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Human Rights Council holds interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on migrants and the Independent Expert on international solidarity

AFTERNOON

Concludes Interactive Dialogue on the Right to Health and on Eliminating Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy

GENEVA (25 June 2019) - The Human Rights Council this afternoon held a clustered interactive dialogue with Felipe Gonzalez Morales, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, and with Obiora Okafor, the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity.  The Council also concluded its interactive dialogue on the right to health and on eliminating discrimination against persons affected by leprosy. 

Mr. Gonzalez Morales said that his report addressed the gendered impact of migration on the human rights of women and girls.  Migrant women were still disproportionately affected by gender-based discrimination, abuse and violations during migration.  States had a responsibility to understand the realities faced by migrant women and girls with a view to formulate and implement gender-responsive migration laws, policies and programmes.  He spoke about his trip to Niger.

Mr. Okafor said that the criminalization or suppression of the rendering of humanitarian assistance to irregular migrants and refugees who entered States in an irregular manner harmed many of their human rights.  It was also illegal under international humanitarian law.  States should ensure that laws combatting human smuggling did not criminalize individuals and groups that provided humanitarian assistance to migrants and that they contained humanitarian exemption clauses.  He spoke about his country visits to Sweden and the Netherlands.

Niger, Sweden and the Netherlands spoke as concerned countries.

In the interactive dialogue that followed, speakers remarked that migration was a predominantly positive phenomenon which powered the global economic engine.  It also helped reduce inequalities; for women, migration could enhance their autonomy, self-esteem and social standing.  Safe, orderly, legal, and humane migration processes that promoted safety and dignity of all were indispensable to harness the potential of migration.  In this context, many speakers urged the implementation of the Global Compact for Migration as the internationally agreed framework for migration governance.

Concerning international solidarity, speakers stressed that the continued criminalization or repression of solidarity with irregular migrants was concerning, as were attempts to prevent the provision of private humanitarian assistance.  Several speakers called for the respect of international human rights law.  A delegation underlined that the principle of solidarity did not mean giving the leftovers but sharing what one had, and this was a key prerequisite for forging a just and fair international order.  Several delegations reiterated their moral and political commitment to international solidarity and stressed that matters falling outside of the legal or human rights scopes should be addressed at different fora.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue were the following States: European Union; Angola (on behalf of the African Group); Mexico (on behalf of a group of countries); Fiji; Russian Federation; Togo; UN-Women; Philippines ; Pakistan; Libya; India; Cuba; Tunisia; Malaysia; UNICEF; France; Algeria; Burkina Faso; Vietnam; Thailand; Paraguay; Venezuela; Sovereign Order of Malta; Egypt; Ecuador; Djibouti; Indonesia; Malta; Botswana; Iraq; Portugal; Iceland; Morocco; Afghanistan; Costa Rica; Bolivia; Namibia; and Switzerland.

Speaking in a right of reply were Benin, Algeria, Gabon, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), India, Egypt, Cambodia, Morocco, Iran, Brazil, Japan, Iraq, Philippines, Georgia, Pakistan and Bahrain.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive discussion on the right to health and on eliminating discrimination against persons affected by leprosy, which started on 24 June. 

In his concluding remarks, Dainius Puras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, said it was important to take stock of strategic mistakes that had been made in the past, such as addressing mental health in a narrowly biomedical way, in order to avoid repeating them.  Assuring that he did not reject individual treatments, he noted that they were often used excessively. 

Alice Cruz, Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, in her concluding remarks, said stigmatization was the tip of the iceberg, and social discrimination had to be taken into account.  She recalled that intersectorality, multi-sectoral governance and participation were the tenets of the framework with which she had prepared the report. 

Speaking in the discussion on the right to health and on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy were the following States: Latvia; Portugal; Morocco; Costa Rica; Bolivia ; Namibia; Cambodia; Switzerland; Zambia; Belarus; Yemen; Colombia; Iran ; Belgium; Luxembourg; Ireland; El Salvador; Turkey; Jamaica; Greece; Georgia; Mali; North Macedonia; Sri Lanka; Vietnam; Madagascar.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Conectas Direitos Humanos;Health and Environment Program (HEP); Swedish Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights – RFSL (in a joint statement with International Lesbian and Gay Association);International Movement ATD Fourth World; ; Human Rights Law Centre (in a joint statement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service - Victoria); Make Mothers Matter; Action Canada for Population and Development; Federation for Women and Family Planning; Association of World Citizens; Human Rights Council of Australia, Inc. (in a joint statement with Human Rights Law Centre and Australian Lesbian Medical Association); Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII; China Society for Human Rights Studies (CSHRS); World Barua Organization (WBO); Verein Südwind Entwicklungspolitik; Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association; and Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW).

