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In the Absence of Individualized Assessments, Pushbacks are a Violation of the Prohibition of Collective Expulsion and Heighten the Risk of Further Violations, Special Rapporteur on Migrants Tells Human Rights Council

23 June 2021
Afternoon

Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing: Access to Housing is a Matter of Life and Death

The Human Rights Council this afternoon started an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants and concluded an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing.

Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants,
said that in the absence of an individualised assessment for each migrant concerned and other procedural safeguards, pushbacks were a violation of the prohibition of collective expulsion and heightened the risk of further human rights violations.  Addressing the worrying trends of pushbacks of migrants carried out along most migration routes, he said his report outlined a working definition, encompassing measures taken summarily to deny migrants access to a State’s territory or jurisdiction, to prevent disembarkation, to curb onward travel or to expel migrants to outside of its territory.  Some States conducted pushback operations with the acquiescence, and sometimes the cooperation, of third States to which migrants were forcibly removed; elsewhere, pushbacks were carried out secretively, giving rise to disputes regarding responsibility, as well as to political conflict.

In the ensuing dialogue, speakers agreed with the Special Rapporteur that pushbacks violated international obligations of States, including those related to non-refoulement, the prohibition of collective expulsions and the right to seek asylum.  Some speakers, while pledging to ensure the protection of migrants, took issue with some imprecise and/or incorrect statements contained in the report.  Some speakers said family separation practices of some countries resulted in human tragedy, while other countries used offshore migrant detention facilities which violated migrants’ human rights.  Speakers called for an end to such practices.

Speaking in the discussion with the Special Rapporteur on migrants were the European Union, Mexico on behalf of a group of countries, Sweden on behalf of a group of countries, China on behalf of a group of countries, Paraguay, United Nations Children's Fund, France, Ecuador, Indonesia, Germany, Libya, Portugal, Sovereign Order of Malta, Cuba, Luxembourg, Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Senegal, Iraq, Armenia, Togo, Syria, Chile, Burkina Faso, China, India, Malta, Morocco, Algeria, Venezuela, United States, Egypt, Greece, Nepal, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living.

Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, said horizontal non-discrimination directives were absolutely necessary including in relation to age, minority and migration status.  The housing conditions of migrant workers was a matter of serious concern, especially with regards to those migrating for large-scale construction projects and to female domestic workers who suffered disproportionately during COVID-19.  The housing crisis predated the COVID-19 pandemic, at least since the 2008 financial crisis.  It was, however, clearer now that access to housing was a matter of life and death.

New Zealand took the floor as a concerned country.  The New Zealand Human Rights Commission also spoke.

In the ensuing dialogue on adequate housing, speakers said that climate change hampered the realisation of the right to adequate housing.  They recalled that in last year’s resolution, the Council had called upon States to take the right to adequate housing into account in strategies related to climate change adaptation and mitigation.  The COVID-19 pandemic had shone a light on States’ limited capacity to fulfil this right; capacity building was needed in this area.  Other speakers noted that the adequate provision of shelter could save the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons who were often vulnerable in public spaces.

Speaking were France, Indonesia, State of Palestine, Libya, Sovereign Order of Malta, Finland, Germany, Fiji, Bahrain, Armenia, China, India, Morocco, Algeria, Venezuela, Egypt, United States, Nepal, Namibia, Malaysia, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Ukraine, Mauritania, Thailand, Russian Federation, Iraq, Tunisia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Iran, and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: China Society for Human Rights Studies, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), Asociación Civil, Edmund Rice International Limited, Caritas Internationalis, Associacao Brasileira de Gays, Lesbicas e Transgeneros, Terra de Direitos, iuventum e.V., Alsalam Foundation, European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Federation, Prahar, and the Society for Threatened Peoples.

Speaking in right of reply were Japan, Armenia, Brazil, Morocco, China, and Algeria. 

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here.  All meeting summaries can be found here.  Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-seventh regular session can be found here.

