Committee on ESC Rights adopts General Comment #22 on the Right to Sexual and Reproductive Health (Art 12)
Committee on ESC Rights adopts General Comment #22 on the Right to Sexual and Reproductive Health (Art 12) On 4 March, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted its General Comment No. 22 on the Right to sexual and reproductive health, addressing State obligations under article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The new General Comment recognizes that while the right to sexual and reproductive health is an integral part of the right to health, due to numerous legal, procedural, practical and social barriers, the full enjoyment of the right to sexual and reproductive health remains a distant goal for millions of people, particularly women and girls.
The General Comment specifically recognizes that the right to sexual and reproductive health entails a set of freedoms and entitlements. “The freedoms include the right to make free and responsible decisions and choices, free of violence, coercion and discrimination, over matters concerning one’s body and sexual and reproductive health. The entitlements include unhindered access to a whole range of health facilities, goods, services and information, which ensure all people full enjoyment of the right to sexual and reproductive health under article 12 of the Covenant.”
With this understanding, the General Comment addresses the social determinants of health, and the relationship between sexual and reproductive health with other human rights. It then goes on to specify the concrete elements making up the right to sexual and reproductive health, including:
• Availability of health care facilities, services, goods and programs; • Accessibility of health facilities, goods, information and services, including the dimensions of physical accessibility, affordability, and information accessibility; • Acceptability of all health facilities, goods, information and services; and, • Quality, so that facilities, goods, information and services related to sexual and reproductive health are evidence-based and scientifically and medically appropriate and up-to-date.
The General Comment also specifically addresses the themes of non-discrimination and equality, with emphasis on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons (LGBTI) persons and persons with disabilities; equality between women and men; and intersectional and multiple discrimination. The General Comment then goes on to address general as well as specific State party obligations, including the observations to respect, protect and fulfill the right to sexual and reproductive health. The Committee also identifies what violations of each of these obligations look like in practice, noting that States parties can violate their obligations through acts of omission as well as through acts of commission. Beyond this, the General Comment also lays out the following specific core obligations of States parties:
• To repeal or eliminate laws, policies and practices that criminalize, obstruct or undermine individual’s or particular group’s access to sexual and reproductive health facilities, services, goods and information; • To adopt and implement a national strategy and action plan, with adequate budget allocation, on sexual and reproductive health, which is devised, periodically reviewed and monitored through a participatory and transparent process, disaggregated by the prohibited grounds of discrimination; • To guarantee universal and equitable access to affordable, acceptable and quality sexual and reproductive health services, goods and facilities, in particular for women and disadvantaged and marginalized groups; • To enact and enforce the legal prohibition of harmful practices and gender-based violence, including female genital mutilation, child and forced marriages and domestic and sexual violence including marital rape, while ensuring privacy, confidentiality and free, informed and responsible decision-making, without coercion, discrimination or fear of violence, on individual’s sexual and reproductive needs and behaviours; • To take measures to prevent unsafe abortions and to provide post-abortion care and counselling for those in need; • To ensure all individuals and groups have access to comprehensive education and information on sexual and reproductive health, that is non-discriminatory, non-biased, evidence-based and taking into account the evolving capacities of children and adolescents; • To provide medicines, equipment and technologies essential to sexual and reproductive health, including based on the WHO Essential Medicines List; and • To ensure access to effective and transparent remedies and redress, including administrative and judicial ones, for violations of the right to sexual and reproductive health. There are also obligations of States parties with respect to international cooperation and assistance. In particular, this requires that “[d]onor States and international actors have an obligation to comply with the human rights standards, which are also applicable to sexual and reproductive health. To this end, international assistance should not impose restrictions on information or services existing in donor States, draw trained reproductive health care workers away from recipient countries or push recipient countries to adopt models of privatization.”
Finally, the General Comment also emphasizes the importance of access to justice, highlight that “States must ensure that all individuals have access to justice and to a meaningful and effective remedy in instances where the right to sexual and reproductive health is violated.”
General Comment No. 22 can be found HERE.
6 April 2016
Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights