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Human Rights Council holds interactive dialogue with Special Rapporteurs on violence against women and on migrants

Human Rights Council
MIDDAY 

20 June 2018

The Human Rights Council in its midday meeting held a clustered interactive dialogue with Dubravka Šimonoviæ, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, and Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.

Ms. Šimonoviæ said that the report’s aim was to understand how to effectively apply a human-rights based approach and human rights instruments to prevent and combat online violence against women as human rights violations, a development especially critical for new generations of girls and boys who were using new technology at an increasing rate.  Technology had transformed gender-based violence into something that could be perpetrated across borders and without physical contact.  One of the many challenges in the fight against online violence against women was that most States still failed to recognize violence against women in digital spaces as a “real” form of violence and there was an urgent need to introduce specialized measures at national levels.  She spoke about her visits to Australia and the Bahamas.

Mr. González Morales noted that the particular focus of the mandate over the past year had been participation in the Global Compact on Migration process, along with 18 Special Procedure mandate holders.  The Global Compact on Migration offered a unique opportunity to States to develop long-term and evidence-based policies on migration which would guarantee the protection of the human rights of migrants, regardless of their status.  One of the principal objectives of the Compact was to facilitate a dignified sustainable return, readmission and reintegration.  His
first thematic report had a particular focus on return and reintegration, particularly of vulnerable migrants.  Recommendations sought to ensure a better reintegration system and provision assistance.  He spoke about his visit to Nepal.
 
Australia, the Bahamas and Nepal spoke as concerned countries.  The Australian Human Rights Commission and the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal also took the floor.  

In the ensuing discussion, delegations reiterated the importance of prohibiting and criminalizing online violence against women, as well as promoting a culture of zero tolerance to all forms of violence and discrimination.  New technologies and digitalization were recognized as an opportunity to address violence against women.  The Special Rapporteur was asked to provide recommendations to States on how to tackle online violence, share information on best practices, and create potential regional mechanisms to address this emerging issue.

Concerning the report on migration, many speakers affirmed that return was not a preferred option, despite of the increasing number of countries introducing push-back policies.  Alternative pathways needed to be explored, as suggested within the Global Compact on Migration, including regularization of residence, mobility schemes, and access to nationality.  Making development aid contingent on a country’s cooperation in the return of migrants only created mutual blackmail and resulted in human rights abuses.

Speaking during the discussion were Finland on behalf of group of countries, European Union, Mexico on behalf of group of countries, Togo on behalf of the African Group, Viet Nam, Qatar, Maldives, Belgium, Montenegro, Sovereign Order of Malta, Colombia, Norway, France, Brazil, Thailand, Iraq, Croatia, Egypt, Jordan, Senegal, United Nation Children’s Fund, Australia, Switzerland, Japan, Djibouti, Holy See, Netherlands, Sudan, Spain, Morocco, Paraguay, Iran, Togo, Slovenia, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Botswana, Haiti, Tunisia, New Zealand, Bulgaria, Venezuela, South Africa, China, Algeria, Afghanistan, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, Council of Europe, Portugal, Ecuador, Bolivia, Malta, Canada, Azerbaijan, El Salvador, Turkey, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, United Nations Women, Philippines, Austria, Ireland, Jamaica, Italy, Japan, Macedonia, Honduras, Mexico and Malaysia.

The following civil society organizations also spoke: Amnesty International; Espace Afrique International; International Federation Terre des Hommes, (in a joint with International Save the Children Alliance); Dominicans for Justice and Peace Order of Preachers (in a joint with Franciscans International); Make Mothers Matter; Association for Progressive Communications; Foundation ECPAT International (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking in Children for Sexual Purposes); Human Rights Law Centre; Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII, (in a joint statement with several NGOs1); International Lesbian and Gay Association (in a joint statement with Federatie Van Netherlandse Verenigingen Tot Integratie Van Homoseksualiteit - Coc Nederland); United Nations Watch; Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juarez; Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos, Asociación Civil; Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development; La Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos and International Volunteerism Organization for Women, Education and Development VIDES.

The Council will next hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Working Group on discrimination against women and with the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons.

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences (A/HRC/38/47).
 
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences – mission to Australia (A/HRC/38/47/Add.1).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences – mission to the Bahamas (A/HRC/38/47/Add.2). 

