Friday, November 16, 2018

General comment No. 36 (2018) on article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on the right to life General remarks 1/3

1.  This general comment replaces earlier general comments No. 6 (16th session) and 14 (23rd session) adopted by the Committee in 1982 and 1984, respectively. 

2.  Article 6 recognizes and protects the right to life of all human beings. It is the supreme right from which no derogation is permitted even in situations of armed conflict and other public emergencies which threatens the life of the nation.[1] The right to life has crucial importance both for individuals and for society as a whole. It is most precious for its own sake as a right that inheres in every human being, but it also constitutes a fundamental right [2] whose effective protection is the prerequisite for the enjoyment of all other human rights and whose content can be informed by other human rights. 

3.  The right to life is a right which should not be interpreted narrowly. It concerns the entitlement of individuals to be free from acts and omissions that are intended or may be expected to cause their unnatural or premature death, as well as to enjoy a life with dignity. Article 6 guarantees this right for all human beings, without distinction of any kind, including for persons suspected or convicted of even the most serious crimes.

4.  Paragraph 1 of article 6 of the Covenant provides that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life and that the right shall be protected by law. It lays the foundation for the obligation of States parties to respect and to ensure the right to life, to give effect to it through legislative and other measures, and to provide effective remedies and reparation to all victims of violations of the right to life.

5.  Paragraphs 2, 4, 5 and 6 of article 6 of the Covenant set out specific safeguards for ensuring that in States parties which have not yet abolished the death penalty, it must not be applied except for the most serious crimes, and then only in the most exceptional cases and under the strictest limits. [3] The prohibition on arbitrary deprivation of life contained in article 6, paragraph 1 further limits the ability of States parties to apply the death penalty. The provisions of paragraph 3 regulate specifically the relationship between Article 6 of the Covenant and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (‘the Genocide Convention’). 

6.  Deprivation of life involves an intentional [4] or otherwise foreseeable and preventable life-terminating harm or injury, caused by an act or omission. It goes beyond injury to bodily or mental integrity or threat thereto. [5] 

7.  States parties must respect the right to life and have the duty to refrain from engaging in conduct resulting in arbitrary deprivation of life. States parties must also ensure the right to life and exercise due diligence to protect the lives of individuals against deprivations caused by persons or entities, whose conduct is not attributable to the State. [6] The obligation of States parties to respect and ensure the right to life extends to reasonably foreseeable threats and life-threatening situations that can result in loss of life. States parties may be in violation of article 6 even if such threats and situations do not result in loss of life. [7]

8.  Although States parties may adopt measures designed to regulate voluntary terminations of pregnancy, such measures must not result in violation of the right to life of a pregnant woman or girl, or her other rights under the Covenant. Thus, restrictions on the ability of women or girls to seek abortion must not, inter alia, jeopardize their lives, subject them to physical or mental pain or suffering which violates article 7, discriminate against them or arbitrarily interfere with their privacy. 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. [8] In addition, States parties may not regulate pregnancy or abortion in all other cases in a manner that runs contrary to their duty to ensure that women and girls do not have to undertake unsafe abortions, and they should revise their abortion laws accordingly. [9] For example, they should not take measures such as criminalizing pregnancies by unmarried women or apply criminal sanctions against women and girls undergoing abortion [10] or against medical service providers assisting them in doing so, since taking such measures compel women and girls to resort to unsafe abortion. States parties should not introduce new barriers and should remove existing barriers [11] that deny effective access by women and girls to safe and legal abortion [12], including barriers caused as a result of the exercise of conscientious objection by individual medical providers. [13] States parties should also effectively protect the lives of women and girls against the mental and physical health risks associated with unsafe abortions. In particular, they should ensure access for women and men, and, especially, girls and boys, [14] to quality and evidence-based information and education about sexual and reproductive health [15] and to a wide range of affordable contraceptive methods, [16] and prevent the stigmatization of women and girls seeking abortion.[17] States parties should ensure the availability of, and effective access to, quality prenatal and post-abortion health care for women and girls, [18] in all circumstances, and on a confidential basis. [19]

9.  While acknowledging the central importance to human dignity of personal autonomy, States should take adequate measures, without violating their other Covenant obligations, to prevent suicides, especially among individuals in particularly vulnerable situations, [20] including individuals deprived of their liberty. States parties that allow medical professionals to provide medical treatment or the medical means in order to facilitate the termination of life of afflicted adults, such as the terminally ill, who experience severe physical or mental pain and suffering and wish to die with dignity, [21] must ensure the existence of robust legal and institutional safeguards to verify that medical professionals are complying with the free, informed, explicit and, unambiguous decision of their patients, with a view to protecting patients from pressure and abuse. [22]
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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Inclusive social protection: policy implications

Availability, accessibility and adequacy are the prerequisites to leaving no one behind, as elaborated below.

