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Human Rights Council holds interactive dialogue on the Human Rights of Migrants and begins dialogue on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Persons Affected by Leprosy

Human Rights Council

6 July 2020

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants and started an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members.

Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, said that international human rights law guaranteed migrants the right to freedom of association. Allowing migrants to organize empowered migrant communities to care for their own needs directly rather than relying on the advocacy and support of others. However, legal and practical barriers to migrants organizing existed in countries across continents. He spoke of his visits to Hungary and to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Hungary took the floor as a concerned country.

In the ensuing dialogue, speakers said the resurgence of right-wing extremist sentiment in developed countries had eroded solidarity towards migrants. They stressed that, in the context of COVID-19, it was all the more important to uphold the principles of non-refoulement and ensure that returns were genuinely voluntary. States showed a lethal disregard for the lives of migrants, using the cover of COVID-19 to expel them.

Speaking during the discussion were the European Union, Burkina Faso on behalf of the African Group, Mexico on behalf of a group of countries, Ecuador on behalf of a group of countries, United Nations Children’s Fund, UN Women, Togo, Russian Federation, Ecuador, Thailand, Libya, China, Croatia, Venezuela, Tunisia, France, Pakistan, Senegal, Armenia, India, Philippines (video message), Portugal, Syria, Spain, Iran, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Morocco, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ireland, Turkey, Egypt, Maldives, Nepal, Uruguay, Marshall Islands, Serbia, Algeria, Niger, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Netherlands, Bolivia and Chad.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor : Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (video message), Friends World Committee for Consultation, World Organization against Torture, Franciscans International (video message), Global Institute for Water, Environment and Health, Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos Asociación Civil (video message), CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Human Rights Watch, International Fellowship of Reconciliation, China Family Planning Association (video message).

The Council then began an interactive dialogue with Alice Cruz, the Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members.

Ms. Cruz highlighted that she had produced a policy framework with the aim of assisting States in the development of rights-based action plans to address the gap concerning a human rights approach to leprosy in policy-making with intersecting consequences on the lives of persons affected by leprosy and their families. She spoke about her visits to Brazil and Japan

Brazil and Japan took the floor as concerned countries.

In the ensuing dialogue, speakers welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur, noting that persons affected by leprosy and their families remained among the furthest behind, as the discrimination that they experienced was mostly a result of stigma and stereotypes that endured over generations, since the disease was curable and had a low transmission rate. A comprehensive multi-sectoral policy was key to combatting the entrenchment of stigmatisation.

Speaking during the discussion were the European Union, Burkina Faso on behalf of the African Group, Malaysia, Fiji (video message), Sovereign Order of Malta (video message), China, Venezuela, India, Portugal, Senegal, Egypt, Nepal, Marshall Islands, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Iran and Morocco.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations : the International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations, the Instituto de Desenvolvimento e Direitos Humanos, China Society for Human Rights Studies (video message), and United Nations Watch (video message).

Iran spoke in right of reply.

The Council will next meet on Tuesday, 7 July at 10 a.m. to conclude its interactive dialogue with the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, which started this morning, and start its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty. The interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members will resume at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 7 July.

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

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants on the Right to freedom of association of migrants and their defenders (A/HRC/44/42).

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants on the Visit to Hungary (A/HRC/44/42/Add.1).

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants on the Visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina (A/HRC/44/42/Add.2).

The Council has before it the Comments by the State on Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants on his visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina (A/HRC/44/42/Add.3).

Presentation of Reports by the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants

FELIPE GONZÁLEZ MORALES, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, said that his report included a thematic study on the right to freedom of association of migrants and their defenders. International human rights law guaranteed migrants the right to freedom of association. Allowing migrants to organize empowered migrant communities to care for their own needs directly rather than relying on the advocacy and support of others. However, legal and practical barriers to migrants organizing existed in countries across continents. Migrants who wished to form or join trade unions may face additional limitations. In the past several years, a toxic narrative around the role of civil society organizations that provided humanitarian assistance or other services to migrants had taken root in many countries. Solidarity played a crucial role in supporting migrants in perilous situations, thus the role of civil society organizations that provided much-needed humanitarian and other assistance should be protected and strengthened.

Turning to his visit to Hungary, the Special Rapporteur said that, considering the severe restrictions on freedom of movement within the transit zones, the lack of possibility to leave during asylum proceedings and the length of confinement, he had concluded in his report that confinement of asylum seekers to the transit zones constituted a de facto deprivation of liberty. Two months ago, Hungary had closed the transit zones and transferred all individuals previously detained there to open or semi-open facilities, a step which he welcomed while calling on the Government to take this opportunity to review its asylum procedures and practices to ensure that individuals seeking protection under international human rights and refugee law had access to territory and asylum in Hungary.