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants (A/HRC/38/41).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants – mission to Nepal (A/HRC/38/41/Add.1).

Presentation of Reports by the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIÆ, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, said the report’s aim was to understand how to effectively apply a human-rights based approach and human rights instruments to prevent and combat online violence against women as human rights violations, a development especially critical for new generations of girls and boys who were using new technology at an increasing rate.  Technology had transformed gender-based violence into something that could be perpetrated across borders and without physical contact.  One of the many challenges in the fight against online violence against women was that most States still failed to recognize violence against women in digital spaces as a “real” form of violence and there was an urgent need to introduce specialized measures at national levels.

During a country visit to Australia, the Special Rapporteur said she found that eliminating violence against women was a high-level priority, however, there were limiting factors to its success.  In Australia, there was currently no nationally agreed definition of family violence, resulting in different levels of protection of women across jurisdictions.  There was also the absence of a “femicide” watch and funding to support protection measures and services available to women. The Special Rapporteur also noted an alarming rate of incarceration among indigenous women and girls.  While visiting the Bahamas, Ms. Šimonoviæ found that positive steps had been taken by the Government to ameliorate the situation of women in the country, however, persisting gender stereotypes and patriarchy was deeply rooted.  She urged the Bahamian Government to adopt appropriate laws to prohibit sex-based discrimination and introduce the principle of equality between women and men.  In conclusion, she said her next thematic report would address new challenges brought by violence against women in politics.

FELIPE GONZÁLEZ MORALES, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, noted that the particular focus of the mandate over the past year had been participation in the Global Compact on Migration process, along with 18 Special Procedure mandate holders.  The Global Compact on Migration offered a unique opportunity to States to develop long-term and evidence-based policies on migration which would guarantee the protection of the human rights of migrants, regardless of their status.  One of the principal objectives of the Compact was to facilitate a dignified sustainable return, readmission and reintegration (objective 21).  

The first thematic report had a particular focus on return and reintegration, particularly of vulnerable migrants.  Recommendations sought to ensure a better reintegration system and provision assistance.  The return of migrants had been a priority in the last years and States were resorting to expulsion or bilateral and regional treaties.  Families should never be separated unless this was in the child’s best interest.  A child could not be returned unless determined that this was in their best interest.  Return was costly and difficult to implement and often collided with international humanitarian law.  Thus, long-term solutions were needed, including mobility schemes instead of quick fixes such as readmission agreements.  States were advised to uphold return procedures, including access to interpretation and free legal aid, providing assistance to vulnerable migrants and respecting the non-refoulement principle.  Independent oversight was needed of conditions in countries of origin.  Trade liberalization or development aid should not be dependent on migration management.  Proper psycho-social assistance needed to be provided to migrants and in cases of forced return, a risk assessment in countries of origins had to be carried out.

Mr. González Morales briefed the Council on his visit to Nepal, which was the first visit of a Special Procedure mandate holder to this country.  As a country of origin of migrants, the economy of Nepal was dependent on remittances.  There was significant migration to India and some Middle Eastern countries.  There was an institutional framework in place and a reintegration policy was in its infancy.  Nepal was urged to sign the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.  Recommendations to the Government included: awareness raising of migrants prior to them leaving the country, tackling the problem of migrants paying recruitment fees, improving access to justice, and improving monitoring by the State and civil society on the situation of migrants.  Moreover, countries of destination were advised to extend employment protection to labour migrants, carry out labour inspections, and reduce transaction fees for remittances.  

In conclusion, Mr. González Morales said the rise of populism was identified as a major force violating the rights of migrants.  The Global Compact on Migration offered a chance to recognize mobility and the human rights of migrants, and everyone was urged to step up to their commitment pledged two years ago in New York.

Statements by Concerned Countries

Bahamas, speaking as a concerned country, expressed its support for the important mandate on violence against women and said that the Bahamas considered matters relating to violence against women seriously and over the years had continuously taken steps to address it.  It was incorrect that crimes such as rape went unpunished, said the delegate, and stressed that in the Bahamas, one was presumed innocent until proven guilty.  The Bahamas objected to equating corporal punishment to child abuse in the report and explained that corporal punishment was legal in home and in school as a means of enforcing discipline.  The Bahamas did not condone child abuse.  The Migration Working Group had developed the Standard Operating Procedures in response to the increased migratory flows throughout the world, and they were formulated for the protection of refugees and asylum seekers.  The Bahamas clarified that it was the Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) Act, as opposed to the Sexual Offences Act, that provided protection orders, which remained in place for a period not exceeding three years, as specified by the court.