Inclusion requires that social protection systems meet the needs of a diverse population at all stages of the life cycle. Contributory schemes rely on the payment of contributions, which may not be affordable to all. Inclusive social protection systems must therefore guarantee access to a minimum set of tax-financed alternatives. The right to social protection for all cannot be realized if it fails to reach those who need it most.

In recent years, many low-income countries have rapidly expanded access to social protection, mainly through tax-financed programmes. Some of these are grounded in solid legal frameworks. Others are implemented in the form of smallscale, often temporary, assistance that can help address short-term needs but leaves participants vulnerable to future shocks. Embedding social protection programmes in strong legal and institutional frameworks helps secure political and fiscal support.


All persons should be covered by social protection systems without discrimination.8 Universal programmes—available to all without conditions—are most likely to ensure inclusion and non-discrimination.

Even in a policy framework grounded in universalism, however, certain segments of the population face greater challenges than others in overcoming poverty and social exclusion. Special measures may be necessary, even temporarily, to help these groups. Promoting the inclusion of some groups, such as persons with disabilities, may require sustained special efforts. In other cases, the goal of special or targeted measures should be to bring everyone to the same starting line—leaving no one behind.

 Targeting is widely used to reach those individuals and groups most in need. Over the last several decades, universal programmes have at times been replaced by targeted schemes, which are perceived to allocate resources more efficiently. However, sound targeting typically requires advanced administrative capacities. Means testing, in particular, can involve methodologically complex surveys and high administrative costs. Targeting should therefore not be approached as a cost-saving measure. Moreover, inaccurate targeting can result in significant undercoverage—or “errors of exclusion”. In general, special or targeted measures must be approached as a complement to—rather than a substitute for—universal schemes.

Conditional cash transfers are aimed at encouraging human capital formation while promoting income security. However, their effectiveness depends on implementation. Some programmes use non-compliance with conditions simply to impose penalties on beneficiaries or exclude them from the programme. Punitive measures do little to promote the inclusion of those furthest behind.

Across all social protection schemes, lack of beneficiary involvement in design or delivery tends to limit effectiveness. Participation and consultation are important to ensure that barriers to access are identified and addressed. Several chapters in the report highlight examples of social protection schemes refined through consultation between Governments and potential beneficiaries. Beneficiary feedback, including robust grievance mechanisms, is also crucial to ensure that the rights of potential beneficiaries are respected. Making social protection programmes more inclusive requires transparent official avenues for people to challenge their exclusion or denounce discrimination and corruption. Supportive institutional environments are crucial in this regard.

Finally, accessible information and public communication campaigns tailored to the needs of potential beneficiaries are key to reaching those most in need.


Social protection transfers are often inadequate or insufficient in amount or duration to guarantee income security and health for all. Tax-financed schemes, in particular, tend to be lacking. If social protection systems are to make a meaningful impact on inclusion, many countries will need to increase investments in social protection and sustain such investments through economic cycles.

While fiscal space for social spending has increased in the last 10 years in most developing countries, more can be done to mobilize domestic resources and optimize public spending. About 100 countries out of 125 with data have gaps in their social protection floors that could be closed by spending less than 6 per cent of their GDP (Bierbaum and others, 2016, annex). However, 12 countries would need to spend over 10 per cent of GDP to close these gaps. These countries will need substantial help from the international community to set up social protection floors or expand social protection systems (Bierbaum and others, 2016, annex).
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Monday, November 12, 2018

Explaining gaps in social protection

 Gaps in social protection are but one symptom of disadvantage and exclusion. The prejudicial treatment of people based on their background or identity prevents some groups from accessing a broad range of public goods and services.

For example, members of disadvantaged groups typically have limited influence on decision-making in their communities. That is, they may not be allowed to participate in committees responsible for selecting beneficiaries of social protection. They may not have the political connections needed to push back against exclusionary policy design and underinvestment in social protection programmes. And they may lack information about such programmes, including on their criteria or application processes, due to illiteracy or poor communication channels. These disadvantages affect all the social groups examined in this report, as well as those for whom there are less data—such as homeless persons and those internally displaced. Women are disproportionately affected in all categories.

Social and economic disadvantages alone can also limit social protection, even in countries where laws no longer discriminate against certain groups. In labour markets of developed and developing countries alike, indigenous peoples, members of ethnic or racial minorities, migrants, persons with disabilities and youth receive lower wages than the rest of the population on average, as do women. They are overrepresented in the informal sector, where social protection is largely absent. In addition, spatial disadvantages, such as geographic isolation, hinder access to social protection among some groups, including indigenous peoples and members of ethnic minorities.

