Header image for news printout

UN Special Rapporteur attacks “international regime of impunity” over migrant deaths

NEW YORK (27 October 2017) – A United Nations human rights expert has issued a strongly worded critique of the international community’s failure to protect the lives of migrants and refugees, and to investigate their deaths.

“Mass casualties of refugees and migrants globally; a regime of impunity for the perpetrators and overall tolerance for these fatalities: this can only be described as a human rights and humanitarian crisis and it demands urgent attention” said the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, presenting a report to the UN General Assembly in New York. ”This crisis can be addressed.”

“An international commission of inquiry to establish the scale of this tragedy is needed. The absence of accurate data on dead and missing refugees and migrants only deepens this tragedy. Numbers recorded currently are certainly underestimates leaving untold the loss of life of thousands.”

The expert emphasized that criminal networks and armed groups pose the greatest risks to migrants’ lives, and that these risks are compounded by Governments’ failure to protect.  However, some States are themselves guilty of the unlawful killings of refugees and migrants, either by excessive use of force or by policies and practices that are intended to deter migration but increase the risk of death.

“The world-wide failures to investigate these deaths are themselves additional violations of the right to life. This contributes to an international regime of impunity; deepens the invisibility of the violations; hides their victims, and makes for ill-informed policy-decisions related to migration which may result in even further deprivation of life,” she added.

“Mass killings of refugees and migrants constitute an international crime whose banality in the eyes of so many makes its tragedy particularly grave” said Ms. Callamard, urging States to prioritize investigations into all practices that endanger the lives or safety of the migrants and refugees, and to collect and share data on the dead and missing. “All people’s lives should be equally protected and all unlawful loss of life should be investigated, regardless of migration status.”

The Special Rapporteur said International initiatives related to the global governance of refugees and migration constitute an opportunity to address these problems and violations, and to ensure that the right to life of refugees and migrants is respected and protected, including against foreseeable and preventable loss of life,” she noted.

Ms. Callamard paid tribute to all those within governments, international organizations and civil society working to protect and save the lives of refugees and migrants around the world.

“They do so in a global context where migration is associated with criminality and national security threats, and where their actions to uphold a legal obligation and a moral imperative - saving lives - are attacked, criticized and sometimes criminalized,” said Ms. Callamard.

The Special Rapporteur also commended non-governmental groups and some national and local authorities for their search-and-rescue operations at sea, forensic investigations and dignified treatment of the dead.

Ms. Callamard urged States to respect and protect the right to life of all refugees and migrants, including by respecting the principle of non-refoulement.

In a series of recommendations, she said the 2018 global compact on safe, orderly and regular migration and the 2018 global compact on refugees should include a focus on the prevention of, and responses to, the arbitrary deprivation of life of refugees and migrants. She called for the development and implementation of common protocols for search and rescue operations, the tracing of the missing, and the treatment of dead migrants and refugees.


Ms. Agnes Callamard (France) is the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. She has a distinguished career in human rights and humanitarian work globally. Ms. Callamard is the Director of Columbia Global Freedom of Expression at Columbia University and has previously worked with Article 19 and Amnesty International. She has advised multilateral organizations and governments around the world, has led human rights investigations in more than 30 countries, and has published extensively on human rights and related fields.
The Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests please contact: Ms. Vanessa Asensio Perez
 (+41 22 917 9001 / vasensioperez@ohchr.org) or write to eje@ohchr.org

In New York: Ravina Shamdasani (+1 917 367 2227 / ravina.shamdasani@un.org) or Nenad Vasic (+1 212 963 5998 / vasic@un.org)

Concerned about the world we live in? Then STAND UP for someone’s rights today. #Standup4humanrights and visit the web page at http://www.standup4humanrights.org