Australia, speaking as a concerned country, welcomed independent scrutiny, transparency and accountability, which were critical to upholding the human rights of all people.  Violence against women had its roots in gender inequality - both were unacceptable and must not be tolerated.  Violence against women had devastating effects on the entire Australian community and required long-term action.  The political will to address the issue was evident in the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022, while the Attorney-Generals of all Federal, State and Territory Governments were working to improve the intersection between the family law and child protection legal system in responding to family violence.  Australia acknowledged and regretted that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experienced violence at higher levels and said that this was a national priority for the Government which had committed over $46 million in funding for activities specifically directed at addressing family violence affecting indigenous women, and to further fund family violence prevention legal services.

Australian Human Rights Commission spoke of the “Wiyi Yani U Thangani” or women’s voices project, which aimed to hear directly from indigenous women and girls about their strengths, challenges, and aspirations for change.  Their voices were still not being heard, so Australia should listen and open its eyes to the fact that the inter-generational trauma and structural racism were driving factors for incarceration rates, the removal of children and violence.  Also, it should commit to the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and support constitutional reform to deliver on the aspiration of indigenous peoples for self-determination and freedom from discrimination.

Nepal, speaking as a concerned country, said that cyclical labour migration for foreign employment and remittances had been the backbone of the Nepali economy for many years.  The Government was committed to making foreign employment safe, secure, regular, orderly and dignified through crucial reform measures aimed at protecting migrant workers from unscrupulous recruitment practices.  Around 75 per cent of Nepali workers suffered a high degree of vulnerability in the job market as they fell into the unskilled category, and women faced higher risks in the labour market due to a high demand in informal domestic sectors and caregiving positions.  Nepal had taken keen interest in signing labour agreements with destination countries to ensure safe, regular and managed migration and through ongoing intergovernmental negotiations seeking to adopt a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration under the auspices of the United Nations.  

National Human Rights Commission of Nepal said that there were still many issues tied to human rights and migration in Nepal.  Migrant workers were largely unaware of the complaints mechanism and procedures for filing cases.  Even where complaints were filed against agents, it was unclear whether they were receiving compensation or whether the agents were punished.  Delayed investigation processes and difficulty in obtaining compensation were the experience of migrant workers, in addition to wage theft, lack of time off, unsafe and unhealthy working conditions, little control over their living conditions, psychological and physical abuse, and labour exploitation.  Their recommendations included the rescue and repatriation of unclaimed Nepali migrant workers, monitoring of the labour activities, and ensuring access to speedy justice for those workers.

Interactive Dialogue

Finland, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, expressed concern that women and girls who encountered violence, harassment and abuse online were provided with far too little support in protecting themselves from threats by the authorities.  What were the key recommendations to direct to States to tackle online violence?  European Union recognized the linkages between physical, sexual and psychological violence and their roots in gender inequality.  The European Union always saw voluntary return as the preferred option but coercive measures in full compliance with international obligations were not excluded.  Mexico, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, underscored that return was not a desirable option.  Alternative pathways had to be considered, including family reunification, regularization of residence, and access to nationality, as envisaged within the Global Compact on Migration.

Togo, speaking on behalf of the African Group, noted that the development of information technologies and social media had resulted in the new phenomenon of online violence.  On migrants, the African Group welcomed that the report focused on the issue of the return and reintegration of migrants, particularly at the time when States were increasing push-back policies.  Viet Nam shared the view that ensuring the protection of migrants’ rights had to be a top priority in migration governance, and promoting regular migration pathways was an appropriate measure to address irregular migration.  Viet Nam called for the strengthening of international and regional cooperation mechanisms such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Colombo process.  Qatar said that women’s empowerment had to be upheld in online space as well as in the offline sphere, and information technologies were essential tools to bring about such change.  At the same time, the abusive use of information technologies had to be regulated.