None of these barriers are insurmountable. The design and implementation of policies can either keep social protection out of reach for some or, alternatively, give those left behind the opportunity to benefit from them. Whether or not they result in greater social inclusion depends on the specific measures in place and the way in which they are implemented.
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Saturday, November 10, 2018

Ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples: marginalization is the norm

 Indigenous peoples and members of ethnic or racial minorities are generally at higher risk of poverty than the rest of the population. They also face substantial disadvantages in access to health care, education and employment. Members of these groups often live in rural and remote areas that lack adequate infrastructure and services. In cities, living in areas of concentrated poverty contributes to their marginalization.

 Due to labour market disadvantages, members of ethnic minorities tend to be inadequately covered by contributory schemes. In response, many countries have increased tax-financed social protection in recent years, to the benefit of minorities. For example, a significant proportion of indigenous peoples receive conditional cash transfers, primarily in Latin America. These have had some positive effects on school enrolment and even on the educational attainment of indigenous and minority children. But the long-term impact is questionable, since the services rendered are often of poor quality. Data on health impacts are also mixed. Evidence presented in chapter VII suggests that these schemes have had a negligible effect on income inequality, at least so far. In many cases, the size of transfers is too small to make a significant difference.

Whether social protection programmes benefit indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities depends on how well they address the needs of these groups and the challenges they face. These include geographic isolation, inadequate infrastructure, lack of information in local languages and discrimination. Intercultural dialogue and the participation of indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities in the design and implementation of social protection measures can help overcome these barriers
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Thursday, November 8, 2018

International migrants: carrying their own weigh

 Although international migration is not a new phenomenon, a growing number of people choose or are forced to migrate. In 2015, there were an estimated 244 million international migrants around the globe (United Nations, 2015a). Migrants can face daunting challenges while in transit and in their country of destination. But on balance, international migration has been a positive phenomenon, transforming millions of lives and even whole societies for the better. And despite popular perceptions, migrants generally pay more in taxes and contributions than they take from social protection programmes in their countries of destination. Over the long term, they are unlikely to constitute a disproportionate fiscal burden for receiving countries.

That said, international migrants face substantial risk of exclusion from social protection programmes due to ineligibility or inadequate coverage. Migrants admitted under long-term residence and work permits (one year or longer) generally have legal access to social protection on the same terms as nationals, but only after having resided or worked in the country for a certain period of time.7

Governments struggle to reduce what they perceive as incentives for irregular migration, while respecting the human rights of all migrants. In practice, equal treatment in access to social protection is rare. Migrants in an irregular situation are often able to access emergency health care, either by law or de facto, and accident compensation benefits. Access to tax-financed social assistance programmes, however, is seldom granted.

 Migrants often have social protection entitlements from their home countries, which they can lose if the benefits are not portable across borders. Adequate “portability” means that benefits accrued in one country must be payable in another. It also means that benefits must be determined on the basis of an individual’s full contribution in all countries where he or she has paid into the system.

Most negotiated bilateral and multilateral agreements that ensure the portability of entitlements cover long-term contributory benefits, mainly old-age pensions. Health care benefits are less often within the purview of these agreements, even when contributory. Tax-financed payments are rarely portable.

In 2000, only about 23 per cent of all international migrants worldwide were legally covered by adequate and portable social protection programmes in their countries of destination (Avato, Koettl and Sabates-Wheeler, 2009). The disconnect between law and practice, particularly when it comes to migrants, should also be noted. Due to the multiple administrative and social barriers migrants face, effective coverage of migrants is likely to lag far behind that required by law, as described in chapter VI.
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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Persons with disabilities: breaking down barriers

Persons with disabilities: breaking down barriers An estimated 15 per cent of the world’s population experience moderate or severe disability—that is, severe or extreme impairments, limitations in functioning and restrictions in participation (WHO and World Bank, 2011). Persons with disabilities routinely face accessibility and attitudinal barriers that hinder their participation in social, economic and political life. They have less access to education, poorer health and lower participation in the formal labour market than people without disabilities and, as a result, are at considerable risk of poverty.

Almost all countries offer some form of social protection to persons with disabilities. However, more than half of these are contributory social insurance schemes, which leave behind children as well as persons with disabilities who are not working in the formal labour market. Significant gaps in coverage are found even in high-income countries: in member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), for example, over 20 per cent of persons with disabilities were not receiving any public benefits in the late 2000s, nor were they employed (OECD, 2010a). In recent years, many OECD countries have taken steps to reform social protection for persons with disabilities, tightening conditions for eligibility and receipt of benefits and leveraging sanctions when these are not met. As a result, the number of persons with disabilities receiving public benefits in these countries has declined.

