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Statement by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants at the 67th session of the General Assembly

Third Committee
Item 65 (b) & (c)

25 October 2012

Mr. Chairperson,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to be able to report to the General Assembly today in my capacity as Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.

I will first outline the contents my first report to the General Assembly which focuses on the issue of Migration and Climate Change. I will then like to take note of some key issues regarding global migration governance as the General Assembly starts looking ahead to the High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development in 2013.

Turning first to the thematic section of my report, environmental change as a result of global warming is now a certainty, and this will likely play a significant and increasingly determinative role in international migration. In particular the effect of climate change will impact not only on physical ecosystems, but will also have adverse consequences on livelihoods, public health, food security and water availability. Given that climate change will likely play a significant and increasingly determinative role in international migration in the near future, I have thus dedicated my report on this issue.

The report first analyses some of the technical aspects of climate-change-induced migration, including questions of definitions, identifying the places and persons most affected and considering where climate-change-induced migrants are moving towards. It then considers how international law approaches the matter of climate-induced migration, including some deficiencies in the currently existing categories.

It is important to note that climate-change induced migration, like all migratory movements, is a complex multi-causal phenomenon which may be driven by a multiplicity of push and pull factors. Moreover, it will be difficult to isolate the effects of climate change from other environmental factors. Thus identifying those who have migrated solely as a result of climate change may prove to be an impossible task.

While it is true that environmental conditions have always influenced migration patterns, in the context of climate change, the rate and scale of this migration may be multiplied. I note however, that accurate statistical data is not readily available. Thus I call for more rigorous scientific, empirical, sociological and legal research in this field.

Certain places will be particularly affected by this phenomenon. Developing states that already face environmental stresses are likely to be the most affected, including mega deltas, polar regions, small island states, low lying coastal areas and arid regions. However no country is free from natural disasters and slow-set environmental changes.

It is also important to note that given that the ability to migrate often depends on mobility and resources, migration opportunities may in fact be least available to those who are most vulnerable to climate change, resulting in people becoming trapped in locations vulnerable to environmental hazards. Moreover, where climate-change-induced migration is forced, people may be migrating in an irregular situation and therefore may be more vulnerable to human rights violations through the migration process.

Although there is no single international human rights treaty designed to deal with climate-change-induced migrants, existing human rights law provides a range of protections for all migrants. I thus call for a more concerted and concrete application of those norms to the situation of climate-change-induced migrants.

I also note that in the context of climate change, policies should be developed by States that facilitate climate-change-induced migration and recognise the agency of migrants as they try to find a suitable place to earn a living for themselves and their families: migration should be considered a key adaptation strategy. Preventing such migration may in fact lead to accelerated human rights abuses and to future migration crises. Thus I would like to emphasize that facilitated migration should be considered as not only a challenge but as a solution to climate-change induced displacement.

Overall I would like to stress that concerted political engagement will be required on the issue by a range of actors, including governments, the international community and civil society in order to devise appropriate policies and strategies to face the matter of climate-change induced migration.

Activities in 2012

I would like to make note of one key activity that I have undertaken in the first year of my mandate. In light of the growing impact of border control on the human rights of migrants, I decided to undertake a thematic study on the management of the external borders of the European Union and its impact on the human rights of migrants. I thus visited Brussels where I held consultation with key European Union institutions responsible for border control and migration, and I have undertaken country missions on both sides of the Mediterranean. Thus in June I visited Tunisia and Turkey, and in October I visited Italy. In November I will also visit Greece. The findings and recommendations emerging from these visits will be presented to the Human Rights Council next June.

High Level Dialogue and Global Governance Processes on Migration

Mr Chairperson, Distinguished Delegates, I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to make a few remarks regarding the upcoming High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development that will be held in 2013.

I thank the Secretary General for his report on international migration and development, and in particular the section on the HLD. I also note that there is a pending Resolution that will set out the modalities for the HLD. I take note that human rights were mentioned by a number of States in preliminary discussions regarding the resolution. and I welcome this wholeheartedly.

Whilst I sincerely welcome the Dialogue as an opportunity to discuss the important issue of migration at the highest level, I would like to emphasise that the the underlying framework of the HLD must not exclusively posit the global debate on migration within the paradigms of development, security and law enforcement. Overall, I remain concerned about the lack of effective human rights mainstreaming in the current debate on the global governance on migration to date, and thus I hope the High Level Dialogue will be seized as an opportunity to ensure that human rights are brought to the forefront of international discussion on migration at the highest level.

I take this opportunity to issue an important reminder: Migration at its heart involves our constant movements, as human beings, on the finite territory of this planet. Migrants, just as all other individuals, have human rights that must be respected. They have the same agency that we recognise to ourselves, in defining the kind of future they wish for themselves and their children. They courageously face the unknown, as our parents or grand-parents have done and as we would do sif we were in their shoes. Thus, human rights must be the underlying framework which informs all discussions of migration. Adopting such a human rights framework will only strengthen any decisions made regarding all the other important aspects of migration, which of course includes economic growth and development.

In light of the upcoming HLD and the importance of mainstreaming human rights in all international governance processes on migration, I have decided to focus my report next year to the General Assembly on analysing global governance processes on migration, in particular with a view to analysing whether human rights are effectively mainstreamed in these processes. This will include an analysis of the Global Forum on Migration and Development, (GFMD) which although a non-binding forum, is currently the leading global forum in which States discuss migration management. I attended the GFMD in Geneva last year, and I will be attending the GFMD in Mauritius in November this year, and look forward to learning more about this process.

In conclusion permit me to reiterate that the legitimacy of all discussions relating to migration, including in the context of climate change, in relation to global migration governance or as regard to the High Level Dialogue which will be held by this Assembly next year, depends in great part on the adequacy of the human rights framework that is incorporated in each of these processes.

Integrating and mainstreaming a human rights agenda into all migration discussions will ensure that migration is not simply understood in a security or economic paradigm, and will put at the forefront the rights of those most implicated by migration, the migrants themselves.

I thank you for your kind attention. I look forward to our interactive dialogue.