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Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights says the response to 30,000 migrants deaths in the Mediterranean "shame us all"

Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers

2 September 2019

Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers Opens its Session, Hears Non-Governmental Organization Flag Discriminatory Discourse by High-Level Authorities in Argentina as well as Family Separations

The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families this morning opened its thirty-first session, hearing an address by the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and from a non-governmental organization that spoke about the situation of migrant workers in Argentina.

Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the extraordinary dehumanising response of authorities to the 30,000 migrants who had drowned in the Mediterranean over the past three decades exemplified the worst of the world’s response to people on the move.  Substandard detention facilities; the closing of Member States’ land and sea borders; and the series of refusals to allow the docking of ships that rescued hundreds in compliance with the law of the sea provided no sustainable answer to perilous migration.  Furthermore, their application, which violated international human rights standards “shame us all”.  

The Centre of Legal and Social Studies, a non-governmental organization representing a coalition grouping 16 organizations, speaking about the situation in Argentina, whose report will be considered by the Committee this afternoon, highlighted the increase in discriminatory speech and family separations in the country.  They said that President Mauricio Macri and other high-ranking public personalities, such as the Minister for Security, Patricia Bullrich, had spoken in a manner that contributed to the criminalization of migration in the most irresponsible manner.  They had blamed migrants for the insecurity, doctoring official statistics and, in doing so, fostered discrimination, xenophobia and racism at all levels of the State and society.  Perhaps the most preoccupying consequence of such discourse was the exacerbation of police and institutional violence.

Committee Experts stressed the need for all States to take into consideration the needs and rights of children in Argentina, including the right to family life.  They requested more information on the rise of discriminatory discourse and on the number of family separations as a result of the implementation of emergency decrees.  They asked if migrants had access to justice when their rights had been violated.

During its session, which will be held from 2 to 11 September, the Committee will also consider the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Colombia, but there were no non-governmental organizations present to speak about the situation in those countries. 

The Committee will next meet in public this afternoon at 3 p.m. to start its consideration of the second periodic report of Argentina (CMW/C/ARG/2).

Opening Statement

KATE GILMORE, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, recalled that, in June 2019, States parties had elected seven new members for the Committee to replace those whose terms expired in December 2019.  She commended outgoing members of the Committee for their commitment, dedication and contribution throughout their tenure.  She also noted with concern that when the mandates of Maria Landazuri (Ecuador) and Jasminka Dzumhur (Bosnia-Herzegovina) end, the Committee would be the least gender-balanced of all Committees, with only one new elected female member.  While this was not the fault of Committee members, she said the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ strong call was on the States parties to meet their commitments to gender parity. This, like geographic diversity, was a question of fairness, equality of opportunity, and credibility of the treaty body system.  The situation of women in the context of the work with which the Committee had been charged could not be more strategically important.  More than half of the world’s 258 million migrants were women and children. 

Migration was a phenomenon from which so many of those present had benefited directly.  Yet for the majority of those who would never enjoy the privilege of sitting in such rooms, migration involved a flight from fear; not a choice to explore new frontiers nor an achievement to celebrate.  

The extraordinary dehumanising response of authorities to the 30,000 migrants who had drowned in the Mediterranean over the past three decades exemplified the worst of the world’s response to people on the move.  Substandard detention facilities; the closing of Member States’ land and sea borders; and the series of refusals to allow the docking of ships that rescued hundreds in compliance with the law of the sea provided no sustainable answer to perilous migration.  

Furthermore, their application, which violated international human rights standards “shame us all”.  The dehumanizing instruction of such policies was encouragement to more than appalling case management.  It had fostered uncontrolled coast guards and unchecked criminal militia, expanding human trafficking, forced labour, slavery, and sexual and gender-based violence.  Such was their scale and gravity, these human rights violations may amount to crimes against humanity.

Ms. Gilmore said the High Commissioner certainly welcomed recent developments in the European Union for more sound migration policies.  But she continued to call on the European Union and its Member States to prioritize the lives and safety of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, strengthen search and rescue measures, permit rescues by non-governmental organizations, and coordinate swift and safe disembarkation of these human beings, while at the same time tackling the root causes of this migration.

The Global Compact on Migration was built on the terms and values of human rights, demonstrating that the international community had moved from a discussion of whether or not human rights applied to migrants to one of how human rights were to be upheld.  This meant a commitment to gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, recognizing their independence, agency, and leadership.  Critically States should end the criminalization of irregular migration.  As the international community moved towards the implementation of the Global Compact, there was now a unique opportunity for this Committee and its partners to increase the number of States parties to the Convention.