Maldives said that violence against women was a human rights violation and the severest form of discrimination based on gender which cut across race, social positions and geographic boundaries, and said that Maldives was fully committed to zero tolerance on violence against women.  Belgium took note with interest of the recommendations concerning online violence against women.  Noting that new technologies and digitalization could be an opportunity to address violence against women, Belgium asked about best practices in this regard.  Montenegro had adopted in March 2017 the third national strategic document for gender equality 2017-2021, whose full implementation would comprehensively address the issue of gender-based violence in all spheres, and stressed the importance of clearly prohibiting and criminalizing online violence against women, in particular the non-consensual distribution of intimate images, online harassment and stalking.

Sovereign Order of Malta said that, in order to allow for possible return and reintegration of migrants, the international community must focus in particular on the protection and preservation of the family; families, a key element of cohesion within a society, should never be separated.  Colombia said violence against women was an absolutely intolerable form of discrimination, stressing that civil society and the international community must work together as agents of change to promote a culture of zero tolerance to all forms of violence and discrimination, and to eradicate discriminatory practices and gender-based stereotypes against women and girls.

France said that unaccompanied minors benefitted from a special protection that forbade their forced removal from France’s borders, as well as people that had arrived for health reasons and victims of trafficking.  In 2018, the French High Council for gender-equality found recurring violence against women online and it was committed to fighting the impunity of the harassers and would combat hate speech online.  Brazil, following a recommendation by the Special Rapporteur, had been working to enact legislation and measures to prohibit emerging forms of online gender-based violence.  Turning to migration, Brazil said that forced returns should only be used as a measure of last resort, following a fair and efficient process that provided legal safeguards.

Thailand said that specific yet innovative laws were needed to promote and protect the rights of women and girls and to that effect, they had enacted the Computer Crime Act to stop illegal activities, particularly child pornography and the dissemination of false information online.  Thailand had also played an active role in reintegrating migrants both at home and abroad with a regularization process that had helped more than one million migrants gain legal protection and access to public services.  Iraq said that a group of women under the control of Daesch had been subjected to barbaric practices, after which the Government had helped to reintegrate these women and find redress for their suffering.  

Croatia found it essential that online violence against women and girls be addressed through legislative and other measures to combat and prevent such violence while simultaneously upholding the right to freedom of expression.  Egypt said that the State enhanced the use of technology to promote peace and tolerance and agreed on the importance of States to limit the spread of harmful material that promoted violence against women.  Egypt also respected the rules of non-refoulement and did not force migrants to return to combat zones.

Jordan said that given rapid technological developments and increasing Internet usage, including for malicious purposes, the Government had instituted penalties to establish deterrents to human rights violations.  A draft law on digital crimes was up for review.  On migration, Jordan stressed the need for countries of origin to readmit their citizens, regardless of status.  Senegal regretted the criminalization of the movement of people.  With a view to adopting the Global Compact on Migration, Senegal urged increased international cooperation.  It was crucial that States combined awareness raising and law enforcement efforts to combat human rights abuses against women, including those that occurred online.  United Nations Children’s Fund shared the view that the best interests of children should be the paramount consideration in decisions relating to returns and reintegration.  The Fund remained concerned over the growing number of children being detained, deported and separated from their families.

Australia noted that digital technologies could be a platform for human rights violations.  Sexist and misogynistic behaviour was potent online and had real-world impacts that required real-world responses.  The Government was taking steps to criminalize serious online harassment and bullying and urged the promotion of digital literacy and gender equality.  Switzerland shared concern over online violence, in particular with respect to women human rights defenders and journalists.  Such acts prevented women from exercising their freedom of expression.  On migration, Switzerland asked how civil society could contribute to the mainstreaming of the human rights of migrants.  Djibouti was concerned that restrictive policies were placing migrants in increased danger.  Djibouti reaffirmed its commitment to the principle of non-recoupment and the safety and protection of migrants and refugees and agreed that online violence against women was an extension of the real-world violence faced by women and girls

Holy See stressed that if migration could be seen as the tragedy of these times, the risk was that the international agreement was becoming too familiar and insensitive to the tragic deaths and abuses of brothers and sisters who were compelled to move for a plethora of reasons.  Making development aid contingent on a country’s cooperation on the return of migrants created mutual blackmail and standoffs which often resulted in abuses of human rights.  Netherlands was concerned over the intersectional dimension of online violence targeting women belonging to ethnic minorities or indigenous women.  How could accountability frameworks for perpetrators of online violence against women be improved?  Sudan noted that more international cooperation was needed for addressing the issue of online violence.  Any restriction on migration had to be in line with international standards.

