On 5 October, the EHF submitted a contribution to the UN’s Human Rights Committee, a body currently working on the UN’s own understanding of what the “right to life” means.
The topics highlighted were access to safe a legal abortion, the fact that the right to die in dignity should be seen as a part of the right to life and the need to reaffirm the right for the non-religious, non-believers, atheists, agnostics and freethinkers to be free from discrimination and violence.
What are the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Human Rights Committee?
The Human Rights Committee is the UN body that monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty adopted in 1966 to respect the civil and political rights of individuals, including the right to life, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, electoral rights and rights to due process and a fair trial.
One of the prerogatives of the Human Rights Committee is to adopt General Comments to clarify the scope and meaning of the ICCPR. It is to a General Comment on Article 6 of the ICCPR, dealing with the right to life, that the EHF submitted its contribution.
Why is this relevant?
General Comments are used as the basis for interpreting the obligations of the signatory countries, meaning that for any complaint or review of a country’s performance in the domains covered by the ICCPR, it is the guidance of the General Comments that will drive discussions.
Furthermore, the contents of the comments will provide guidance to a variety of other actors such as national or transnational courts as well as political bodies such as the European Parliament or the Council of Europe.
It is therefore fundamental for the EHF that the guidance provided in these General Comments reflects a progressive view of the right to life.
What are the EHF’s main messages?
As opposed to extremist religious lobbies who want to shape the U.N.’s vision according to the dogmatic positions of their various denominations, the EHF proposes the reinforcement of three key rights that foster personal autonomy, a key element of human dignity.
While extremist religious lobbies push for very restrictive views on abortion, the EHF recalls that restrictive legislation on abortion continues to lead to dramatic situations in terms of physical
and psychological suffering for women and recommends to avoid introducing burdensome requirements on women seeking abortion.
Concerning the right to die in dignity, the EHF proposes a balanced approach, with necessary safeguards, for voluntary euthanasia or assisted dying in circumstances where people are suffering unendurable pain or loss of faculties and where there is no hope of cure or improvement.
Finally, seeing the proliferation of violence against non-believers and free-thinkers around the world, the EHF recommends that along with religious minorities, non-believers, humanists, atheists, agnostics, apostates and those who are critical of religious beliefs are included in the list of vulnerable people for the protection of whom countries should take special measures.
Read the EHF’s full contribution here.