The Human Rights Council will meet at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, 26 June, to conclude its clustered interactive dialogue on human rights and international solidarity and on the human rights of migrants.  The Council will then hold a clustered interactive dialogue with David Kaye, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and with Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. 

Continuation of Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health and the Independent Expert on the Elimination of Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy

Speakers said that a holistic approach was relevant and necessary as the community played an important role in shaping the environment mentioned by the Special Rapporteur.  It was important to ensure that the right to health materialized into actions and programmes.  In that regard, could the Special Rapporteur elaborate on measures that States could take to fully realize the right to mental health?  Civil society organizations said the healthcare system should be accessible to all.  It was important in that regard that statistics be updated and made available.  The Rapporteur had gone too far in rejecting individual treatments, losing sight of his mandate, according to some.  Social determinants of mental health must be addressed intersectionally, as trans and gender diverse people who were black or brown, sex workers, migrants, and homeless people, amongst others, were especially vulnerable.  Maternal health issues must be acknowledged and addressed, and parents and society must be educated on child development, positive parenting and the importance of sharing the care.  The world urgently needed to adopt a rights-based approach, and stop looking at mental health through a biomedical lens.  Was the Rapporteur aware of participatory processes that allowed the involvement of persons living in poverty in the elaboration and implementation of healthcare-related policies and programmes?

Concluding Remarks by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health and the Independent Expert on the Elimination of Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy

DAINIUS PURAS, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, said it was important to take stock of strategic mistakes that had been made in the past, such as addressing mental health in a narrowly biomedical way, in order to avoid repeating them.  Assuring that he did not reject individual treatments, he noted that they were often used excessively.  While progress had been achieved, more remained to be done to improve the mental health of populations globally.

ALICE CRUZ, Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, said stigmatization was the tip of the iceberg, and social discrimination had to be taken into account.  She recalled that intersectorality, multi-sectoral governance and participation were the tenets of the framework with which she had prepared the report.  Even though discrimination was not addressed directly by any of the Sustainable Development Goals, it had to be mainstreamed in all of them.  That way, people with leprosy were not left behind.  She strongly recommended the inclusion of leprosy in poverty reduction policies.  

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants and the Independent Expert on Human Rights and International Solidarity

Documentation

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

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

The Council has before it the Report of the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity (A/HRC/41/44).

The Council has before an addendum to the Report of the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarityvisit to Sweden (A/HRC/41/44/Add.1).

The Council has before an addendum to the Report of the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarityvisit to Netherlands (A/HRC/41/44/Add.2).

Presentation of Reports by the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants and the Independent Expert on Human Rights and International Solidarity

FELIPE GONZALEZ MORALES, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, noting that the human rights of migrants were under increased pressure worldwide, said that women and girls represented almost half of the migrant population.   While writing his thematic report, which addressed the gendered impact of migration on the human rights of women and girls, he had been confronted with a lack of data.  Furthermore, many data sets did not differentiate between different types of movement.  Migrant women were still disproportionately affected by gender-based discrimination, abuse and violations during migration.  States had a responsibility to understand the realities faced by migrant women and girls with a view to formulate and implement gender-responsive migration laws, policies, and programmes.  Gender equality and the empowerment of migrant women and girls were at the core of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Global Compact for Migration.  Mr. Gonzalez Morales asked those present what were the measures taken or plans in their countries to empower migrant women and girls.  What actions had been taken to ensure the promotion and protection of the human rights of migrant women and girls, taking into consideration their gendered experience of migration?

During the reporting period, Mr. Gonzalez Morales said he conducted an official visit to Niger.  Thanking the Government of Niger for the invitation and its cooperation, he said the country was facing several challenges related to migration governance.  He called on the international community to step up its support to Niger.  Banning all migration to the north, and turning Niger into a hub for processing forced returns was not a solution.  He noted with concern that the Law on Illicit Smuggling of Migrants, which had been enacted a few years ago, had a number of weaknesses and failed to comply with international human rights standards.  The protection of migrants, including victims of illicit smuggling, should stand at the core of migration policies; it should not be subsidiary to security concerns.  Turning to the adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration in December last year, he said it had been an important milestone to improve migration governance.  The Global Compact rested on international human rights law and presented an important cooperation framework addressing migration in all its dimensions.

