UN rights chief calls on EU to adopt more ‘humane’ measures on migration

At a port in Greece, a young boy and his family join other refugees and migrants trying to board a bus that will transport them to the centre of Athens. UNHCR/Achilleas Zavallis

10 March 2016 – The United Nations human rights chief today reiterated his profound concern about the situation faced by refugees and migrants “in extreme vulnerability,” and urged the European Union to adopt a more humane set of measures on migration at a summit next week.

“In the first two months of this year, more than 400 people have died trying to reach Europe – due partly to the lack of viable avenues of entry,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein told the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“I acknowledge the generosity with which Germany welcomed around a million people last year, and the efforts of Greece, throughout 2015, to take a humane approach, avoiding detention and pushbacks at sea. But today, in violation of the fundamental principles of solidarity, human dignity, and human rights, the race to repel these people is picking up momentum,” he warned, as he presented his annual report.

The High Commissioner said the EU’s draft arrangement with Turkey – discussed earlier this week – raises a number of very serious issues, which he intends to address during a visit to Brussels before a two-day EU Summit beginning on 17 March.

“Among my concerns is the potential for collective and arbitrary expulsions, which are illegal. Border restrictions which do not permit determination of the circumstances of each individual violate international and European law,” he stressed. “I urge the EU to adopt a much more rights-compliant and humane set of measures on migration at next week's summit. International guarantees protecting human rights may not be side-stepped or diluted.”

The High Commissioner’s speech, which outlined concerns about almost 60 countries and human rights topics, highlighted the risk of cosmetic "human rights window-dressing” with no real implementation on the ground.

“The ratification of treaties and agreements, and acceptance of recommendations stemming from UN human rights mechanisms, are not in themselves human rights achievements. There needs to be follow-up and real change to bring greater freedoms and dignity to the people,” he insisted.

He also made a plea for better financing, noting that to respond to all requests for assistance from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), $217 million more would be required on top of the regular budget, while the expected extra-budgetary cost plan is $130 million.

“The gap between those two numbers represents people that we cannot help; field offices that we cannot open; facts that we cannot establish; and victims that we cannot assist or represent. Programmes which will not show law-enforcement personnel how they can interrogate people without using torture; and other programmes which could have helped judges, prison wardens, development officials, legislators, policy makers and many others integrate international human rights law into their work,” he explained, adding that the cost of not doing that work is “bitterly high.”

Turning to the allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by UN peacekeepers, particularly in the Central African Republic, the High Commissioner said only Member States can act to end impunity for criminal offences that have been committed by their nationals who work for the UN, as the Organization cannot exercise criminal jurisdiction.

“Member States also have responsibility for investigating and prosecuting UN civilian personnel in peacekeeping environments where the judicial system is unable to do so,” he underlined. “For States whose laws do not allow them to prosecute their nationals for offences committed in other countries, the UN, ten years ago, proposed a draft convention. That draft convention is still there. You, the Member States, should now adopt it.”

He added that every time the UN announces allegations before the press – together with the nationality of the military or civilian staff concerned – he would like also to see the ambassadors of their countries assume their responsibilities and join the press conference.


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