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Human Rights Committee adopts General Comment on the right to life

Human Rights Committee
MEETING SUMMARY 

30 October 2018

Discusses the Topic of the Next General Comment

The Human Rights Committee today adopted its General Comment no. 36 on article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the right to life, and provisionally decided that the topic of the next General Comment would be article 21 on the right to peaceful assembly.  The Committee will reach a final decision on the content of the next General Comment by the end of its current session.

Yuval Shany, Committee Chairperson and Rapporteur for the draft General Comment, presented the final version of the text.  He noted that the schedule for concluding of a General Comment should be somewhat shorter, about two years.  The process of the adoption of the General Comment no. 36 had been very lengthy, but the upside was a very thoroughly revised text.  Mr. Shany thanked all the partners in that journey, foremost his colleagues in the Committee, and all other stakeholders, such as States, civil society and academia.  Their participation had complicated the process, but it was a welcome complication that had brought new perspectives of which the Committee was not aware.

Mr. Shany paid tribute to the late Sir Nigel Rodley, former Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for the draft General Comment, who had initially pushed for its drafting.  Mr. Shany expressed hope that General Comment no. 36 had managed to capture Sir Rodley’s deep humanitarian sensibility, commitment to the legal discipline, and common sense.  General Comment no. 36 focused on some areas in which Sir Rodley had been very active, such as the abolition of the death penalty, the importance of strong methods of accountability, protection of the rights of prisoners, and the protection of human rights defenders against reprisals.  The General Comment sent a strong message against the narrow legal interpretation of the right to life, as was appropriate in a globalized world, and it underscored the right to life with dignity.

The Committee watched a video clip from the one hundred and sixteenth session of the Human Rights Committee in which Sir Rodley explained the need for drafting the General Comment on the right to life.  The Committee then formally adopted draft General Comment no. 36.

In the ensuing comments, Committee Experts thanked the Rapporteur for the draft General Comment for his outstanding work, as well Sir Rodley who had been the driving force behind it.  The General Comment was meant to codify the Committee’s existing jurisprudence and practice on the right to life.  It covered an impressive number of topics, and was coherent in its approach to taking aboard a variety of contributions and making the text balanced.  The document pointed out a direction in which the right to life would be applied in the years to come.  In light of the prevalence of discourses on the preservation of security and the fear of the unknown, it was more important than ever for the Human Rights Committee to make its voice known and to protect future generations from the scourge of war.  In that sense, the Experts underlined the link between the right to life and the obligation of States to prohibit war propaganda and hate speech.

The Experts expressed hope that General Comment no. 36 would be widely publicized by the Committee, the Office of the High Commissioner for High Rights, civil society, academics and others, and that States would actively use it for the purpose for which it was developed.  Finally, the Experts noted that it was important to make the next General Comment authoritative and topical, and to shorten the drafting process as much as possible.

Turning to the discussion on the topic of the next General Comment, Yuval Shany, Committee Chairperson, said that the Committee would try to hold consultations with stakeholders in March 2019 in order to be able to start working on the next General Comment in July 2019.  Possible topics were article 17 on the right to privacy, and article 21 on the right to peaceful assembly, with or without article 22 on freedom of association.  The Human Rights Committee was also considering issuing a statement on article 22 with the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Committee Experts expressed support for drafting a General Comment on article 21 the right to peaceful assembly, and on article 22 on freedom of association, considering the growing restrictions on public participation and civic liberties.  What was particularly worrying was the harshening of practices in a number of States, and the adoption of legislation that restricted freedom of assembly and association.  Some Experts said that the Committee was perhaps not ready to draft a General Comment on article 17 on the right to privacy, given its limited jurisprudence and technological knowledge of the matter.  On the other hand, the Committee had a good bit of jurisprudence and expertise on articles 21 and 22.  The Experts agreed that the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of association contributed to the better functioning of democratic institutions and to sustainable development.  The Committee then provisionally decided to tackle article 21 in the next General Comment.

The drafting of General Comment no. 36 began on 14 July 2015 with a half day of general discussion on the right to life.  The first reading of the draft was completed at the Committee’s one hundred and twentieth session in July 2017, while the second reading started on 27 October 2017.  Further information about draft General Comment no. 36 can be obtained here.

The Committee will next meet in public today at 3 p.m. at the Palais des Nations, Room XVII, to hold an informal meeting with States.
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