Spain shared the view on remaining challenges in combatting all forms of violence against women, saying it was an issue for both States and civil society to address and involved a series of measures, including communication, awareness raising and a broader protection framework.  Which regional cooperation needed to be put in place to make the work more efficient?  Morocco had seen constant improvement in the area of rights of women, including ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  In December, a Global Forum on Migration and Development and the intergovernmental conference of the Global Compact of Migration would take place in Marrakesh.  Paraguay stressed that any effective action against online violence and discrimination would require the cooperation of States and Internet service providers to promote cyber security.  Paraguay affirmed the need to approach migration from a human rights perspective as migrants were rights-holders.

Iran said that the Government had made numerous efforts to combat online violence, including the adoption of the Computer Misuse and Cyber Crime Act and the establishment of the Cybernetic Police to cover cases of online crime and violence.  On migrants, Iran believed that the rights of migrants should not be ignored and that migrants should be able to access their rights without discrimination or fear from xenophobia.  Togo said it was important to include men and boys in the efforts to combat violence against women.  Gender-based education for youth would be particularly critical in this respect.  On the human rights of migrants, Togo was of the firm belief that preventing human rights violations against migrants was of the utmost importance, and invited all countries to speak with one voice to uphold human rights.  Slovenia was aware of growing digital violence and had instituted legislation that specifically addressed violent acts through the use of information and communication technologies, while also striving to make the Internet a safer place for women and girls.  

Republic of Korea agreed that the challenges in promoting and protecting women’s human rights had spread to the digital space and the international community should expand endeavours to ensure the protection of women’s rights in the digital world.  The Korean Government had drawn up the “Comprehensive Measure to Prevent Digital Gender-based Violence” in 2017, with six phases and 22 measures for holding offenders accountable, providing assistance for victims and raising public awareness on digital gender-based violence.  Saudi Arabia said Saudi Arabian legislation paid special attention to women by preserving their dignity in the home and protecting them from harassment in the workplace.  Harassment was unlawful, whether online or not, and providing assistance to victims while bringing perpetrators to justice was of critical importance.

Remarks by the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIÆ, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, said her report included references to redress and remedies regarding online violence against women.  There was a need to see how prevention measures had changed as a result of emerging forms of violence against women.  States must provide legal protections and prevent online violence against women and have mechanisms in place to remove harmful content.  On prosecution, law enforcement agencies tended not to see online violence against women as real violence.  While awareness raising was pivotal, no progress would be made without the creation of adequate legal frameworks.  There was insufficient data collection regarding online violence against women and equal use of digital technology by women and girls.  The private sector was called on to voluntarily commit to human rights standards.  The Special Rapporteur assured that the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women applied to online acts of discrimination.  

FELIPE GONZÁLEZ MORALES, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, said migration was a cross-cutting issue, as reflected in the Global Compact on the matter.  Referring to the need to prioritize the normalization of the situation of migrants, he said States must take the initiative to ensure that after it was adopted, the Global Compact could be properly implemented.  Xenophobia, racism and intolerance stood in contrast to United Nations principles.  The thematic report to be presented before the Human Rights Council would focus on the issue of women migrants.  Migrants were making significant economic contributions to their countries of destination.  He noted that a number of States had decriminalized irregular migration.  However, in several States where irregular migration was not criminalized, it was dealt with as an administrative offense.  Turning to child migrants, he said international law prohibited their detention.  States should facilitate official visits so human rights bodies were able to monitor the overall situation.  Civil society organizations and human rights defenders also had a role to play and must be allowed to operate freely.  However, States must not expect civil society to take over State responsibilities.

Interactive Dialogue

Botswana noted that, as confirmed by the report, the worst forms of discrimination manifested behind a protective veil of the information technology platforms.  States should use the United Nations system to highlight online facilitated tools to combat violence against women.  Haiti said that the 2030 Agenda recognized the potential that migrants brought, and yet they had still been subject to xenophobia and threats.  Return, forced return, return of unaccompanied minors, and separation of families were only some of the problems which migrants faced.  Tunisia said that private Internet providers as well as States had a responsibility in ensuring protection to women from online violence and raising awareness on this issue.

New Zealand said it would fully consider the recommendations, particularly in relation to prevention and removal of harmful content and creation of legal frameworks that criminalised online violence against women.  Digital literacy, education of women, training of law enforcement officials on investigation, and prosecution for online-criminal activity were also considered.  Bulgaria stressed that the protection of the human rights of migrants was a multi-dimensional issue, requiring coordinated actions by the countries of origin, transit and destination throughout the entire migration cycle.  Venezuela concurred with the report on the necessity to protect women against online threats and violence.  Selective migration policies had to be abolished and the Global Compact on Migration and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda should promote adequate social policies.

South Africa said South Africa had introduced the Prevention and Combatting of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill to define and criminalise conduct amounting to hate crimes and hate speech.  Engaging men and boys in protecting human rights was critical to success.  Concerning the rights of migrants, South Africa remained committed to protecting the human rights of migrants in accordance with their legislative and policy measures.  Noting that international cooperation must be stepped up to better protect women and allow them better judicial recourse, China said it was preparing a programme on women’s social protection.  China warned against the politicization of the question of Tibetan refugees in Nepal, whom China considered to be illegal migrants and thus not true refugees.  

Algeria stressed the need to tackle the root causes of migration and asked about efficient ways to mitigate the negative impact of drain-brain on human capital in countries of origin.  Algeria had in place three mechanisms that female victims of violence could use, namely the hotline, the family and social mediation platform, and family consulting arrangements.  Afghanistan stressed that today more than ever, the return of migrants must be in compliance with international law and on the basis of the primacy of returns.  Afghanistan emphasised the need for greater effort to tackle root causes of violence against women and eliminate gender-based violence against women and girls.  

Russia agreed that in addition to their beneficial impacts, information and communication technologies were fraught with a number of risks, and a lot depended on their responsible use by the users themselves.  Russia warned against the use of terms not agreed on by States.  Approaches to migration must be legal and humane and not in violation of sovereignty and the territorial integrity of States, stressed Russia.  United Kingdom said that the eradication of sexual and gender-based violence, including online violence, were essential to achieving gender equality, noting that it was at the forefront of international activities in this domain, including in educating girls and eradicating child marriage.

Council of Europe said it had been very involved in the integration of migrants and refugees.  The protection of migrants’ rights, particularly women and girls, was a priority area for the Council of Europe.  Given difficulties in disclosing gender-based violence, refugee detention procedures must be undertaken with sensitivity by trained staff.  Portugal said it was unacceptable that online violence against women had become increasingly common.  Portugal asked what impact online violence was having on vulnerable groups.  Portugal also asked the Special Rapporteur on migrants’ rights if he would look deeper into the separation of migrant families.  Ecuador said the separation of migrant children from their families was in flagrant violation of the rights of children.  No human being should be considered illegal because of their migration status.  There must be constant promotion of the right to asylum as being done in Ecuador.  

Bolivia was eliminating the patriarchy from its society.  The growing emphasis on forced return of migrants was worrying.  The lack of dignified conditions in host States was a violation of international law and concealed the contributions made by migrants to host countries.  Malta stressed that migrants, regardless of their status, were entitled to the enjoyment of their full human rights.  Migrants in irregular situations required proper screening procedures to identify their vulnerabilities.  Increased cooperation was needed among States at all stages of migration flows.  Canada welcomed the attention given to online violence against girls.  It was crucial that the human rights of women and girls be protected in all contexts.  It was especially concerning that such violence was directed at the most vulnerable members of society.  On migration, Canada was promoting gender-responsive processes throughout the migration process.

Azerbaijan stressed the vulnerability of migrants and the need for their rights to be protected, and in this context emphasised that a human rights-based approach in migration management should be of utmost importance for the source, transit and destination countries.  El Salvador expressed appreciation for the Special Rapporteur’s vision concerning migrants with specific protection needs and said that El Salvador stood ready to work with its regional partners in protecting and defending migrants’ rights.  Any form of violence against women, including online violence, was unacceptable.  Turkey said that combatting violence against women remained a global challenge and stressed that the growing incidence of online gender-based violence must be addressed through an explicit recognition of the right of women to be free from violence offline as well as online.

