It is somehow seen as common sense that borders have to be protected – but what about the protection of people and their human rights at borders? Borderlands have gained increasing attention by activists and academics, but policymakers are often lacking in ensuring that basic principles of human rights are guaranteed at the border. Now the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has released “Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights at International Borders”. The document is neither legally binding nor does it introduce a new set of Rights, but it is an important reminder that several core rights are already in place and there is no justification to suspend those at the border. Migrant civil society representatives have
applauded the release of the document and were able to provide input during the drafting process.
The 24-page document starts with a statement that should be self-evident but is unfortunately a much-needed reminder:
“International borders are not zones of exclusion or exception for human rights obligations. States are entitled to exercise jurisdiction at their international borders, but they must do so in light of their human rights obligations. This means that the human rights of all persons at international borders must be respected in the pursuit of border control, law enforcement and other State objectives, regardless of which authorities perform border governance measures and where such measures take place.”
This is in line with the statement made repeatedly by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants François Crépeau that crossing a border cannot be seen as a crime per se, even if it is done irregularly.
The report makes clear that under international human rights law, states have obligations towards all persons at international borders, regardless of their motives for crossing the border. It acknowledges that states also have legitimate interests in implementing border controls, including to enhance security, to protect human rights, and to respond to transnational organized crime. But it develops the argument further by pointing out that “policies aimed not at governing migration but rather at curtailing it at any cost, serve only to exacerbate risks posed to migrants, to create zones of lawlessness and impunity at borders, and, ultimately, to be ineffective”. In contrast, approaches to migration governance that adhere to internationally recognized human rights standards are not mere obligations but in the interests of all stakeholders concerned since they serve to bolster the capacity of states to protect borders at the same time as they uphold State obligations to protect and promote the rights of all migrants.
Combining thus a rights-based approach with the “selling point” of effective border governance, the report sets out to present three principles and ten guidelines on human rights at international borders. The principles are the primacy of human rights, non-discrimination and assistance and protection form harm. The guidelines include references to the legal and policy framework and practical aspects such as screening and interviewing, identification and referral, avoiding detention and human rights-based return or removal.
As stated above, these principles and guidelines are not new but can provide a helpful reference for policymakers and an important advocacy tool for migrants rights’ activists. The Global Coalition on Migration (GCM) was among the civil society organisations that contributed to the drafting of the document. Catherine Tactaquin, GCM representative and Executive Director of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights in the U.S stated in a press release that “this timely new document gives momentum to our efforts to end the human rights crisis at borders, to reaffirm protections for all, and to save the lives of migrant men, women and children”
The GCM will host a celebration of the launch of the Guidelines and a civil society dialogue on their potential for enhancing human rights protections today October 23 from 5pm to 7pm at the Church Center for the United Nations (see picture).
The full document presenting the principles and Guidelines can be found here: