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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Launch event of new training materials on Human Rights at International Borders

25 October 2021

Delivered by

Opening remarks by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.

Dear colleagues, friends,

Almost daily we hear about tragic events unfolding at many country borders. This year alone, at least 4,000 migrants have already lost their lives or gone missing while seeking safety and dignity, their families often not knowing what has happened to their loved ones.

Borders can also be challenging places for border officials. Many work far from their families, in remote areas, under severe pressure or facing security risks. Women border officials may face particular difficulties due to social norms around gender roles.

In this regard, I am pleased to launch this new Trainer’s Guide on Human Rights at International Borders, developed collaboratively by my Office and colleagues from the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, who I thank for the excellent collaboration. We trust it will help border officials and relevant actors to take a human rights-based and gender-responsive approach to border governance, including in the context of counter-terrorism.

I thank all border officials who have contributed their expertise, as well as Switzerland, Denmark and Saudi Arabia for their generous support to develop these materials. I also thank  Switzerland, Morocco, Denmark and Mexico for co-sponsoring today’s launch.

This capacity building tool draws on, and complements OHCHR’s  Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights at International Borders, which States have included as an example of positive practice in the Global Compact for Migration. It integrates my Office’s human rights training methodology, which builds on the experiences of participants, peer learning and exchange.

Our methodology regards human rights training as one element of a broader process. Data collection, human rights monitoring, awareness-raising, provision of support and institutional or legal reform are all vital pieces to ensure capacity building is part of a bigger picture and ultimately, sustainable and impactful in the long term. It further emphasises the importance of a whole-of-society approach, which is also key to ensuring migration is addressed in a comprehensive way. We need multi-stakeholder partnerships, counting on the contributions of national human rights institutions, civil society and other relevant actors, as well as collaboration and coordination between States.


We recognize that States have legitimate interests when they exercise immigration controls, including to protect human rights and to counter terrorism. Yet we have seen all-too-often the harm arising from viewing border governance solely as a national security or migration management issue without properly integrating human rights considerations.

Migrants may face dangerous interception practices, violence, including gender-based violence, and extortion at borders.

They may also face unlawful profiling, discrimination and arbitrary decision-making at borders, as well as stigma and xenophobia by communities influenced by harmful narratives, such as toxic discourse that paints migrants as a security threat.

Countless migrants have been stranded at borders, particularly during the pandemic, unable to leave or enter countries and without access to health care or other services.

Some have faced pushbacks or forced returns in violation of the principle of non-refoulement and prohibition of collective expulsion. Others, prolonged or arbitrary detention in inadequate conditions.

The safety of migrants, communities and border officials, is paramount. One of the key premises of our materials is that respecting all human rights of all migrants facilitates, rather than hinders, the safe and effective governance of borders.

For border officials, that includes decent working hours and conditions.  For migrants, it involves, among others, safe rescue, timely access to assistance and protection from harm, as well as respect for the principle of non-discrimination and of due process rights.

It means building systems that can identify and respond to people’s situations of vulnerability and specific human rights protection needs.

With this capacity building tool launched today, we hope to better assist States and provide them with guidance on how human rights obligations apply at international borders, including in the context of counter-terrorism.  

We also aim to build the knowledge and skills that can help border officials carry out their critical functions in a human rights-based and gender-responsive manner and protecting the rule of law.

My Office will be working with a number of countries to roll out the Trainer’s Guide. We also look forward to engaging with Member States, the Office of Counter-Terrorism and other UN and non-UN partners to apply these tools, including within the context of the implementation of the Global Compact for Migration.

Ultimately, our purpose is to work together to put human rights obligations and principles at the centre of border governance efforts.

Thank you.