The Human Rights Council will reconvene on Thursday, 24 June at 10 a.m. to continue the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, followed by an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to education.  The interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants will resume at 3 p.m. tomorrow.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing

Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context, presented his report on 22 June and a summary can be found here.

Statement by Country Concerned

New Zealand, speaking as a country concerned, thanked the former Special Rapporteur for her visit.  Recognising the many concerns raised in the Special Rapporteur’s report, Aotearoa New Zealand shared her view that the housing crisis facing New Zealand must be addressed urgently, and in a way that was enduring.  This was a central priority for New Zealand’s Government, which was considering carefully the report’s specific recommendations in the context of the actions that it already had underway, many of which were already aligned with the report.  New Zealand was notably developing a new Māori Housing Strategy that would review and reset the long-term systemic changes needed to address the causes of poor and inadequate housing for Māori.  The consultation and engagement on the Government Policy Statement, on the Māori Housing Strategy, and on the many work programmes the Government was undertaking, provided an opportunity to continue to explore the specific recommendations of the Special Rapporteur.

New Zealand Human Rights Commission thanked the former Rapporteur for the first-class report.  Guidelines for the right to a decent home were to be shortly launched by the Human Rights Commission, building on this report.  The right to a decent home did not provide a magic solution to the housing crisis, but human rights could help find a way out of it.  The ongoing impact of colonisation on the housing and well-being of the indigenous Māori peoples of New Zealand was rightly acknowledged by the Rapporteur, as the Human Rights Commission joined with the report’s call to appoint an indigenous rights commissioner.  Such an appointment was allowed by New Zealand’s Human Rights Act, yet the commissioner seat remained empty.

Discussion

Speakers stressed that climate change hampered the realisation of the right to adequate housing.  They recalled that in last year’s resolution, the Council had called upon States to take the right to adequate housing into account in strategies related to climate change adaptation and mitigation.  The COVID-19 pandemic had shone a light on States’ limited capacity to fulfil this right; capacity building was needed in this area.  Speakers said the Special Rapporteur was right to focus on the right to housing and its nexus to humanitarian law and humanitarian response.  Conflicts caused forced displacement, they recalled.  Systemic racism caused minority groups to live in deplorable conditions in rich countries, speakers pointed out.  They urged governments to redouble efforts to address poverty and ensure housing for all, stressing that States must shoulder their collective responsibilities in that regard.  Several speakers provided an overview of the free housing schemes developed by their governments.

Interim Remarks by the Special Rapporteur

BALAKRISHNAN RAJAGOPAL, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, thanked the delegates for their inputs and engagement.  Horizontal non-discrimination directives were absolutely necessary, including in relation to age, minority and migration status.  Ongoing criminalisation of begging, living and sleeping in public places in the European Union was a matter of grave concern.  Mr. Rajagopal highlighted his recent work done with other mandate holders.  The housing conditions of migrant workers was a matter of serious concern, especially with regards to those migrating for large-scale construction projects and to female domestic workers who suffered disproportionately during COVID-19.

Discussion

Speakers agreed with the Special Rapporteur that the uneven availability of vaccines around the globe hampered the COVID-19 recovery.  Housing projects, more than only providing adequate housing, also acted as drivers of economic realisation.  Speakers requested the Special Rapporteur to share his opinion on housing demolitions in United Nations-recognised occupied territories, asking him to pay particular attention to this issue.  Speakers said that victims of domestic violence and national disasters were particularly vulnerable, highlighting their Governments’ efforts to aid these populations.  Human rights were interrelated - and the right to housing should be realised through a holistic perspective.  Speakers drew the Special Rapporteur’s attention to the fact that evictions of families in rural areas continued during the COVID-19 pandemic in some countries, despite legislation that prohibited evictions.  Other speakers noted that the adequate provision of shelter could save the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons who were often vulnerable in public spaces.