OBIORA OKAFOR, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, presented the reports on his country visits to Sweden and the Netherlands and took positive note of their endorsement of, and demonstrated support to, the concept and practice of human rights-based international solidarity as a duty of the State and of society.  He commended their embrace of the Paris Agreement on climate change and the important roles they played in welcoming refugees and migrants.  Noting the rise of xenophobic and populist discourse in both Sweden and the Netherlands, Mr. Okafor asked them how they would discourage and sanction the various civil society actors that attempted to suppress those who showed solidarity with migrants and refugees.

Turning to his thematic report, the Independent Expert stressed that criminalization or suppression of the rendering of humanitarian assistance to irregular migrants and refugees who entered States in an irregular manner harmed many of their human rights and was illegal under international humanitarian law.  Certain behaviours were also violations of general international law.  States should ensure that laws combatting human smuggling did not criminalize individuals and groups that provided humanitarian assistance to migrants and that they contained humanitarian exemption clauses.  The Independent Expert called upon the European Union to amend its Directive 2002/90/EC to make its humanitarian clause mandatory, rather than optional, for all Member States.  In addition, Mr. Okafor raised the issue of overboard provisions in anti-human smuggling legislation and asked States parties to the Protocol against Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea, and Air whether they would consider adopting and ratifying an amendment protocol that would eliminate the discretion of States to define and create such legislation. 

Raising the issue of persons in distress at sea, he urged States to uphold their treaty obligations to rescue and facilitate the rescue of all persons in distress at sea, including irregular migrants and refugees, and recalled that the failure to do so was a serious breach of international law.  It was an international legal obligation, the Independent Expert continued, to allow rescued migrants and refugees to disembark on the land territory of any of the coastal States in the area.  As for distressed persons on land, States must work to institute or explicate a positive obligation to rescue them and not criminalize humanitarian actors who rescued migrants in distress on land.  In this effort, Mr. Okafor concluded, the Human Rights Council could play a facilitative role.

Statements by Concerned Countries

Niger, speaking as a concerned country, thanked the Special Rapporteur for his cooperation and said that the Government had taken various actions, both on the legal and institutional fronts, aimed at fighting illicit migrant smuggling.  Specific regulations laid down conditions for entry and stay.  As part of the Economic Community of West African States, Niger was a stakeholder to various international instruments on migration.  Fighting migrant smuggling was particularly important for Niger, as it was itself a country of origin, transit and destination.  In Niger, migrants’ rights were respected and guaranteed by law.  Migrant workers’ rights were protected by law, and in that context, they could request legal assistance, which was free for persons in vulnerable situations.  The Constitution of Niger enshrined the principle of non-discrimination.  With regard to Niger nationals living abroad, diplomatic services provided them with assistance, for instance in cases of arrest, detention or expulsion.  In Niger, urgent medical care could not be denied on the basis of a person’s irregular status.

Netherlands, speaking as a concerned country, said it was an active partner in promoting and protecting human rights within and beyond its borders.  Its efforts in support of international cooperation and solidarity were motivated by its strong commitment to the universality and individuality of human rights.  The Netherlands held a standing invitation to all Special Procedures and was committed to transparent and full cooperation with Human Rights Council mandate holders.  Being open to constructive criticism reinforced its performance and made the country more credible as an international actor.  It had put in place the Shelter City Initiative, which supported and protected human rights defenders from across the world by offering temporary shelters to those who fought human rights violations in their home countries.  The Netherlands was particular aware of the risks of climate change and rising sea levels, as half of its population lived below sea level.  It was in the process of putting together a second national action plan on human rights.