Although several developing countries have made great strides in improving coverage of persons with disabilities, benefits are often inadequate. Data for 29 developing countries indicate that the amounts received through tax-financed disability schemes are often less than 15 per cent of per capita GDP.5 Disability benefits range from 51 per cent of per capita GDP in Uzbekistan and 35 per cent in Brazil to less than 5 per cent in China and India. Significant variations are also found in richer countries: means-tested disability benefits in Singapore range from 3 per cent to 5 per cent of per capita GDP, while those in the Republic of Korea range from 2 per cent to 7 per cent, depending on the severity of the disability and the beneficiary’s level of income.6 While disability benefits can help households meet their basic needs, they fall short of covering the costs of disability-related expenses. Nor are they sufficient to replace wages, even though the inability to work is often set as a condition for payment.

Social protection schemes are just one of the policy tools needed to support persons with disabilities and their families, and they must be carefully designed, lest they undermine economic participation. For example, when eligibility for benefits is conditional on a person’s inability to work, it perpetuates dependency and reinforces negative stereotypes. An inclusive approach to social protection empowers its recipients and ensures a basic income for all individuals, regardless of circumstances.
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Sunday, November 4, 2018

Old age: responding to a rapidly ageing population

 The number of persons aged 60 and over is projected to double from 2015 to 2050.4 As the share of older persons continues to grow in countries around the world, the need to guarantee their income security will become increasingly urgent. In countries with comprehensive social protection systems, older persons can rely on pensions to partly meet their needs. In many developing countries, however, a high proportion of older persons receive no public support whatsoever and face high economic and social insecurity.

Old-age pensions account for more than half of all public spending on social protection (excluding health expenditure). While 68 per cent of the world’s older population received a pension in 2016, significant regional and gender disparities were found. Only 26 per cent of people above retirement age received a pension in Central and Southern Asia, and 23 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa (United Nations, 2017a). Moreover, the rate of pension coverage is still lower for women than men in all regions, despite the fact that women tend to live longer.

Countries that rely exclusively on contributory pension schemes to provide oldage income security largely fail to achieve universal coverage. But while coverage is still insufficient overall, rapid progress has been made in the last two decades. Over 90 per cent of populations above the statutory retirement age received pensions in 53 countries in 2016, versus 34 countries in 2000 (ILO, 2017a). Effective coverage has increased in almost all developing countries. Many of them are now reaching more people through tax-funded (social) pensions. However, when targeted to older persons living in poverty, pension systems typically leave a significant coverage gap: a “missing middle” of older persons who are not living in poverty but who may nevertheless be vulnerable to it.

Meeting the needs of a rapidly expanding older population will be critical to achieving the SDGs. As the share of older persons grows, Governments will need to find the right balance between expanding coverage while providing adequate benefits and ensuring the long-term sustainability of pension schemes. While very generous pensions may not be sustainable, inadequate pensions jeopardize the well-being of older persons and their participation in social life. They may also erode trust in the State and result in less willingness to pay the taxes and contributions that are necessary to ensure income security in old age. The commitment to leave no one behind and promote inclusive societies calls for safeguarding or even strengthening the poverty-reducing role of pensions, even where reforms to cut overall pension costs are deemed necessary.
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Friday, November 2, 2018

From youth to adulthood: turning risks into opportunities

The transition to adulthood can be a time of enormous opportunities—but also risks. Globally, the youth unemployment rate is twice as high as the total unemployment rate (ILO, 2017b). Even if they do find a job, young people are overrepresented in so-called vulnerable employment, often in the informal sector. In addition, a growing number of young people are neither in the education system nor employed or in training.

Creating a social and economic environment that enables young people to thrive in adulthood—including pathways to decent work—is central to promoting their inclusion. But when opportunities for work are lacking, social protection can play a vital role in addressing exclusionary risks.

Although few social protection schemes formally exclude youth, most of the programmes available to young people require contributory payments. Because of their age and their high participation in informal employment, young people have shorter formal work histories than adults. They have paid less into contributory schemes and therefore tend to benefit less from them than adults. When it comes to unemployment protection, only 20 out of 201 countries provide unemployment benefits for first-time job seekers (ILO, 2014a).

Young people in need can access tax-financed schemes, where available, including unemployment assistance and minimum income benefits or health care. However, cash benefits for children and families often elude them, either because of their age (benefits are typically cut off after age 18) or because they no longer live with their parents.
Failing to invest in youth—by, for instance, limiting access to unemployment insurance for first-time job seekers or providing health care to workers in formal employment only—can have long-term costs, including squandered human capital and social unrest. Excluded young people miss out on opportunities for training and skills development. Furthermore, young parents who live in poverty cannot afford to invest in the health and education of their children, perpetuating the cycle of intergenerational poverty.
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