20 July 2017
The Human Rights Committee this morning discussed additional paragraphs in the draft General Comment on article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the right to life, namely on the issue of discrimination and the right to life, on environmental degradation, climate change and non-sustainable development, and on the issue of claiming victimhood.
Committee Vice-Chairperson and Rapporteur for the draft General Comment, Yuval Shany, leading the discussion, explained that the first additional draft paragraph concerned the interplay of the right to life and equality. It underlined that the right to life had to be respected and ensured without distinction of any kind. All legal protections for the right to life had to apply equally to all individuals and any deprivation of life based on discrimination in law or fact was ipso facto arbitrary in nature. Femicide, which constituted an extreme form of gender-based violence, was a particularly grave form of assault on the right to life.
Experts wondered whether the reference to femicide as motivated by discriminatory attitudes towards women could be replaced by a broader reference. They proposed to add gender identity to sexual orientation as they were usually paired together. Some Experts also suggested that albinism be added to the grounds of discrimination in the paragraph.
Mr. Shany accepted the suggestions and proposed that, in light of Experts’ comments, the last sentence of the paragraph could read: “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.”
The Committee then adopted the draft paragraph as amended as paragraph 61a.
Mr. Shany introduced the second additional draft paragraph, which concerned the interplay of article 6 of the Covenant and international environmental law. It stated that environmental degradation, climate change and non-sustainable development constituted some of the most pressing and serious threats to the ability of present and future generations to enjoy the right to life. Obligations of States parties under international environmental law should thus inform the interpretation and application of article 6 of the Covenant, and the obligation of States parties to respect and ensure the right to life had to reinforce States’ obligations under international environmental law. The ability of individuals to enjoy the right to life with dignity depended on measures taken by States parties to protect the environment against harm and pollution, engage in sustainable utilization of natural resources, conduct environmental impact assessments for activities likely to have a significant impact on the environment, provide notification to other States of natural disasters and emergencies, and take due note of the precautionary principle.
Experts welcomed the more explicit emphasis on the relationship of the right to life with environmental issues. Some of them proposed more emphasis on the precautionary principle in order to avoid potential contradictory interpretations resulting from the current version of the text. It was important to keep the emphasis on the positive obligation of States to protect the right to life in the context of environmental threats.
Mr. Shany reminded that the Committee was interpreting the Covenant and not international environmental law. Therefore, he cautioned against moving from descriptive to prescriptive language in the paragraph.
The Committee then adopted the paragraph as amended as paragraph 61b.
Mr. Shany introduced the third additional draft paragraph (new paragraph 68), which dealt with the procedural admissibility of victimhood status. Article 6 of the Covenant imposed on States parties wide-ranging obligations to respect and to ensure the right to life. Individuals claiming under Article 1 of the Optional Protocol to the Covenant to be victims of a violation of the Covenant had to show, however, that their rights were directly violated by acts or omissions attributable to States parties, or were under an imminent prospect of a direct violation.
In the ensuing discussion, some Experts voiced concern about the usefulness of the paragraph in light of the general thrust of the General Comment. The problem was jurisprudence on how to apply standards of victimhood on a case-by-case basis. States parties could think that the Committee was adopting a standard for the determination of victimhood. Other Experts thought that it was appropriate to retain the paragraph in order to provide some reassurance to the general public that the Committee was going forward in terms of prevention. Some Experts noted that the reference to the Optional Protocol in the paragraph should be deleted in order to provide a recourse to individuals in the countries that had not ratified the Optional Protocol.
Mr. Shany said he would like to keep the draft paragraph 60 in order to clarify the procedural standards of the admissibility of victimhood by the Committee. He agreed that the Committee should avoid creating obligations for States that did not ratify the Optional Protocol.
The Committee then adopted the amended paragraph 68 in the first reading.
In the second part of the meeting, the Committee discussed revised language in paragraphs 50 to 60, and paragraphs 61 to 67 that were pending adoption in the first reading. Mr. Shany explained the main changes in light of previous discussions.
The Committee adopted revised paragraphs 51, 52 and 53 on the death penalty, paragraph 55 on the protection of human rights defenders, paragraph 58 on the rights of relatives of individuals deprived of life, and paragraph 59 on extreme forms of arbitrary detention that violated the right to personal liberty and personal security, as well as the right to life.
The Committee also adopted revised paragraph 63 on the application of article 6 in situations of armed conflict to which the rules of international humanitarian law were applicable. It also adopted revised paragraph 65 on reservations to article 6.
The Committee will next meet in public today at 3 p.m. to hold a meeting with States parties in room XVII at the Palais des Nations.
For use of the information media; not an official record