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UN expert recalls the need for international solidarity for migrants and refuges at sea

GENEVA (2 February 2021) – The UN Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, Mr Obiora C. Okafor, made the following statement:

"The recent decision of the Human Rights Committee under article 5 (4) of the Optional Protocol (CCPR/C/130/D/3042/2017) adopted on 4 November 2020 reflects the need for State parties under the international law of the sea to take steps to protect the lives of all individuals who find themselves in a situation of distress at sea. Even if the sinking vessel is not located in a specific State search and rescue zone, States still have a duty to support the search and rescue mission to save the lives of the migrants and refugees.

This decision is consistent with my 2019 report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/41/44), where I engaged with the question of the criminalization and suppression of human rights activists and other humanitarian actors who show solidarity to migrants and refugees by assisting them to access the enjoyment of their basic human rights and discussed the relevant general international law and international and human rights law norms and rules expressing the view that the criminalization or suppression of the rendering of humanitarian assistance to irregular migrants and refugees significantly and unjustifiably impairs or harms many of their human rights and is thus illegal under international human rights law.

Similarly, in my 2019 report to the General Assembly, I called for a human rights-based international solidarity in global refugee protection (A/74/185), given the serious refugee protection issues that faced the world, and in light of the recent adoption of a global compact on refugees. I stressed that international solidarity was a foundational principle securing the provision of international protection to refugees, based on the understanding that the challenge of refugee flows is international in scope. International solidarity also required a true spirit of unity of purpose, beyond the contractual scope of the obligations that States assumed under the 1951 Refugee Convention and other international human rights instruments."


Mr Obiora C. Okafor was appointed by the Human Rights Council as the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity in June 2017. He is the York Research Chair in International and Transnational Legal Studies (Senior Tier) and a tenured Full Professor of Law at the Osgoode Hall Law School of York University, Toronto, Canada. He is also a former Chairperson of the UN Human Rights Council Advisory Committee.

The Independent Experts 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 organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and press inquiries, please contact Thierry del Prado (tdelprado@ohchr.org) or write to (iesolidarity@ohchr.org).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / rrosariodesouza@ohchr.org).

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