Sweden, speaking as a concerned country, said it had a long tradition of working to strengthen, promote and continuously defend human rights, democracy and the rule of law both at home and abroad, not least through its development cooperation.  It considered the three areas to be interconnected and mutually reinforcing.  They also constituted fundamental prerequisite in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.  There was a global trend of democratic backsliding and democracy was in crisis in many countries around the world.  This especially concerned the respect for freedom of expression, association and assembly, and the rule of law.  Sweden would increase its democracy assistance, and strengthen support to both democracy’s defenders and to institutions.  In its development cooperation, Sweden applied a human rights-based approach and took into consideration the perspective of poor people.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants and the Independent Expert on Human Rights and International Solidarity

Speakers welcomed the report on the intersection of gender and migration and stressed that, in order to enable States to better protect migrant women and girls from discrimination, abuse and violence at all stages of migration, it was imperative to better understand migration as a gendered phenomenon.  This included a better understanding of the factors that led to migration, in particular deeply entrenched gender inequalities, including sexual and gender-based violence and harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation or early marriage.  Particular attention must be accorded to victims of sexual and gender-based violence and victims of trafficking in persons for purposes of sexual exploitation, which represented structural violence against women and girls.  Strengthened gender-responsive migration policies and programmes would take into account the specific needs and vulnerabilities of migrant women and girls, and would accord particular attention to victims.  Migration was a predominantly positive phenomenon which powered the global economic engine and helped reduce inequalities; for women, migration could enhance their autonomy, self-esteem, and social standing.  A safe, orderly, legal, and humane migration process, which promoted safety and dignity of all, was indispensable to harnessing the potential of migration.  In this context, many speakers urged the implementation of the Global Compact for Migration, which was the internationally agreed framework for migration governance to promote and protect the rights of all migrants.

In the dialogue with the Independent Expert on international solidarity, speakers stressed that the continued criminalization or repression of solidarity with irregular migrants and the attempts to prevent the provision of private humanitarian assistance was one of the concerns.  Several speakers called for respect for the norms of international human rights law.  A delegation underlined that the principle of solidarity meant not giving the leftovers but sharing what one had, and this was a key prerequisite for the forging of a just and fair international order.  Several delegations reiterated their moral and political commitment to international solidarity and stressed that matters falling outside of the legal or human rights scope should be addressed at different fora.  The delegations asked the Independent Expert to comment on the role of south-south cooperation in strengthening international solidarity and the promotion of human rights.

Interim Remarks

FELIPE GONZALEZ MORALES, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, said that his report to the General Assembly would focus on efforts of States to address migration and the challenges therein.  One of the key points was the access to public services for all migrants, and women in particular, especially when it came to health and reproductive health.  Firewalls in hospitals, health centres, and justice institutions were critical to enabling women to access public services they needed without fear of being deported.  Migrant women were still less visible in countries of destination than men, which called for measures to strengthen freedom of expression of migrant women.  The Special Rapporteur reiterated his call to States to bring an end to the detention of child migrants, which he said many States had already heeded, and to put in place measures to avoid statelessness of migrant children, girls in particular, and children born to migrant women.

OBIORA OKAFOR, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, took positive note of a number of States that had reaffirmed their commitment to international cooperation, which was an element of international solidarity.  Best practices should be widely shared, he stressed, not only those identified in country and thematic reports, but those found in the global south, where international solidarity was a reality.  Sharing best practices from the most recent reports would be one way to identify measures and actions towards the decriminalization of those who rendered humanitarian assistance to irregular migrants and refugees who entered States in an irregular manner.  This was also an issue that could be addressed by the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, the Universal Periodic Review, and human rights treaty bodies.

Interactive Dialogue

Concerning international cooperation, speakers noted that the criminalization of the provision of assistance to irregular migrants was concerning, and it was necessary to reassert the primacy of international and regional laws, notably those pertaining to human rights in that context.  How could countries be encouraged to decriminalize the provision of assistance to migrants? 

With regard to migrants, speakers noted that gender-based violence was the result of lack of awareness and understanding of the specific issues faced by female migrants.  It was important to understand that faith based organizations could play a positive role in welcoming migrants and that there were some positive factors that led to migration, such as the search of better jobs or better education.  Could the Special Rapporteur provide a few examples of best practices that could be easily replicated?

Concluding Remarks by the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants

FELIPE GONZALEZ MORALES, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, in his concluding remarks, said that his next report would focus on best practices which would contribute to a paradigm shift in terms of the protection of female migrants.  It was important, the Special Rapporteur stressed, that women were not seen only as victims, but to see their role in a holistic manner.  Thus, States could launch awareness raising programmes or support those run by civil society organizations, especially those by women and migrant women.  Over the last decade, many countries had strengthened their consular assistance, which was of great importance for migrant women, especially those engaged in domestic work.  Also, legal representation and defence, especially vis-à-vis criminal proceedings, was essential.  In addition to the Global Compact, there were many steps that States could take to strengthen the protection of migrant women and the Special Rapporteur stood ready to support them in this endeavour.

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