The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights yesterday issued Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights at International Borders. OHCHR, along with multiple stakeholders, has been working on the principles and guidelines since 2012.
A. Human rights at international borders
1. 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.
2. Migration discourse is replete with terminology used to categorize people who migrate, such as “unaccompanied or separated children”, “migrants in irregular situations”, “smuggled migrants” or “victims of trafficking in persons”. In the complex reality of contemporary mobility it can be difficult to neatly separate people into distinct categories as people may simultaneously fit into several categories, or change from one category to another in the course of their journey. Every individual who approaches an international border has different motivations and it is important to remember that under international human rights law, States have obligations towards all persons at international borders, regardless of those motives.
3. States have legitimate interests in implementing border controls, including in order to enhance security, to protect human rights, and to respond to transnational organized crime. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has therefore put together these Recommended Principles and Guidelines (“The Guidelines”) with a view to translating the international human rights framework into practical border governance measures. The Guidelines assert a human rights-based approach deriving from the core international human rights instruments and anchored in the interdependence and inalienability of all human rights, seek to establish accountability between duty-bearers and rights-holders, emphasis participation and empowerment, and focus on vulnerability, marginalization and exclusion.
4. Further, underpinning these Guidelines is a recognition that respecting the human rights of all migrants regardless of their nationality, migration status or other circumstances, facilitates effective border governance. 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. Conversely, approaches to migration governance that adhere to internationally recognized human rights standards, 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. Ultimately then, these Guidelines are recommended to States and other stakeholders not only because they are obliged to put human rights at the forefront of border governance measures, but also because they have an interest in doing so.
9. These Guidelines shall not be interpreted as restricting, modifying or impairing the provisions of applicable international human rights law, international humanitarian law, international refugee law or other relevant legal instrument or rights granted to persons under domestic law. 1
Footnote 1 – In order to avoid duplication of authoritative guidance, the present Guidelines should be read in conjunction with the guidance provided by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), including in the context of its 10-Point Plan of Action on Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration which emphasises the need for “protection sensitive entry systems” at international borders to identify, protect against non-refoulement and ensure access to asylum procedures for persons in need of international protection. For trafficked persons, the present Principles and Guidelines should be read in conjunction inter alia with OHCHR’s Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking.
II. Recommended principles on human rights at international borders
A. The primacy of human rights
1. States shall implement their international legal obligations in good faith and respect, protect and fulfil human rights in the governance of their borders.
2. States shall ensure that human rights are at the centre of the governance of migration at international borders.
3. States shall respect, promote and fulfil human rights wherever they exercise jurisdiction or effective control, including where they exercise authority or control extraterritorially. The privatisation of border governance functions does not defer, avoid or diminish the human rights obligations of the State.
8. The principle of non-discrimination shall be at the centre of all border governance measures. [***]
C. Assistance and protection from harm
10. States shall protect and assist migrants at international borders without discrimination. Human rights obligations, including in respect of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, must take precedence over law enforcement and migration management objectives.
11. States shall ensure that all border governance measures taken at international borders, including those aimed at addressing irregular migration and combating transnational organized crime, are in accordance with the principle of non-refoulement and the prohibition of arbitrary and collective expulsions.
12. States shall consider the individual circumstances of all migrants at international borders, with appropriate attention being given to migrants who may be at particular risk at international borders who shall be entitled to specific protection and individualized assistance which takes into account their rights and needs.
13. States shall ensure that all migrants who have suffered human rights violations or abuses as a result of border governance measures have equal and effective access to justice, access to effective remedies, adequate, effective and prompt reparation for harm suffered, and access to relevant information concerning violations and reparation mechanism. States shall investigate and, where warranted, prosecute human rights violations and abuses, impose sentences commensurate with the seriousness of the offence, and take measures to ensure non-repetition.
III. Recommended Guidelines on human rights at international borders
Guideline 1: Promotion and protection of human rights [***]
Guideline 2: Legal and policy framework [***]
Guideline 3: Building human rights capacity [***]
Guideline 4: Ensuring human rights in rescue and interception [***]
Guideline 5: Human rights in the context of immediate assistance [***]
Guideline 6: Screening and interviewing [***]
Guideline 7: Identification and referral [***]
Guideline 8: Avoiding detention [***]
Guideline 9: Human rights-based return or removal [***]
Guideline 10: Cooperation and coordination [***]”