UN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE – General comment No. 36 (2018) on article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on the right to life


General comment No. 36 (2018) on article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on the right to life, 30 October 2018 (CCPR/C/GC/36)

This document contains 70 paragraphs on the meaning of the right to life, one of which (para.8) is about abortion. Paragraph 8 calls for a right to safe abortion, and prohibits any restriction that might lead to an unsafe abortion or risk of death from unsafe abortion. It calls on states to reform their laws, and not to apply criminal sanctions against women and girls undergoing abortion or against medical service providers assisting them in doing so, since taking such measures compel women and girls to resort to unsafe abortion.

The first two paragraphs quoted below from the document define the right to life, followed by paragraph 8 on abortion, para.60 on children, and para 61 against discrimination. References to para.8 are also included.

  1. Article 6 recognizes and protects the right to life of all human beings. It is the supreme right from which no derogation is permitted even in situations of armed conflict and other public emergencies which threatens the life of the nation. [1] The right to life has crucial importance both for individuals and for society as a whole. It is most precious for its own sake as a right that inheres in every human being, but it also constitutes a fundamental right [2] whose effective protection is the prerequisite for the enjoyment of all other human rights and whose content can be informed by other human rights.
  2. The right to life is a right which should not be interpreted narrowly. It concerns the entitlement of individuals to be free from acts and omissions that are intended or may be expected to cause their unnatural or premature death, as well as to enjoy a life with dignity. Article 6 guarantees this right for all human beings, without distinction of any kind, including for persons suspected or convicted of even the most serious crimes.
  3. Although States parties may adopt measures designed to regulate voluntary terminations of pregnancy, such measures must not result in violation of the right to life of a pregnant woman or girl, or her other rights under the Covenant. Thus, restrictions on the ability of women or girls to seek abortion must not, inter alia, jeopardize their lives, subject them to physical or mental pain or suffering which violates article 7, discriminate against them or arbitrarily interfere with their privacy. States parties must provide safe, legal and effective access to abortion where the life and health of the pregnant woman or girl is at risk, and where carrying a pregnancy to term would cause the pregnant woman or girl substantial pain or suffering, most notably where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or is not viable. [8] In addition, States parties may not regulate pregnancy or abortion in all other cases in a manner that runs contrary to their duty to ensure that women and girls do not have to undertake unsafe abortions, and they should revise their abortion laws accordingly. [9] For example, they should not take measures such as criminalizing pregnancies by unmarried women or apply criminal sanctions against women and girls undergoing abortion [10] or against medical service providers assisting them in doing so, since taking such measures compel women and girls to resort to unsafe abortion. States parties should not introduce new barriers and should remove existing barriers [11] that deny effective access by women and girls to safe and legal abortion [12], including barriers caused as a result of the exercise of conscientious objection by individual medical providers. [13] States parties should also effectively protect the lives of women and girls against the mental and physical health risks associated with unsafe abortions. In particular, they should ensure access for women and men, and, especially, girls and boys, [14] to quality and evidence-based information and education about sexual and reproductive health [15] and to a wide range of affordable contraceptive methods, [16] and prevent the stigmatization of women and girls seeking abortion. [17] States parties should ensure the availability of, and effective access to, quality prenatal and post-abortion health care for women and girls, [18] in all circumstances, and on a confidential basis. [19]

References related to para 8:

8 See Communication No. 2324/2013, Mellet v. Ireland, Views adopted on 31 March 2016, para. 7.4-7.8; Concluding Observations: Ireland (2014), para. 9

9 General Comment 28, para. 10. See also e.g., Concluding Observations: Argentina (2010) para. 13; Concluding Observations: Jamaica (2011), para. 14; Concluding Observations: Madagascar (2007), para. 14.

10 Concluding Observations: Tanzania (1998), para. 15.

11 See e.g., Concluding Observations: Equatorial Guinea (2004), para. 9 (removal of restrictions on family planning services); Concluding Observations: Zambia (2007), para. 18 (requirement for consent by three physicians is an obstacle to safe and legal abortion); Concluding Observations: Colombia (2016), para. 21 (lack of proper training of medical personnel is obstacle to legal abortion); Concluding Observations: Morocco (2016), para. 22 (obligation to submit proof that legal proceedings have been opened in cases of rape or incest is an excessive requirement); Concluding Observations: Cameroon (2017), para. 22 (requirement of court approval for abortion in rape cases needs to be lifted).

12 See e.g., Concluding Observations: Panama (2008), para. 9; Concluding Observations: FYROM (2015), para. 11. See also WHO Guidelines on Safe Abortions World Health Organization, Safe Abortion: Technical and Policy Guidance for Health Systems (2nd ed., 2012) 96-97.

13 Concluding Observations: Poland (2016), para. 24; Concluding Observations: Colombia (2016), para. 21.

14 Concluding Observations: Chile (2014), para. 15; Concluding Observations: Kazakhstan (2011), para. 11; Concluding Observations: Romania (2017), para. 26.

15 Concluding Observations: Sri Lanka (2014), para. 10; Concluding Observations: San Marino (2015), para. 15; Concluding Observations: Argentina (2016), para. 12.

16 Concluding Observations: Poland (2010), para. 12; Concluding Observations: DRC (2017), para. 22.

17 Concluding Observations: Pakistan (2017), para. 16; Concluding Observations: Burkina Faso (2016), para. 20; Concluding Observations: Namibia (2016), para. 16.

18 Concluding Observations: Malawi (2014), para. 9; Concluding Observations: Pakistan (2017), para. 16.

19 Cf. Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 4 (2003) Adolescent health and development in the context of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (2003), para. 11.

  1. Article 24, paragraph 1, of the Covenant entitles every child “to such measures of protection as are required by his status as a minor on the part of his family, society and the State.” This article requires adoption of special measures designed to protect the life of every child, in addition to the general measures required by article 6 for protecting the lives of all individuals. [246] When taking special measures of protection, States parties should be guided by the best interests of the child, [247] by the need to ensure the survival and development of all children, [248] and their well-being. [249]
  2. The right to life must be respected and ensured without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or any other status, including caste, [250] ethnicity, membership of an indigenous group, sexual orientation or gender identity, [251] disability, [252] socioeconomic status, [253] albinism [254] and age. [255] Legal protections for the right to life must apply equally to all individuals and provide them with effective guarantees against all forms of discrimination, including multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination. [256] Any deprivation of life based on discrimination in law or fact is ipso facto arbitrary in nature. Femicide, which constitutes an extreme form of gender-based violence that is directed against girls and women, is a particularly grave form of assault on the right to life. [257]

FULL DOCUMENT: https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CCPR/Shared%20Documents/1_Global/CCPR_C_GC_36_8785_E.pdf

The Human Rights Committee is composed of 18 independent experts who are persons of high moral character and recognized competence in the field of human rights. Members are elected for a term of four years by States parties in accordance with articles 28 to 39 of the Covenant. Members serve in their personal capacity and may be re-elected if nominated. PHOTO