Michel Forst: “Empowering defenders on the move is crucial to the prevention of further tragedy”

February 20, 2018

The ISHR in a piece of 16 February 2018 draws attention to tow complementary reports on the situation of human rights defenders in a migration context. They fit admirably with the outcry of 250 NGOs concerning Hungary referred to in my earlier post of today [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/20/250-ngos-address-letter-to-hungarian-parliament-regarding-restriction-on-the-work-of-human-rights-defenders/].

The first is the report, by UN Special Rapporteur Michel Forst, which examines the many ways in which human rights defenders are impacted by the current environment related to migrant and refugee flows. For example, defenders may become migrants or refugees as a result of the harassment and violence they face in their own communities or countries. ‘Empowering defenders on the move is crucial to the prevention of further tragedy‘.

The second is the OHCHR Principles and Practical Guidance for the protection of the Human Rights of Migrants in Vulnerable Situations, especially Principle 18 which states that ‘States must respect and support the activities of human rights defenders who promote and protect the human rights of migrants’.

Both document will be considered at the upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council.

The two documents are fully complementary’, Sarah Brooks of the ISHR says. ‘The recommendations of the OHCHR and the UN expert have no daylight between them – their message is quite simple. In order for lives to be saved, States must ensure that human rights defenders and civil society can operate safely and without hindrance.’

Migrants – including migrant workers – who seek to stand up for their rights and those of others face unique threats, including deportation.  The case of Sujana Rana and Rose Limu Jee, two migrant domestic workers from Nepal who were detained and deported after advocating for freedom of association in Lebanon, is a prime example. And defenders in countries of destination – whether the Gulf, the United States, or many Member States of the European Union (e.g. Hungary) – find that their own governments may rollback protections or even funding for civil society and defenders when migration-related issues are the focus, or in the worst cases criminalise assistance to migrants and refugees.

Main challenges

  • Limits on access to migrant and refugee populations. This can appear as overt limits on physical presence in border areas or due to the remote nature of some areas where populations on the move are concentrated. This includes securitised border zones and offshore facilities.  In both cases, the real impact is to increase physical and financial barriers to access, preventing people on the move from accessing independent services and much-needed legal counsel.
  • Criminalisation. Some defenders struggle against risks of criminal prosecution both nationally and as a result of local bylaws, particularly registration requirements (based on geographic areas of work, for example). The overzealous application of existing law has also been sued to accuse people of harbouring or smuggling, when in reality the individual was engaged in humanitarian activity. This threat of criminal charges has a chilling effect, as does the decrease in funding for organisations working in this area (both anti-racism work and traditional legal aid centres).
  • The growing role of non-state actors.  Especially in some parts of Latin America, organised crime poses significant threats to defenders, as well as to States should they try to protect them. Businesses are also implicated, as the report notes particular types of private employment contracts which ‘gag’ service providers and impose outsized fines or criminal penalties for discussing the situation.  Finally, in cases where governments have outsourced certain services, tools like access to information requests (normally directed at public authorities) are no longer available.

http://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc37-global-community-must-recognise-defenders-people-move-says-un-expert

http://www.ishr.ch/sites/default/files/article/files/201802_ohchr_principles_and_practical_guidance.pdf

One Response to “Michel Forst: “Empowering defenders on the move is crucial to the prevention of further tragedy””


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