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Human Rights Committee resumes discussion on draft general comment on the right to life

Adopts Introductory Paragraph on Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy

GENEVA (28 March 2018) - The Human Rights Committee this morning continued the second reading of the draft General Comment No. 36 on article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the right to life.  The Committee adopted introductory paragraph 9 on voluntary termination of pregnancy, and it began discussion on paragraph 10 on euthanasia and suicide.  The first reading of the draft General Comment was adopted at the Committee’s one hundred and twentieth session in July 2017.

At the beginning of the meeting, Yadh Ben Achour, Committee Expert, delivered a statement, clarifying his stance on the issue of abortion, noting that he denounced extremely restrictive laws on the right to abortion.  The right to abortion was a significant step forward for women who did not want to keep unwanted pregnancies.  Mr. Ben Achour condemned strict abortion laws because they forced women to undergo risky abortions, or to go abroad to perform abortion.  The Committee should call on States to decriminalize abortion and to ensure a safe environment for women to undergo abortion.  With respect to fetus impairment, Mr. Ben Achour reminded that most women and parents decided to terminate such pregnancies, but added that he had never encouraged prevention of pregnancies of fetuses with genetic impairment.  Nevertheless, he defended the mother’s or parents’ right to freely make their decision.  The great progress made by pre-natal medicine and diagnosis of illnesses should guide the mother or parents in their decision.  Mr. Ben Achour insisted that he did not espouse the view that States should be forced to encourage parents to eliminate fetuses carrying illnesses.  Rather, he would encourage States to decriminalize abortion.  The ideological exploitation of his previous statement on the subject of abortion was erroneous, unjustified and unjust.  Those who had accused him and his colleagues of promoting the “culture of death” did not know what they were saying.  Mr. Ben Achour regretted that part of his previous statement had been taken out of context and he apologized if anyone had been inadvertently hurt in the process.  

Yuval Shany, Committee Rapporteur for the draft General Comment, led the discussion and reminded of the proposals previously presented by States, organizations and individuals on paragraphs 9 and 10.  The Rapporteur warned that the expansion of the text of the draft General Comment, namely the inclusion of more specific issues, could make States more reluctant about using the General Comment as guidance.    

In the ensuing discussion on voluntary termination of pregnancy, Committee Experts stressed the need for focusing on the up-to-date jurisprudence of the Committee when considering abortion.  It would be important to include a reference to conscientious objection and stigmatization of women and girls who underwent abortion as barriers to exercising their right to abortion.  Committee Experts supported the proposal to include in the paragraph a reference to “legal abortion,” but disagreed on the definition of the term “adolescents.”  Some of them insisted that there should be a clear reference to “effective” and “quality” prenatal and post-abortion healthcare for women and girls.  Committee Experts also debated whether they could copy and paste the Committee’s concluding observations into General Comments due to the difference in the level of specificity.  The Committee then adopted paragraph 9 as amended.

In the discussion on euthanasia and suicide, some Committee Experts cautioned against the use of terms such as the “right to death” because it went against the general sense of the General Comment which was about safeguarding the right to life.  Paragraph 10 was ultimately about preserving human dignity and personal autonomy.  Some Experts objected to keeping descriptive and philosophical parts in the paragraph, while noting the Committee’s very limited jurisprudence with respect to assisted suicide.

Concluding the meeting, Committee Vice-Chair Ivana Jelic thanked all those stakeholders who had made contributions to the General Comment on the right to life.      

The Committee will next meet in public on Tuesday, 2 April, at 10 a.m. to continue discussion on the draft General Comment No. 36 on the right to life.

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For use of the information media; not an official record