Report of the Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions is about a gender-sensitive approach to arbitrary killings

Note from the Secretariat of the Human Rights Council:

“The Secretariat has the honour to transmit to the Human Rights Council the first report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, submitted pursuant to Council resolution 26/12.  In the report, the Special Rapporteur considers key elements of a gender-sensitive perspective to the Mandate, in the interests of strengthening an inclusive application of critical norms and standards related to the right to life.  These elements include consideration of the impact of gender identity and expression, intersecting with other identities, on the risks factors to killings or death, the degree of predictability of harm, and States’ implementation of its due diligence obligations. Applying gender lenses to the notion of ‘arbitrariness’, the report highlights that gender-based killings when committed by non-State actors may constitute arbitrary killings. It also shows that violations of the right to life stem not only from an intentional act of deprivation of life by the State or a non-State actor, but also from the deprivation of basic conditions that guarantee life, such as access to essential health care. Thus, a gender-sensitive approach to the Mandate reveals that arbitrary deprivation of life may result from systemic discrimination that must be remedied for all people to enjoy equal rights to life.”

Christina Zampas writes on 30 May 2017:

This report addresses a lot of important gender issues; here I highlight the points the Special Rapporteur makes on abortion in Paragraphs 92-95 below, particularly recognizing that deliberate denial of life-saving medical care due to a ban on abortion would constitute an arbitrary killing under international law (see Para 94 especially). This represents an important and new development in human rights standards.

Paragraphs from the report:

  1. For instance, states have extensive knowledge of the life-threatening implications of unsafe abortion practices and the consequential number of deaths resulting from this recourse. Every 8 minutes a woman in a developing nation die of complications arising from an unsafe abortion… Almost all deaths and morbidity from unsafe abortion occur in countries where abortion is criminalised or severely restricted in law and/or in practice. Lower-income and poor women specifically are the most likely to resort to unsafe abortion. Legislation that creates or facilitates access to abortion does not increase their number, rather results in a reduction of mortality from unsafe practice.
  1. The death of women and girls from unsafe abortion has been repeatedly linked to the right to life. Treaty bodies and Special Procedures have consistently condemned countries that criminalize and restrict access to abortion, making direct links between criminalization of abortion, maternal mortality and the right to life. Noting that such laws violate the right to life of pregnant women and other rights, the Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture, for example, have expressed concerns about restrictive abortion laws, including absolute bans on abortion, as violating the right to life and prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment.
  1. Yet, some States choose to impose an absolute ban on abortion and criminalise it. Under the above analysis, the death of a woman, where it can be medically linked to a deliberate denial of access to life-saving medical care because of an absolute legal ban on abortion, would not only constitute a violation of the right to life and an arbitrary deprivation of life. It would also amount to a gender-based arbitrary killing, only suffered by women, as a result of discrimination enshrined in law.
  1. Other States establish a conditional ban, or create barriers to accessing such care where it is legally available. The uncertainty surrounding the process of establishing whether a woman’s pregnancy poses a risk to her life, the medical profession’s reticence in the absence of transparent and clearly defined procedures to determine whether the legal conditions for a therapeutic abortion are met, along with the threat of criminal prosecution – all of these have a “significant chilling” effect both on doctors and the women concerned and altogether greatly increase the likelihood of women seeking unsafe abortion, and the likelihood that a substantive proportion of them will suffer lasting injuries or die. Depending on the individual circumstances of each case, one may be able to conclude that these deaths constitute an arbitrary deprivation of life.

SOURCE: Human Rights Council, 35th session, 6-23 June 2017, advanced unedited version, 15 May 2017