Migration policies can amount to ill-treatment and torture, UN rights expert warns
GENEVA (1 March 2018) – Increasingly obstructive laws, policies and practices have pushed migrants towards irregular pathways and methods marked by an escalating prevalence of torture and ill-treatment, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, has told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Mr. Melzer said some policies and practices used by States to deter, prevent or address the arrival of migrants could themselves amount to torture or ill-treatment.
“States are increasingly depriving people of their liberty as a routine or even mandatory response to irregular migration,” the expert said.
“However, the systematic and open-ended detention of people simply because they are migrants has nothing to do with legitimate border protection but amounts to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
“Such detention can even amount to torture, especially when it is intentionally used to deter, intimidate or punish migrants or their families, to extort money or sexual acts, or to coerce people into withdrawing asylum requests, accepting voluntary repatriation, giving information or providing fingerprints.
“The longer a situation of arbitrary detention lasts, the more intense the mental and emotional suffering will become, and the higher the likelihood that the ban on torture or ill-treatment has been breached,” he added.
The Special Rapporteur’s full report makes a number of recommendations for how States can address irregular migration while complying fully with their international human rights obligations.
“States should enable migrants to claim international protection and to individually challenge any decision as to their detention, treatment or deportation before a competent judicial or administrative body,” he said.
The expert also urged States to stop basing their migration policies on deterrence, criminalization and discrimination..
“The only way to end the horrendous suffering caused by migrant trafficking, abusive smuggling and arbitrary detention is to provide migrants with safe and regular migration pathways, and to ensure the effective protection of their human rights not only in theory, but also in practice,” Mr. Melzer stressed.
“I hope my report will assist States in ending one of the greatest tragedies of our time: the widespread and systematic contempt for the human dignity and integrity of millions of people who have lost or given up everything in search of protection or a better life,” he told the Council.
Mr. Melzer said some newly introduced practices suggested a deliberate erosion of the principle of non-refoulement, which protects anyone from being deported to countries where they risk to face torture or ill-treatment.
"No migrant can lawfully be deported without an individualized risk assessment", he stressed, "including through international agreements, diplomatic assurances, border closures or so-called “pushback” or "pullback" operations, by which migrants are forcibly prevented from crossing international borders.
The Special Rapporteur said that where no safe and regular pathways are available, migrants increasingly use smuggler networks, many of which allegedly operate in collusion with border officials. Migrants are also at great risk of falling victim to human trafficking during their journeys, he added.
Whenever States failed to exercise due diligence to protect migrants, punish perpetrators or provide remedies, they risk to become complicit in torture or ill-treatment, he said.
“Moreover, State officials or private citizens must be aware that their personal involvement in shaping, promoting and implementing policies and practices which expose migrants to torture or ill-treatment may amount to complicity or other participation in crimes against humanity or war crimes,” he added.
Mr. Nils Melzer (Switzerland) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in November 2016. Mr. Melzer has previously worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and is currently the Human Rights Chair of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, and Professor of International Law at the University of Glasgow.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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