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Side event of protecting human rights in large movements of migrants and refugees 20 September, 10 – 13h, Room 12

Welcoming remarks
Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

Excellencies, colleagues and friends,

It is my pleasure - on behalf of the High Commissioner for Human Rights - to welcome you to this side event, hosted also with the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants and the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations.

In particular, we thank the delegations of El Salvador and Argentina for their generous co-sponsorship of this dialogue, and thank also the delegations of Mexico and Ireland and all of our distinguished panellists for being with us today.

As you know, this week the international community has met to consider what are today’s large-scale, perilous and irregular migration movements. Human rights are an integral part of that consideration - Not a discussion of whether or not human rights apply – but a consideration of how human rights are to be upheld. The aspirational words of yesterday’s General Assembly sessions must become today’s concrete actions.

Bigotry must not impede. Throughout human history - since time immemorial - people have been on the move. It is because of people’s movement – across and within borders - that we have discovered, created, learned, traded and birthed that which today we call globalization - globalization of economy, of information, of data and – even though this is fiercely contested today – of people too – most fundamentally of people.

The crisis of conflicts must not become a crisis of compassion. For many of us migration is empowering, for many the story however is the reverse. The vast majority of those caught up in today’s large-scale and unsafe movements are not moving “voluntarily”: persecution, violence and conflict; biting poverty, soul destroying discrimination; lack of access to education, to essential health care or decent work; vicious gender inequality; the harsh impacts of climate change and environmental degradation; the grief of family separation. When hundreds of thousands of people put their lives and the lives of their children at risk, it is safe to assume that they feel they have no other choice. They believe they have no other choice but to flee from their homes, and often once again from perilous situations in transit. Because for people who are poor and marginalised, and for those who are persecuted – for all who have no other real choice than to embark on these perilous trails, migration is always risky, and it is often dangerous and discriminatory.

Truth must out over deceit. What is clear is that – however desperate – movement does not, cannot erase your rights! People on the move, just like people who have no movement whatsoever, have human rights. Refugees fleeing persecution and war and other migrants are entitled to protection. And duty bearers have an obligation to so provide.

There is a framework by which to uphold those rights – a tangible, operational framework – inclusive of migrants too. Today we – alongside our sister agencies in the Global Migration Group, and I am very glad to welcome our co-chair UN Women to this panel - present to you [copies available at the back of the room] a draft set of twenty principles and guidelines which set out in detail how to go about protecting the rights of migrants in vulnerable situations in these large movements.

Friends, there is no “no-go zone” for rights. No amber suspension in which rights hang fossilised and beyond the reach or call of people who are on the move. No terrain cordoned off from rights, onto which the hapless or the desperate may wander inadvertently. Rights are not just for some on the move they are for all on the move.

Rights are not gifts to be dispensed according to our preferences – they cannot be removed, suspended or denied. They are innate dignities - birth-rights. Inalienable. They do not exist separately from the fact of our existence – they rather are our very best - and internationally agreed, tried and tested - definition of what it is to exist as a human being!

The gifts of those rights not only flow to the individuals in flight, they create too – thanks to years of Member States’ adjudication – tangible, operational obligations for those who are responsible for upholding rights.

So for migrants and refugees alike, a detailed framework of law provides that they have the right to be greeted with an individual determination of their circumstances and a greeting that should be free from discrimination, violence and arbitrary detention. They oblige that no one should ever be returned to face torture or other grave human rights violations. Non-refoulement - a long established, tried and true norm of international human rights law - applies without discrimination to us all including to all migrants. Every person has the right to liberty, and this means in particular that detention is never in the best interests of the child on the move. That reasonable accommodation should be provided for persons with disabilities on the move. That pregnant women on the move should have access to quality maternal and reproductive health services and to adequate pre- and post-natal care. That rescue and immediate assistance to all migrants in distress must be ensured. That all responses to large movements of migrants must be effectively monitored to ensure that there is no negative human rights impact, and that all migrants must be able to access legal recourse – to justice and to remedies.

Dear friends, yesterday’s discussions on the floor of the GA were distinguished by high-minded calls to action. The New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants contains the building blocks for a comprehensive, human rights-based migration and asylum governance measures: transparent and accountable, migrant-centred, participatory and inclusive, rooted in law and founded on rights.
The greater challenge and the more sombre duty is with us now - to put noble ideals into practice and make of the universal principles of non-discrimination, equality, justice and dignity a reality for those who even today are still illegitimately deprived of their sustenance.
But for this to happen, we need and we deserve brave principled leadership.

When interviewed in preparation for his appearance at the Nuremburg trial, Herman Goering explained that no matter your political ideology, you easily can drag people down the path to hate. His toxic recipe? He explained – and I paraphrase - all you need to do is point to the pain that your people feel, explain to them that their pain is because they are under threat; identify who is the source of that threat, denounce them”.

The rush to the bottom, hurtling us down - away from the path of principle - is a toxic descent into intolerance, xenophobia and hatred – and it must be brought to an emphatic halt. Principled, effective, rational, long-term migration and asylum governance can help end this descent whose grim consequences are far wider reaching than these caustic, knee jerk reactions to the immediate challenges or short term electoral anxieties.

The most vulnerable in our societies targeted – by hate speech and violent action?

The denigration of the foreigner, the outsider, the ‘other’? The vilification of the ‘economic migrant’, the ‘illegal immigrant’, the ‘bogus asylum seeker’? That short-term political gains – self interested, chubby fisted grabs at power – should be allowed to so distort and rupture public discourse on tragedy and suffering? On the implications of our interconnected world? On the realities of our interdependent global village?

Friends, once again we stand at the cross road of history – brought here because there are at stake fundamental principles: You don’t have to like me to respect my rights. I don’t have to agree with you to uphold your rights. You don’t have to be like me, for me to protect your rights. Rights are not a system of endorsement or appreciation – they are not an award or a test result nor a beauty parade. Human rights are for the best and for the worst of us. For each of us – to the exclusion of none of us in the interests of all of us.

As the incomparable Nelson Mandela expressed it, “to deny any person their human rights is to challenge their very humanity”. We act – we build, we lead, we decide and we govern - for humanity and not inhumanity. Including for humanity on the move!