Regarding his visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Special Rapporteur strongly urged Bosnia and Herzegovina to assume State responsibility and engage with authorities at all levels with a view to working towards a State-led response to the migration situation in the country. He noted with appreciation that immigration detention was used as a last resort in Bosnia and Herzegovina and that migrants were generally accommodated in open reception centres where they had access to basic services. In conclusion, the Special Rapporteur encouraged all States, especially those which had voted in favour of it, to participate actively in the implementation of the Global Compact on Migration.

Statement by Concerned Country

Hungary, speaking as a concerned country, thanked the Special Rapporteur for the presentation of his report, and the fact that the separate legal categories of regular and irregular migrants, refugees and asylum seekers were differentiated clearly. Access to all facilities and authorities had been granted to the Special Rapporteur by the Hungarian authorities. Regrettably, multiple factual errors and inaccuracies had been found in the report, and the fact that Hungary was a Schengen border country and had an obligation to the European Union to enforce the border had not been mentioned. Additionally, 175,000 asylum applications had been submitted in 2015, however an estimated 400,000 people had simply marched through the country. The asylum applicants were free to leave the transit zones, where applicants received accommodation, food, education and healthcare, in the direction they arrived from. The general conditions in the transit zones were of European standards. After the submission of the report to the Council, the transit zones had been closed, therefore recommendations on the transit zones after their closure were no longer relevant.

Discussion

The negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic should not be compounded by human rights violations, speakers said. Migrants were part of the workforce that provided crucial services during the pandemic, even though they were often excluded from social protection and healthcare schemes. Speakers encouraged States to implement the Global Compact on Migration in a constructive way. The exercise of civil rights, including the freedom of association and peaceful assembly, was fundamental ; it allowed migrants, including children, to better contribute to host societies. Stressing the importance of international dialogue and cooperation to manage migration movements, some speakers urged States to bolster mechanisms that allowed migrants to report human rights violations without having to fear any kind of reprisal. Any activity to defend human rights, whether they be carried out by migrants or other individuals, must strictly abide by the law, and there should not be a different treatment for civil society organizations in that regard, speakers said. Other speakers emphasised the importance of distinguishing between economic migrants and asylum seekers.

Freedom of association should only be subjected to restrictions that were in line with the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The resurgence of right-wing extremist sentiment in developed countries had eroded solidarity towards migrants, speakers said. They stressed that, in the context of COVID-19, it was all the more important to uphold the principles of non-refoulement and ensure that returns were genuinely voluntary.

Interim Remarks


FELIPE GONZÁLEZ MORALES, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, thanked the delegations of Hungary and Croatia for their statements, noting that he greatly valued the exchanges with the Government of Hungary during the preparation of the report. Discussion of the legal system was brought up as something outside of the mandate, but Mr. Morales felt it was important and relevant, because the legal system had such a significant impact on the lives of migrants. The COVID-19 pandemic had made it absolutely crucial that migrants should be able to exercise their right to association, ensuring they could become visible. This was important also in addressing the concerns about hate speech, xenophobia and racism, as association could provide them with a platform that lifted them out of their marginalised position up to a place where their voices could be heard.

Discussion

Encouraging migrants to join unions helped them to have a positive impact on their communities, speakers said. The ability to form unions and join them allowed migrants to advocate for their social, economic and political rights and needs. It was unacceptable that migrants or those defending their rights were targeted for exercising their freedom of association. It was paramount to ensure migrants’ access to social protection, health care as well as protect their labour laws. Some speakers invoked the collective responsibility to uphold principles of human dignity as well as international human rights law. Others said that freedom of association meant little if the voices of migrants were stifled by the fear of detention or deportation. Migrants should be able to aggregate their voices to hold governments accountable. Grassroots organizations that provided essential support to migrants had been the target of attacks, harassment and criminalization. Some speakers said that it was alarming that States showed a lethal disregard for the lives of migrants, using the cover of COVID-19 to expel them.

Concluding Remarks

FELIPE GONZÁLEZ MORALES, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, in concluding remarks, noted that in a number of countries, the rights of migrants were not fully guaranteed, and a basic measure would be to reform legislation to make it consistent with international law, and then implementing the legislation in practice as the next step. Crimes against defenders of migrants should also not go unpunished. The role of civil society monitors was crucial. It was essential to adapt the implementation plans of the Global Compact on Migration by taking the pandemic into account.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Elimination of Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy and their Family Members

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members on the Policy framework for rights-based action plan (A/HRC/44/46).

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members on the Visit to Japan (A/HRC/44/46/Add.1).

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members on the Visit to Brazil (A/HRC/44/46/Add.2).

