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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


The UN Human Rights Committee adopted General Comment 36 on the right to life (article 6) that contains 70 paragraphs on the right to life. 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.

The following paragraphs address some of most relevant to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights issues:

  • Para 8 on abortion
    • It’s based on the life of women and girls, stating that any regulations on abortion may not violate their right to life. According to the Committee, “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, or 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.” Although this relates to the minimum grounds for abortion, it has a broad framing (“most notably”) that insists on centering women and girls and the pregnancies, instead of mentioning the fetus (“fetal impairment”). Any other regulations on abortion cannot lead to women and girls having to undertake unsafe abortions and States should not introduce new barriers and remove those already existing. In addition, it calls for “quality and evidence-based information and education about sexual and reproductive health”, access to contraceptives and to quality prenatal and post-abortion care, amongst other services.
  • Para 23 on “persons in situation of vulnerability”
    • States must take specific measures to protect persons in situations of vulnerability due to threats or “pre-existing patterns of violence”. The Committee includes, amongst others, human rights defenders; humanitarian workers; victims of domestic violence, gender-based violence and human trafficking; LGBTI persons; persons with albinism; displaced persons; unaccompanied migrant children and children in situations of armed conflict.
    • Para 24 mentions persons with disabilities and para 25, on deprivation of liberty and State’s heightened duty of care, includes “mental health facilities, [92] military camps, [93] refugee camps and camps for internally displaced persons, [94] juvenile institutions and orphanages.”
  • Para 26 on addressing general conditions in society includes access to health services, including to reduce maternal and infant mortality. It mentions stigma associated with disabilities and sexually transmitted diseases as hampering access to treatment.
  • Para 61 on discrimination refers to race, sex, age, disability, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation and gender identity, amongst others, as grounds for discrimination.

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.

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