Nigeria said the rise of populism and some States’ policies on migration continued to pose serious challenges to vulnerable migrants and exacerbated their already dire situation, and stressed the imperative for stronger international cooperation and collective efforts to ensure humane and dignified treatment of migrants.  Nigeria was disturbed by the emerging trend of online violence against women and shared the view that human rights enjoyed offline should also be extended to online platforms.  In the context of the unprecedented migratory crisis, Burkina Faso had seen thousands of its migrants voluntarily returning, often with support of international organizations, and in that line it had invested in boosting the capacities to manage migration and raise awareness about the dangers of clandestine migration.  United Nations Women said that studies indicated that the global scope and magnitude of violence against women online was of an alarmingly high proportion.  Women migrants must be issued with identity documents in their own names, and, in order to prevent statelessness, must be able to pass their nationality to their children, said United Nations Women, insisting that the deportation of migrant workers on the grounds of pregnancy constituted gender-based discrimination and was a human rights violation.

Philippines hoped the Special Rapporteur’s report on migration would help guide discussions on the Global Compact.  Forced returns should always be a measure of last resort.  Philippines asked what steps could be taken to ensure that irregular migrants had access to justice mechanisms.  Austria said it had taken a number of measures to create mechanisms to help victims of online violence and hate speech, including the provision of counseling services.  Austria said not enough data was available on the extent of detentions of migrant children and urged all Member States and stakeholders to provide comprehensive information on the issue.  Ireland stressed the need to acknowledge the threats that existed in the online domain.  The Internet was being used as a platform for widespread discrimination against girls.  The elimination of violence against women and girls remained a global challenge.  Ireland asked how Internet intermediaries could be encouraged to protect human rights.

Jamaica recognized the importance of addressing online violence against women.  However, Jamaica’s shrinking economic space could hamper the Government efforts to address the challenge.  Jamaica underscored the need for technical assistance for small island developing States to better address the issue.  Italy said social networks had become the main tool for bullying.  Recent legislation provided definitions of cyber-bullying.  Italy asked how Internet platforms should commit to combatting online gender-based violence.  On migration, Italy said legislation was in place to prevent the forced return of migrants younger than 18 years.  Japan considered violence against women to be a serious violation of human rights.  The Government was strengthening efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women, including in the digital space.  Human rights for all people should be protected offline and online.

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia welcomed the focus on the return and integration of migrants and said that the sustainable return of migrants to their countries of origin, including their integration into social, economic and political life, would be beneficial to their countries of origin.  Trafficking and re-trafficking represented an enormous burden on migrants, their families and communities.  What were the best ways for States to protect migrants on their journeys, including from the risk of trafficking?  Honduras recognized that online technology facilitated violence against women and that human rights obligations were applicable in this sphere, including by adopting laws and policy measures to address online violence and privacy violations.  Children must never be detained in the context of migration, said Honduras and asked whether the Global Compact on Migration would address the shortfalls on management of return and reintegration highlighted in the report.

Mexico stressed that States had a responsibility to protect migrants all along their migratory routes and condemned the cruel and unacceptable policy of family separation.  Malaysia agreed that new and emerging forms of online violence against women must be regulated by law and asked how legal tools could be developed to aid the identification of perpetrators of violence against women online.  With two important Global Compacts being developed, what would be the best approach to seek their mutual complementarity and coherence with a view to foster international cooperation on refugees and migrants?

Counseil national des droits de l’homme du Maroc noted that the adoption of the 2011 Constitution had constituted great advancement for the rights of foreigners, and in 2013, the Government had adopted a new migration and asylum policy.  Amnesty International said its research highlighted the varying ways that women experienced violence on social media platforms, including indirect threats of physical and sexual violence, targeted harassment and privacy violations such as doxing.  Espace Afrique International stressed the impact of the Internet on forced marriages.  According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, 12 million girls were forcibly married every year and 39 per cent of such marriages occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2016.

