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Rebuking ‘General Comment 36’

On October 31 this year, the United Nations Human Rights (CCPR) adopted a General Comment (General Comment No 3 6 on Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on the right to life) that seeks to bully sovereign nations into legalising abortion (in the cases of rape, incest, health of the mother and fetal disability) and euthanasia.

The recommendation calls on states to cease introduction of new pro-life laws, and to remove laws which create a “barrier” to obtaining an abortion. Even the right of health-care workers to the exercise of conscientious objection to participating in abortion procedures is considered one such “barrier”.

The CCPR consists of human rights “experts” charged with monitoring the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and ensuring that state parties respect the rights enumerated by the Covenant.

From time to time, the Committee adopts General Comments, statements which outline the Committee’s interpretation on key provisions of the treaty, and which provide recommendations for implementing the treaty.

Whereas state parties are obliged to abide by the terms of the Covenant, General Comments are not legally binding. Nevertheless, these Comments carry a veneer of authoritativeness as they emanate from a body created by the treaty.

Jonathan Abbamonte of the US-based Population Research Institute (PRI) points out that no human rights treaty drafted through the UN system in any way requires states to legalise abortion.

Furthermore, Abbamonte says no right to abortion, euthanasia or assisted suicide can be found anywhere in the ICCPR. In fact, Article 6 which the Committee seeks to “interpret” guarantees the right to life for all:

Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.

In addition, the treaty explicitly prohibits the execution of the death penalty on a pregnant woman in order to protect the life of the unborn child.

In October 2017, the PRI, along with several member states, members of academia, and pro-life organisations submitted their rejection of the first reading draft of General Comment No 36 to the Committee, pointing out that the General Comment was clearly contrary to the universal and inherent right to life recognised in the treaty and contrary to international norms.

They also rebuked the Committee for overstepping its mandate. The Committee largely ignored these comments, and adopted the final version of the document this year.

In response, the PRI has launched a petition calling on the Human Rights Committee to replace General Comment No 36 with a new general comment that does not seek to interpret the Covenant as creating an obligation on states to provide access to abortion.

They are also calling on state parties to the Covenant to be vigilant as international organisations continue in their attempt to deprive them of their sovereign right to protect the rights and well-being of their citizens.

As the late calypsonian Ras Shorty I warned, “Watch out my children…”

A monthly column by the Emmanuel Community: 46 Rosalino Street, Woodbrook.Tel:628-1064;