Concluding Remarks

BALAKRISHNAN RAJAGOPAL, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, said Special Rapporteurs could comment on laws that were in the drafting process.  Such an approach was more constructive, and preferable to human rights experts commenting on legislation that had already been adopted.  The housing crisis predated the COVID-19 pandemic, at least since the 2008 financial crisis.  It was, however, clearer now that access to housing was a matter of life and death.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants

The Council has before it the report (A/HRC/47/30) of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants on the means to address the human rights impact of pushbacks of migrants on land and at sea

Presentation of the Report

FELIPE GONZÁLEZ MORALES, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, said he had participated in all multi-stakeholder consultations and review conferences that had taken place in five regions or sub-regions reviewing the implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.  As a member of the Steering Committee of the United Nations Multi-Partner Trust Fund for Migration, he had also actively engaged in the decision-making process of the Trust Fund. 

Addressing the worrying trends of pushbacks of migrants carried out along most migration routes, he said his report outlined a working definition, encompassing measures taken summarily to deny migrants access to a State’s territory or jurisdiction, to prevent disembarkation, to curb onward travel or to expel migrants to outside of its territory.  Some States conducted pushback operations with the acquiescence, and sometimes the cooperation, of third States to which migrants were forcibly removed; elsewhere, pushbacks were carried out secretively, giving rise to disputes regarding responsibility, as well as to political conflict.

States often responded to migration movements by creating and progressively increasing barriers.  The militarisation of border patrols had mainstreamed a security-focused approach that increased the risk of human rights violations.  Other worrying trends included the use of force involved in some pushback operations, in violation of international norms and standards; refoulement and chain-refoulement risks in arbitrary returns of migrants; externalisation of border governance measures; and pushbacks at sea, including delays in search and rescue and in disembarkation.  In the absence of an individualised assessment for each migrant concerned and other procedural safeguards, pushbacks were a violation of the prohibition of collective expulsion and heightened the risk of further human rights violations.  States had an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of everyone on their territory or within their jurisdiction or effective control, irrespective of migration status and without discrimination of any kind.

Discussion

Speakers agreed with the Special Rapporteur that pushbacks violated international obligations of States, including those related to non-refoulement, the prohibition of collective expulsions, and the right to seek asylum.  Some speakers, while pledging to ensure the protection of migrants, took issue with some imprecise and/or incorrect statements contained in the report.  Expressing deep concerns for the long-term effects of violations of the rights of migrant children, speakers urged those present to uphold the standards and principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, without discrimination and regardless of migration status.  In order to determine the age of the children, States must consider physical criteria, as well as psychological ones while upholding human dignity, and the interest of the child.  Noting that pushbacks predated the pandemic but were exacerbated following the outbreak, speakers emphasised that international human rights law remained fully applicable in situations of emergency.

Speakers emphasised that data clearly demonstrated that greater safe, orderly and regular movement was helpful to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.  However, many host countries continued to ignore the human rights of migrants.  Speakers noted that those pushed to use illegal routes out of desperation faced exploitation by smuggling networks as well as the flouting of human rights principles by host countries.  Family separation practices of some countries resulted in human tragedy, while other countries used offshore migrant detention facilities which violated migrants’ human rights.  Speakers called for an end to such practices.  Expressing deep concern that some pushback practices involved torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of the migrants, speakers urged States not to use bilateral and multilateral agreements to bypass human rights obligations.

Interim Remarks

FELIPE GONZÁLEZ MORALES, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, said pushbacks were among the most jarring violations of human rights he had witnessed as a Special Procedure mandate holder.  Calling for serious investigations into these pushbacks and their consequences, the Special Rapporteur urged the bolstering of monitoring mechanisms, be they national or international.  A gender perspective must be a cross-cutting element of any policies on pushbacks.  It was vital that civil society organizations carrying out rescue operations at sea not be criminalised, he stressed.

 

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/06/le-rapporteur-special-sur-les-droits-de-lhomme-des-migrants

 

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For use of the information media; not an official record