In an article published today, the European Centre for Law and Justice discusses comments made by Mahmoud Fathalla, an Egyptian, and one of the experts on the United Nations Human Rights Committee. This 18-strong Committee is responsible for “ensuring compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”.
On 30 October 2018, the experts adopted an “observation” on article 6 of the Covenant on the right to life, and, overstepping their mandate, they advocated “abortion in the name of women’s health and the right to life”. The text, which has been debated for three years, basically focuses on “the removal of any protection for human life in the womb” and “opens the door for States to legalise assisted suicide”; all of this “contradicts the spirit in which the Covenant, adopted in 1966 and ratified by France in 1980, was written”.
In paragraph 8, the text states that “States parties should not introduce new barriers and should remove existing barriers that deny effective access by women and girls to safe and legal abortion”.
Within the Committee, dissenting voices are seldom heard and quickly suppressed; no one “dared to question the flagrant and fundamental contradiction between the protection of the right to life and abortion”. On the contrary, French expert Olivier de Frouville had stated that “the right to abortion is at the heart of the right to life”, while Tunisian expert Yadh Ben Achour promoted “prenatal screening to eliminate children suffering from disabilities before birth” (see End of life: collegial procedure again in the spotlight? and UN: the return of the culture of death).
However, just after the text was adopted, Mahmoud Fathalla highlighted these contradictions: “In my opinion, this language suggests the unrestricted legalisation of abortion which, in itself, would deny the right to life of an unborn baby or a foetus and contradict the principle set out in paragraph 2 of the General Comment on the Right to Life: ‘the supreme right from which no derogation is permitted’. Thus, allowing abortion with no criteria or restrictions or conditions, and leaving such a decision to the free will of a woman or girl under the auspices of freedom of choice and privacy, will have the following impact. Firstly, it gives priority to the principles of free choice and privacy over the right to life, which is a fundamental right to be enjoyed before speaking of other rights reflected in the Covenant. Secondly, it ignores all the medical evidence that, at some point during pregnancy, the foetus or unborn child has a life. Thirdly, depriving the unborn child or foetus of the right to life without serious reason to do so and giving someone the freedom to terminate the life of a foetus or an unborn child without legal reason is in itself a violation of the right to life “.
While the observation is not binding, it challenges the Committee’s credibility, with Mahmoud Fathalla managing to deliver his text succinctly. This last ditch attempt also challenges the freedom of the experts operating within the confines of these institutions.