She moved on to explain that the General Assembly’s 2020 review of the treaty body system was just around the corner.  The budgetary situation was very problematic.  All Committees had been directed to implement the General Assembly’s 25 per cent budget cut to travel of their members and the current cash flow problems affecting the United Nations as a whole brought additional restrictions. 

Any weakening of the treaty body system risked undermining the whole human rights architecture, and the large global context with its roll back on multilateralism and universal norms only deepened her concerns.  The 2020 treaty body review was an opportunity to stand up for the treaty body system.  The Committee’s substantive engagement in this process was critical.

Remarks by the Chairperson of the Committee

AHMADOU TALL, Committee Chairperson, said that the world was changing, and it was up to Experts to propose innovative alternative solutions, and find the best responses to adapt to restrictions.  The Committee could not carry on as it had done in the past; it had to adapt to the changing world and to changing situations. Despite the problems surrounding the protection of human rights of migrant workers, it was important to find a way to move forward.

Adoption of the Agenda

The Committee adopted the agenda and programme of work of the thirty-first session.

Statement by Non-Governmental Organization from Argentina
Centre of Legal and Social Studies, a non-governmental organization representing a coalition grouping 16 organizations, speaking about the situation in Argentina, said it was here to denounce law 25.871 and related decrees in Argentina.  In 2017, a decree had been adopted which triggered growing criminalization of migrants.  A new procedure for summary expulsion had been introduced for people that had any form of criminal record.  It cut remedies available and shortened delays for administrative decisions.  Today, two years after the adoption of this decree, its implementation had led to problematic separation of families, including that of people that were rooted and working in Argentina.  
Increasingly the evaluation of the impact of decisions on family situations was deemed optional.  The opinion of the Ombudsperson was not heeded, neither was that of children and adolescents.  People could be detained or deported for merely having a criminal record, with no consideration of the seriousness of the crimes.  There was virtually no court judicial oversight.

The 2017 decree had caused the rights of migrants to be cancelled.  It left all powers in the hands of migration authorities.  This had led to migrants being expelled, leading to the destruction of family units.  Children were deprived of the care, the love and the education they needed.  Boys and girls were separated from their parents, which caused them anguish and psychological distress.  This jeopardized their emotional development for ever.  Children should not suffer such ordeals because of the criminal records of their parents.  The degree to which they were rooted in Argentina was not taken into consideration.

Through mass media communications, President Mauricio Macri and other high-ranking public personalities, such as the Minister for Security, Patricia Bullrich, had spoken in a manner that contributed to the criminalization of migration in the most irresponsible manner.  They had blamed migrants for the insecurity, doctoring official statistics and, in doing so, fostered discrimination, xenophobia and racism at all levels of the State and society.  Perhaps the most preoccupying consequence of such discourses was the exacerbation of police and institutional violence.

Questions by Committee Members

MARIA LANDAZURI DE MORA, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Rapporteur for Argentina, said that the input of non-governmental organizations was extremely valuable.  She thanked them for the documents they had provided and for flagging certain situations, notably concerning the situation of migrant mothers.  The work of human rights defenders in Argentina was extremely important.  Argentina was a country that was built by migrants, she recalled.  Backslides should not be allowed.  Criminalization had led to real harm being done in the country, and this matter would be raised with the Argentinian authorities.

Another Expert stressed the need for all States to take into consideration the needs and rights of children, including the right to family life.  He requested more information on the rise of discriminatory discourse and on the number of family separations as a result of the implementation of emergency decrees.

An Expert asked how media in Argentina handled this matter.  Another Expert asked if migrants had access to justice when their rights had been violated.  Had there been a decrease in the living conditions of migrants from North Africa?

Responses by Non-Governmental Organization

Centre for Legal and Social Studies said the number of deportations issued had stood at 1,800 per year in 2014-2015, but now the average was over 4,000.  Non-governmental organizations did not have figures on family separation as the State did not publish data on this phenomenon.  

The pattern was concerning: deportations were carried out without the defence being involved; persons were tricked and brought to the airport without being able to say goodbye to their children, and without being able to contest the deportation procedure.  

The judiciary should have an important role to play.  And yet, today, it was like the administration held all the power to carry out the deportations and the judiciary had no power to carry out any form of oversight.  The courts did not know the Convention.  The judges signed the deportation order without looking into the substance of the case.  The migration administration was telling people that they were taking action against insecurity.  Migrants were the scapegoats of the Government, and the judiciary was letting things slide.

On the media, it was important to understand that the problematic discourse was coming from the highest levels of Government.  There was no way the non-governmental organizations could combat this, as the media did not provide them any space to do so.

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For use of the information media; not an official record
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