An important meeting of the UN Human Rights Committee was held at the beginning of November 2017 in Geneva. The experts’ discussion was centered on a report which intends to interpret the fundamental right to life to include facilitating access to abortion and euthanasia (or assisted suicide) by all Member States.
This committee of experts is a supervisory body set up after the “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”, adopted by the UN in 1966 and has now been signed by the majority of the countries in the world. This Covenant is one of the international treaties established to enhance the legally binding force for the principles set out in the famous 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Human Rights Committee, made up of 18 independent experts, plays an important role in interpreting the Covenant and monitoring how it is implemented by States. This gives it increasing authority over jurisdictions and legislators around the world.
However, for the past several months, this Human Rights Committee has been reviewing the manner in which Article 6 of the Covenant should be interpreted in the future regarding the respect of the right to life. To give a new official and universal interpretation to the “right to life”, some of its members want to introduce a “right to die” by forcing States to legalize and/or encourage both abortion and euthanasia – or assisted suicide – (see the report entitled General Comment No. 36, at § 9 and 10).
Of the 18 experts on the committee, only 6 spoke at the meeting in early November, with 5 of them pronouncing in favor of abortion (1). For example the Tunisian representative, Professor Ben Achour (see video), who claims to defend disabled people once they are born (“Society must do everything possible to protect the disabled, to assist them […] after birth “), but he is in favor of aborting any fetus with a disability (” But that does not mean that we have to agree to leave a fetus alive who has a handicap […] We can avoid handicaps and we must do everything to avoid them’).
The French expert, Mr. de Frouville, international law professor law at the Panthéon-Assas University, also recommended avoiding any “philosophical or theoretical aspects” by focusing exclusively on women’s rights. Citing the International Family Planning arguments whereby abortion should be decriminalized and made “safe, legal and affordable”, he asserted that this “is at the heart of the right to life issue”.
The general public is unaware of what is happening in this committee of experts. In principle it is a consultative body, but it has real power over all the countries of the world, thus posing several major ethical questions.
In particular, this raises the problem of how these experts are appointed, and whether they represent their personal viewpoint or that of their country. As the “country of human rights”, this appointment is important in France both symbolically and practically, and thus deserves a genuine public debate.
Beyond the committee’s composition, if the draft in question is adopted in its current form, the “right to life” would become devoid of substance for millions of human beings. This complete paradox would constitute a serious misuse of the spirit of the 1966 Treaty.
The next meeting of the Human Rights Committee is scheduled for March 2018 with the intention of adopting General Comment No. 36.
These discussions in Geneva were reported by the European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ), which posted an on-line petition and published a dissertation denouncing this dangerous development.