UN CESCR Adopts General Comment on Right to Sexual and Reproductive Health
The Sexual Rights Initiative (SRI) welcomes the Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights’ General Comment 22 on the Right to Sexual and Reproductive Health, adopted in March 2016. The SRI actively engaged in the development of the General Comment (See SRI submission to the General Day of Discussion) and believes that General Comment 22 makes a valuable contribution to the realization of sexual and reproduction health and rights for all.
Following trends in human rights jurisprudence, the Committee prepared the General Comment in response to continuing grave violations of the right to sexual and reproductive health across the world. It is designed to assist States in the fulfillment of their obligations under the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the Covenant).
The General Comment reaffirms the right to sexual and reproductive health as an integral part of the right to health enshrined in Article 12 of the Covenant and its indivisibility from and interdependence with the full range of human rights, inter alia, the right to education; to non-discrimination; to equality; to freedom from torture and other cruel, to inhuman or degrading treatment; to privacy and respect for family life; to life; and to liberty and security of person.
Through elaboration of the essential elements of the right to sexual and reproductive health, State obligations and options for effective remedies for violations, the General Comment sets out a clear and practical path for States to comply with their responsibilities under the Covenant. States are required to respect, protect and fulfill the right to sexual and reproductive health without discrimination and on an equal basis, paying particular attention to individuals belonging to groups that face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.
States are under obligation to:
- Ensure adolescents and youth have access to comprehensive sexuality education and services, regardless of marital status or parental consent
- Ensure sexual and reproductive health services are available, accessible, acceptable and of good quality
- Undertake preventative, promotional and remedial action to shield individuals from gender-based violence and discriminatory practices and norms such as female genital mutilation, child, early and forced marriage and marital rape, among others
- Develop and enforce evidence-based standards and guidelines for the provision and delivery of sexual and reproductive health services
- Provide access to effective remedies for violations of the right to sexual and reproductive health.
As a consolidation and elaboration of the broad array of standards that firmly establish the right to sexual and reproductive health, General Comment 22 will be helpful for States to understand and act on their obligations, for civil society to hold their governments accountable through the treaty body review processes and the Universal Periodic Review, and for States to engage in constructive dialogue with each other on these issues.
The SRI encourages Member States, UN agencies, civil society, the UN Human Rights Council and its mechanisms and all other stakeholders to integrate the General Comment into their respective approaches to promoting, protecting and respecting the full range of human rights for all persons.
 The respect, protection and fulfillment of sexual and reproductive rights is achieved in part by repealing or reforming laws and policies that nullify or impair individuals’ ability to realize their right to sexual and reproductive health. Highlighted examples include laws that criminalize abortion, consensual same-sex relationships, particular sexual and reproductive health services and information, transgender identity or expression, and HIV non-disclosure, exposure and transmission. Practical or procedural barriers to sexual and reproductive health care, services and information imposed by the State or third parties must also be removed, including parental, spousal or judicial authorization requirements, mandatory HIV testing, waiting periods for abortion or divorce, and the exclusion of particular sexual and reproductive health services from public funding or foreign assistance funds.