary measures intended to prevent arbitrary deprivations of life by their law-enforcement organs.  Paragraph 20 reads  that countries which have not abolished the death penalty and that have not ratified the Second Optional Protocol may continue to apply the death penalty for the most serious crimes, subject to a number of strict conditions.  According to paragraph 21,  the deprivation of life of individuals through acts or omissions that violate provisions of the Covenant, other than Article 6, is arbitrary in nature.

Paragraph 22, which is the final paragraph in the second part of the text, reads that persons with disabilities, including psychosocial and intellectual disabilities, are entitled to special measures of protection against deprivation of their life so that they will continue to enjoy the right to life on equal basis with others.  Several  Experts opined that this paragraph could be integrated into paragraph 26 dedicated to exceptional protection measures for vulnerable persons.  Others said that paragraph 22 could remain as separate, but could be moved to another part of the General Comment.  This question will be revisited during the second reading.

The Committee then proceed to begin examining the third part of the text – “The Duty to Protect Life”, which deals with positive obligations of States.

Paragraph 23 provides that a legal framework should exist in order to ensure the enjoyment of the right to life by all individuals. It also implies that States, with or without national legislation explicitly protecting the right to life, are under an obligation to take appropriate positive measure in order to protect life from all possible threats.  Some Experts believed that the third part of the text includes repetitions and overlaps.  The two Rapporteurs would look into reformulating the text of paragraph 23.

Paragraph 24, which address legal framework for the protection of the right to life, indicates that  any substantive ground for deprivation of life must be prescribed by law, and defined with sufficient precision to avoid overly broad or arbitrary interpretation or application.  The protective legal framework should include effective criminal prohibitions on all forms of arbitrary deprivations of life, such as extrajudicial killings, murder, femicide, blood feuds, etc. An Expert suggested that a separate paragraph be dedicated to femicide.

Finally, the Committee examined paragraph 25, which stipulated that the duty to take positive measures to protect the right to life derives from the general duty to ensure the rights recognized in the Covenant.  State parties, for example, must take adequate preventive measures in order to protect individuals against being murdered or killed by criminals and organized crime or militant groups, including armed or terrorist groups. They also need to take measures to protect individuals against deprivations of life by other States operating within their territory.

The Committee will continue its discussion of the draft General Comment to Article 6 at its next session in the fall.  The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 15 July at 3 p.m, for the closing session, in which it will also discuss the Committee’s methods of work.


For use of the information media; not an official record

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