International Federation Terre des Hommes, in a joint with International Save the Children Alliance, said that there was a critical juncture in the creation of a global migration governance framework with the negotiation of a Global Compact for Migration, which would, among other things, provide long-term solutions for children on the move.  Dominicans for Justice and Peace Order of Preachers in a joint with Franciscans International, said that since 2015 there had been expulsions of Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Hondurans from Mexico reaching the alarming number of 429,000 out of which 23 per cent were children and adolescents, so Mexico was urged to stop mass deportations.  Make Mothers Matter stressed that in the context of return, particular attention needed to be afforded to women and girls, many of whom worked as domestic workers or cared for children or older people in destination countries.

Association for Progressive Communications highlighted that in a context of closing civic spaces, attacks on women human rights defenders and increasing levels of online gender-based violence limited the ability of women and girls to benefit from the potential that new communication technologies held for their political and civic participation.  Stressing the numerous risks and challenges that children faced on their migratory journeys, Foundation ECPAT International (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking in Children for Sexual Purposes) urged States to inter alia adopt adequate measures to protect children from criminalization and detention because of their irregular status or involvement in illegal activities, and support in this regard the United Nations Global Study on children deprived of liberty.  Human Rights Law Centre highlighted appalling conditions of detention of women and girls in Australia, including strip searches, which were very traumatic and only served to degrade and humiliate them.

Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII, in a joint statement with several NGOs1, expressed concern about the current return practices of migrants as persons in forced return procedures often became subjects of detention, and lost their human rights and their human dignity.  The detention of migrant children, even as a measure of last resort, must be banned.  International Lesbian and Gay Association in a joint statement with Federatie Van Netherlandse Verenigingen Tot Integratie Van Homoseksualiteit - Coc Nederland, was concerned about the potential misuse of the Internet and new technologies against lesbians, even more so in countries which legally prohibited same sex relations or where deep social stigma prevailed.  United Nations Watch wondered about the criteria the Special Rapporteur used in deciding which country to visit, and if severity of the situation of the rights of women was the criteria, why she had not visited Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, China, or Russia.

Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez warned that in Mexico, due to failed border management on its southern border, Central Americans were criminalized, detained without possibility for appeal and their human rights violated, leading to many forced disappearances.  La Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos expressed great concern over widespread violence faced by women and girls in Mexico.  As a country of origin, transit, destination and return, migrants in Mexico found themselves without the support of a State that represented them and defended their rights.  Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development reminded the Council about the relentless everyday struggles of refugee women living in refugee camps in many areas in the world and urged for more safe places to be established in the refugee camps to protect vulnerable women and girls.

International Volunteerism Organization for Women, Education and Development VIDES was concerned about the plight of migrant children separated from their families.  This separation caused trauma, which meant that this situation required immediate action by States.  They should ratify the International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

Concluding Remarks

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIC, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, was pleased that delegations and organizations were picking up on relevant aspects of online violence against women.  Concerning the cooperation between global and regional mechanisms, there were seven instruments in place, from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, to the Committee monitoring the implementation of the Istanbul Convention, and the Working Group on discriminatory laws, and so forth.  A platform for cooperation would be further developed.  Stronger cooperation was needed with the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, in order to send a coherent set of recommendations to States.  When the mandate was established in 1994, violence against women was not considered a human rights violation, which was why a continuous reference to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was needed.

FELIPE GONZÁLEZ MORALES, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, said in relation to return and readmission that it was important to strengthen references in the Global Compact to due process and effective remedies.  The Compact would not go into great detail on the matter, highlighting the relevance of follow-up and monitoring efforts.  The situation of women migrants required differentiated treatment as they faced increased discrimination and tended to come from countries with lower levels of equality than their countries of destination.  The Special Rapporteur regretted the withdrawal of the United States from the Human Rights Council and said he had requested a visit to that country.  The separation of children from their families was a major concern, especially considering that migrant children in many countries were not being provided with basic services.

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1Joint statement on behalf of: Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII; Association Points-Cœur; Company of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul; Congregation of our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd; Foundation for GAIA; Caritas Internationalis International Confederation of Catholic Charities; International Movement ATD Fourth World; International Movement of Apostolate in the Independent Social Milieus; New Humanity; Passionists International; World Union of Catholic Women's Organizations
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