The obligations of state parties to protect the right to life under Article 6 of the Covenant have been interpreted very broadly. Not only must states parties refrain from arbitrarily depriving persons of their lives; states must take active steps to prevent death. Such steps include the enactment of laws which narrowly limit the circumstances in which killing may be legal (e.g. limits to capital punishment, criminalization of murder, liability for negligent killing, limits to the lawful use by police of lethal force), or laws which help prevent deaths (e.g. firearms control legislation), as well as measures in the socio-economic and environmental fields. The Committee has also urged states to take all steps to avoid armed conflict, and to pursue anti-nuclear defence policies. The compatibility with Article 6 of legalized, voluntary abortion or euthanasia is unclear. The controversy surrounding these issues may prevent the emergence of a consensus Committee opinion.
The United Kingdom appears largely to comply with Article 6. Its major problems seem to arise in connection with killings by police and security forces in Northern Ireland.203 However, concern may also be expressed about the adequacy of police accountability for deaths they have caused in Great Britain. United Kingdom law regarding homicide appears generally to be aimed at prevention, deterrence, and punishment. Capital punishment is unlikely ever to be imposed again. The United Kingdom's record in armed conflicts since the Covenant came into force appears to satisfy Covenant standards. However, its policy regarding nuclear arms does not conform with the sentiment expressed in the Committee's controversial General Comment 14. The United Kingdom's Article 6 obligations in the socio-economic and environmental fields mean that the government must always consider the consequences of a proposed or actual policy on the enjoyment of the right to life by all individuals, and act accordingly to protect that right to the greatest extent possible. Recent evidence suggests that socio-economic policy in the 1980s has had a deleterious effect on the mortality of the poor. Finally, despite the uncertainty surrounding Covenant obligations regarding abortion and euthanasia, it is submitted that current United Kingdom law complies with Article 6.____________________
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Publication information: Book title: The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and United Kingdom Law. Contributors: David Harris - Editor, Sarah Joseph - Editor. Publisher: Clarendon Press. Place of publication: Oxford. Publication year: 1995. Page number: 183.
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