The Council has before it Comments by the State on the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members on her visit to Brazil (A/HRC/44/46/Add.3).

Presentation of Reports by the Special Rapporteur on the Elimination of Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy and their Family Members

ALICE CRUZ, Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, said that she had produced a policy framework with the aim of assisting States in the development of rights-based action plans to address the gap concerning a human rights approach to leprosy in policy-making with intersecting consequences on the lives of persons affected by leprosy and their families. This report provided concrete guidance on an adequate standard of living and economic autonomy ; non-discrimination, independent living and inclusion in the community ; elimination of stereotypes and the right to truth and memory ; and empowerment, with a focus on vulnerable groups. Importantly, this framework was suitable for implementation within already existing national human rights policies and programmes.

The Special Rapporteur said she had visited Brazil in May 2019, a country with the second highest absolute number of new cases of Hansen’s disease (the term for leprosy in Brazil), and one that had played a pioneering role in combatting Hansen’s disease-related discrimination during the last decades of the twentieth century. De facto discrimination endured, however, as structural barriers to rights’ enjoyment acted as powerful social determinants, while vulnerable groups suffered from disproportionate stigmatization. The situation of individuals who were segregated in the past while children into confinement institutions on the grounds that their parents were affected by Hansen’s disease and who had suffered gross human rights violations demanded urgent action.

The Special Rapporteur had also visited Japan in February 2020. While Japan had not officially changed the name of leprosy to Hansen’s disease, it had adopted the latter in State documents and in social practice. While instances of the disease in Japan were currently rare, its history was made up of multiple violations until the last decade of the twentieth century, a fact recognized by the Government. Japan had officially apologized for the past human rights violations and had put in place a large-scale administrative programme for providing material compensation together with a multi-sectoral approach to redress stigmatization.

The generalized gap on a human rights approach to leprosy in policy-making had contributed to leaving persons affected furthest behind and to sustaining multiple discrimination against this population. As a result, the fact that nine out of ten countries to which the Special Rapporteur requested a country visit did not invite him was concerning. The mandate, however, had succeeded in mainstreaming the elimination of leprosy-related discrimination into the work of the United Nations human rights mechanisms, including the treaty bodies, the Universal Periodic Review and other Special Procedures. The world should also look at leprosy in order to learn more about the multiple consequences of stigmatization, the impact of isolation measures on issues as varied as mental health, economic autonomy, independent living or gender-based violence, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Statements by Concerned Countries

Brazil, speaking as a concerned country, said that Ms. Cruz had met with a wide variety of stakeholders during her mission. Brazil welcomed the report and thanked the Special Rapporteur for the recommendations she had provided. Eliminating leprosy and combatting the stigma associated with it were priorities of the Brazilian Government, which was why it had changed the name of the illness to Hansen’s disease. The main objective was to reduce the burden of the disease, including wide consultations with members of civil society, the medical community and others. It was essential to reduce instances of physical disability in children affected by the disease. A national campaign to fight leprosy had been established in order to raise awareness, prevent new cases, fight discrimination, strengthen participation of those affected, as well as provide social and financial support.

Japan, speaking as a concerned country, said that for the past three years, the Special Rapporteur had done excellent work, including by gathering best practices and drafting her report on her visit to Japan. Public apologies and the provision of compensation to victims were some of the measures taken by the Government of Japan to address past human rights violations of people suffering from leprosy. The Government had made efforts to restore their dignity. Japan expressed hope that the Special Rapporteur’s report would be read widely so it may contribute to the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members around the world. All of this had led Japan to submit a resolution to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for another three years. Japan encouraged the Council and other stakeholders to continue collaborating with her.

Discussion

Speakers welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur, noting that persons affected by leprosy and their families remained among the furthest behind, as the discrimination that they experienced was mostly a result of stigma and stereotypes that endured over generations, since the disease was curable and had a low transmission rate. Speakers noted that populations on the move faced greater challenges in tackling the disease. Persons affected with leprosy were often refused medication during the initial stage of the disease, which worsened the impact of the disease on their health in the long term. A comprehensive multi-sectoral policy was key to combat the entrenchment of stigmatisation. Speakers appreciated the elaboration of basic principles for the elimination of leprosy in the report, expressed agreement with the four main pillars of the programme of action, and concurred that a bottom-up approach was needed. It was timely to focus on the empowerment item in the report concerning a policy framework for rights-based action plans, given that it would provide voice and agency to those most affected by the disease, had a low financial impact, and could be exercised for the benefit of all human rights. As a result, many speakers expressed their commitment to renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur during this session for another three years. Speakers sought information on the significance of a rights-based mental health approach in tackling the social stigma surrounding the disease. For local communities, it was not enough to just develop policies, it was rather more important to make policy a reality.

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